To the surprise of many, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons are one of the few teams in FBS that are undefeated heading in Week 4 of the college football season.
Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 ACC) is coming off a convincing 35-14 victory against Florida State at home last weekend. Now, the Demon Deacons will have their first road test of the 2021 season as they will take on the Virginia Cavaliers in prime time on Friday.
Virginia (2-1, 0-1) will try to recover after its first loss of the season against North Carolina, 59-39. After playing William & Mary and Illinois at Scott Stadium earlier this season, Wake Forest will be Virginia's first conference game at home.
Friday also will be the first time since 2012 that Virginia will host Wake Forest. The Cavaliers are looking to snap a four-game losing streak to the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest at Virginia
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Virginia -4
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Quarterback Sam Hartman has been solid this season for the Demon Deacons. In three games, Hartman has accumulated 691 passing yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception. In the win against Florida State last week, Hartman was once again solid with 259 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
But the bread and butter of the Demon Deacons this season has been their rushing attack. Wake is averaging 183.3 yards per game on the ground. This is an area to watch out for this weekend, as Virginia struggled defensively against North Carolina.
The Cavaliers gave up plenty of damage on the ground (392 yds., 3 TDs) and through the air (307, 5) in last weekend's blowout loss to the Tar Heels. UNC quarterback Sam Howell was quite the thorn in UVA's side, both passing and running (112 yds.) the ball. Hartman may not be as dangerous a dual-threat as Howell, but the Demon Deacons have plenty of other options to try and run the ball against a defense that is giving up more than 200 rushing yards per game. Christian Beal-Smith is among the top 10 in the ACC in rushing with 229 yards, and he's averaging nearly six yards per carry.
When Virginia Has the Ball
Despite the disappointing loss to North Carolina, the Cavaliers' offense was a well-oiled machine last weekend. Among the highlights was quarterback Brennan Armstrong setting a new single-game school record with 554 passing yards. He also had four touchdown tosses for four different receivers.
Through three games, Virginia is averaging 41.3 points and 559.3 yards per game, both of which rank among the best in the nation. This attack has leaned more on the pass than the run thus far, with the Cavs averaging just 121 rushing yards per game (109th in FBS).
On the other side, Wake Forest's defense also ranks among the best in the country in the early going. The Demon Deacons are allowing just 13.3 points per game, which is good for 14th in FBS.
Wake's defense has capitalized on mistakes with six interceptions and three fumble recoveries in three games. Pressure (eight sacks) also has played a part in the Demon Deacons limiting teams to 182.7 passing yards per game with only five touchdown passes allowed. Competition needs to be taken into consideration, as Wake's first two opponents were Old Dominion and FCS Norfolk State. Friday night will be a good barometer for head coach Dave Clawson's defense.
Something will have to give on Friday night as the game will feature Wake Forest's stout defense against Virginia's prolific offense. Although the Demon Deacons have been opportunistic during the early part of the year, the Cavaliers will pose a considerable challenge.
Armstrong is one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the country. If the Demon Deacons can't get the Cavaliers into third-and-long situations, it could be a long night in Charlottesville.
This game has the potential to be the best of the weekend.
Prediction: Virginia 35, Wake Forest 31
Podcast: Complete Week 4 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.