Tough sledding through the early ACC schedule brings the Virginia Cavaliers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons together on Saturday in Winston-Salem. The host Demon Deacons seek their first conference win, sitting at 0-2 after losses to Clemson and NC State — the same opponents that Virginia lost to through the first stretch of its season.
The Cavaliers are on a losing skid after those losses but opened the campaign with an ACC win against Duke. The reigning Coastal division champions can regain some of their footing with a road win in cross-divisional play.
This marks the first meeting between the programs since 2016 when Wake Forest extended its winning streak in the series to three games. Virginia hasn't won in Winston-Salem since 2002.
Virginia at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia -2.5
When Virginia Has the Ball
Replacing quarterback Bryce Perkins was always going to be a tall order for Virginia in 2020, and thus far, the Cavaliers' scoring average is down nearly a touchdown from a season ago. Brennan Armstrong threw two picks in each of Virginia's first three games, prompting a move to Lindell Stone during the NC State game.
Stone went 30-of-54 and scored three touchdowns. How much of a running threat Stone could be remains to be seen, but the Cavaliers have a pair of running-back options in Wayne Taulapapa and Towson transfer Shane Simpson. Establishing a run game has proven difficult for Virginia thus far, and on Saturday, it's opposite a talented Wake Forest defensive line.
Demon Deacons defensive linemen Jacorey Johns, Carlos Basham Jr., Miles Fox, and Dion Bergan Jr. have each recorded multiple tackles for loss on the young season.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
After scoring just 13 points in the season opener against perennial national title contender Clemson, Wake Forest put up a combined 108 points against NC State and FCS opponent Campbell. While blowing out a Campbell program that only recently moved to a scholarship model isn't necessarily indicative of the Demon Deacons' offensive prowess, the 42 points scored against NC State have to be promising.
In particular, running back Kenneth Walker III showed out with 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Walker can be a cornerstone for an offense still finding its footing in the passing game. Dave Clawson has played three quarterbacks, though Sam Hartman is the starter. He hasn't thrown an interception on the season and completed a healthy 63 percent of his attempts, but he has just two touchdowns.
Bronco Mendenhall-coached teams have long staked their reputation on defensive tenacity, and the 2020 Cavaliers have playmakers who fit that M.O. in Brenton Nelson and Richard Burney.
Virginia's surprising run to the ACC Championship Game a season ago marked a high point for a veteran Cavaliers bunch. With some noteworthy roster turnover, Mendenhall and Co. are undergoing something of a rebuild, particularly on offense. Wake Forest's impressive showing against NC State suggests the Demon Deacons can put up points. If Virginia fails to keep pace — or slow the tempo in the early going — it could be all Wake.
Prediction: Wake Forest 34, Virginia 24
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @WakeFB)