Next Saturday, Wake Forest travels to Death Valley to play fifth-ranked Clemson. The No. 19 Demon Deacons are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. A victory over the mighty Tigers would even things out in the loss column, and by owning the tie-breaker, the Deacs would control the Atlantic Division race.
To make that game a crucial division battle, Dave Clawson’s team first has to go to Lane Stadium and beat Virginia Tech. As one of three Coastal Division teams with two losses, the Hokies have division title dreams of their own. The loss at Notre Dame was tough to swallow, but the remaining schedule featuring four ACC foes is considerably more important than last Saturday’s game in South Bend.
Despite being league rivals, the Demon Deacons and the Hokies have not played since 2014.
Wake Forest at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest -2.5
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Wake quarterback Jamie Newman returned with a vengeance this past Saturday. Newman was considered a leading candidate for ACC Offensive Player of the Year before an injured shoulder forced him out of the Louisville game and caused him to miss the victory over Florida State. But the junior from Graham, N.C., came back and threw for 287 yards, fired three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in the 44-10 victory over NC State, perhaps propelling himself right back into the MVP discussion.
This week, the Deacs will again lean heavily on the pass. In their last four games, Virginia Tech has allowed an average of just 92 rushing yards per game on 3.2 yards per carry. But teams have attacked the Hokies through the air, as Notre Dame did for 341 yards. Newman is blessed to have a deep stable of receivers, with Sage Surratt compiling an ACC-leading 62 catches, 948 yards, and nine touchdowns.
It was fascinating to watch Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense defend Notre Dame. The longtime defensive coordinator, who is known for bringing tons of pressure, had his unit rush three and drop eight in coverage almost all day long. For the most part, it worked, though it might have been nice to see a couple of blitzes to mix things up on ND’s last drive. What Foster concocts this week to slow down Newman is anyone’s guess, and he’ll have to do it in the first half without defensive back Jermaine Waller, who was ejected for targeting in the second half of the ND game.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
The expectation was that Hendon Hooker would start against the Irish at quarterback. The reality was that Quincy Patterson took every snap in the game. Hokies head coach Justin Fuente said he did not feel it was in Hooker’s best interest to play due to the knee injury suffered against North Carolina. Patterson had a rough day throwing the ball and was held in check for the most part as a runner, but he did have Virginia Tech in position to pull the upset.
It’s likely that Fuente again waits until the last minute to make a decision on the quarterback. If it’s Patterson, it will mean another heavy dose of quarterback carries. If it’s Hooker, receivers Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton will become bigger factors, and running back Deshawn McClease will have to play a more important role.
The loss of linebacker Justin Strnad in the Louisville game was a big blow to the Wake Forest defense. But the Demon Deacons are coming off arguably their best defensive performance of the season, limiting NC State to just 265 yards of total offense without Strnad. Defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. has had a huge junior season for Wake, registering 11.5 tackles for lost yardage and five sacks.
Both the Demon Deacons and the Hokies are in a position where if they win out, they don’t need help to win the division. However, that changes for the loser of this game. Furthermore, if Wake Forest loses and Clemson beats NC State on Saturday night, the Tigers would be the Atlantic Division champions for the fifth straight year. But the Deacons aren't going to lose. Wake is playing its best football of the season, and that will continue in Blacksburg. Wake Forest’s offensive line will give Newman plenty of time, and when things break down, he will make plays running the ball. The Hokies will make a run late, but Wake Forest will hold on at the end to set up a monster matchup with Clemson next Saturday.
Prediction: Wake Forest 34, Virginia Tech 27
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of hokiesports.com)