When Virginia Tech’s schedule was released months ago, few circled Saturday’s game at Wake Forest as must-see-TV (neither did the conference’s television decision-makers, who shunted the game to the Internet on ESPN3). But for a third week in a row, there’s an argument to be made that the Hokies are involved in the ACC’s game of the week.
Wake Forest is off to a 3-0 start in ACC play for the first time since joining the conference way back in 1959 and Coach Jim Grobe has his team looking markedly improved from last year’s 3-9 squad that was drummed by the Hokies, 52-21.
“Last year we got our nose bloodied by just about everybody and in some cases we couldn’t even keep the game in reach.” Grobe said this week. “I think you’ve got to give the kids credit. They got embarrassed last year and they’re trying to play harder, they’re trying to play well enough to keep us in games.”
But with a 4-1 record, the Demon Deacons aren’t just keeping games close. They’ve become the surprise team in the league this year. The defense has gone from ranked 100th in the country in 2010 to 26th so far this season. On offense, quarterback Tanner Price is ranked second in yards per game (270.4) and wide receiver Chris Givens currently leads the ACC, averaging close to 120 receiving yards per game.
But as has been the case all week, the biggest story line of this game revolves around the injury factor.
We already know Virginia Tech will have two first-time starters and a true freshman in its defensive lineup with defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins all out with injuries. But perhaps more importantly, all three of those new starters are undersize for their positions. Freshman Corey Marshall is a 253-pound defensive tackle, redshirt sophomore Tyrel Wilson is a 219-pound defensive end and redshirt junior Alonzo Tweedy is a 189-pound linebacker.
Wake Forest’s offense is also dealing with an injury issue, as the status of dynamic running back Josh Harris (hamstring) remains in doubt. Harris put up a record amount of yards against Virginia Tech last year (241) but hasn’t practiced much this week after getting hurt in the third quarter of Wake Forest’s upset of Florida State. His potential replacement, Brandon Pendergrass, has 148 rushing yards this year and is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.
If last week’s win over Miami was any indication, Virginia Tech’s defense will not be the same stout group we saw through four weeks of the season simply because the same players aren’t going to be out on the field. But Bud Foster’s unit can’t allow the Demon Deacons to have as many big plays as they did a year ago.
It would seem then that Virginia Tech’s offense will once again have to carry the day. The Demon Deacons plays a 3-4 defensive scheme that oftentimes involves a ton of blitzing with five down linemen and two linebackers.
So while quarterback Logan Thomas is coming off one of the best performances ever by a Virginia Tech signal caller, this will be another test for him as he’ll likely need to adjust more at the line of scrimmage than in previous games. That means his supporting cast, which also had its best game of the season last week against Miami, will need to respond as well.
I have a feeling this one is going to resemble the sort of game the Hokies went through last year, with Virginia Tech needing at least 30 points to pull out a victory. But I also don’t think Wake Forest is as good as its record suggests. Aside from defeating a beat-up Seminoles squad last week, the Demon Deacons only impressive wins are one-score victories over ACC bottom-feeders Boston College and North Carolina State.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Wake Forest 27
But what do you think? Vote in the poll below and let us know what your keys to a Hokies victory are in the comments section.