After meeting up last year for the first time in five years, the Virginia Tech Hokies and Wake Forest Demon Deacons were not originally scheduled to play this season. But due to COVID-19 reshuffling the ACC schedule, the Hokies will travel to Winston-Salem this weekend to face the Demon Deacons.
Both teams had huge second halves last weekend that propelled them to sizeable victories. Virginia Tech (3-1, 3-1 ACC) turned a slim 17-14 third-quarter lead into a 40-14 whitewashing of Boston College last Saturday while Wake Forest (2-2, 1-2 ACC) outscored Virginia 20-3 in the last 30 minutes of their 40-23 win.
Virginia Tech won 36-17 last year, one of their 25 victories in 38 meetings with Wake Forest.
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Raycom Sports Network/ESPN3
Spread: Virginia Tech -10
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Because of that game last season, the Hokies have firsthand knowledge that Carlos "Boogie" Basham Jr. is a dangerous man. The Wake Forest defensive end had a sack and a half in last year's game versus the Hokies and he has had one sack in each contest so far in 2020. But he is not the only defensive threat for the Demon Deacons. Ja'Cquez Williams is seventh in the league with an average of 8.25 tackles per game and the end on the other side of Basham, JaCorey Johns, has four tackles for lost yardage.
But Wake Forest has had a difficult time stopping the run, ranking 14th in the ACC in that department, and they are playing a team that can take advantage of that weakness. Not only does Virginia Tech feature Khalil Herbert, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game (148.0 ypg), they also were bolstered by the return of Hendon Hooker at quarterback. In his first start of the season, the junior ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns against Boston College. As a group, the Hokies have the nation's second-ranked rushing offense (312.0 ypg), trailing only Air Force.
Hooker has only passed 28 times in his two appearances and threw just 15 times while playing the entire Boston College game. But he has been effective through the air and if Wake is able to slow down the Hokie running game, Hooker can team up with tight end James Mitchell as well as receivers Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson to make plays.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Despite losing Jamie Newman in the offseason, Wake head coach Dave Clawson was comfortable with Sam Hartman at quarterback and the sophomore has had a solid start to the season. Hartman ranks fourth in the ACC in quarterback rating, is third in yards per attempt, and is the only league passer without an interception. Wide receiver Jaquarii Robinson has emerged as a primary option and Hartman also has done a good job spreading the ball around.
The running game also has provided some balance in recent weeks. No, the Deacs couldn't run on Clemson. Who can? And you can probably throw out the other outlier too, the 299 yards against FCS member Campbell. But they had some success on the ground against NC State, though it wasn’t easy, and even more in the Virginia win. Clawson likes to rotate backs and Kenneth Walker III and Christian Beal-Smith have provided a nice 1-2 punch.
The Deacs will undoubtedly attempt to establish something on the ground against a Virginia Tech rush defense that has been up and down so far. The Hokies were great last week, but Boston College has been unable to run the ball against anyone. The prior week, North Carolina ran for 399 yards on the Hokies. But Virginia Tech has had difficulty slowing down opposing passing attacks, giving up 282 yards per game through the air. The Hokies have been able to rush the passer (15 sacks in four games) and have five interceptions, but Hartman and Robinson should have opportunities this week.
Wake Forest played its most complete game of the season in beating Virginia. Sam Hartman is a very good passer and Carlos Basham Jr. is a star on defense. But Virginia Tech has a new level of confidence with Hendon Hooker taking snaps. The offensive line that was growing up last year has excelled in opening holes for Khalil Herbert and the quarterbacks. Defensively, the Hokies need to get better but the showing against Boston College was a big improvement. Dave Clawson's team will score some points, but Tech will score more. The outcome won't be determined until the fourth quarter, but the Hokies will remain in the ACC chase with a victory in Winston-Salem.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Wake Forest 28
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Photo courtesy of godeacs.com)