For Virginia Tech's very faint bowl hopes, this game against Wake Forest was a must-win, especially given the Demon Deacons' struggles of late. However, this is still a Wake Forest program that has had plenty of success of late and more than ready to give Tech a decent test to see how improved Tech truly might be given their recent win over Pittsburgh and solid stretches against Florida State.
Tech showed today that they have clearly made strides from the start of the season and are no longer a bottom tier ACC team with a dominant performance against the Demon Deacons.
Virginia Tech beat Wake Forest 30-13 to improve to 3-4 (2-1 ACC) on the season while the Demon Deacons fell to 3-3 (0-3 ACC) on the season. Tech now will head into their bye week with plenty of momentum having won 2 of their past 3 and with a big Thursday night game against a Syracuse team that has lost three-straight coming up next.
This was a dominant display from the Hokies even if the offense was a little sloppy at times in this game and didn't finish out some drives as well as they should. Tech outgained Wake Forest by an almost 2:1 margin of 462-262 as Tech was able to control this game once they seized the lead in the second quarter.
Tech's offense had one of their best yardage outputs in recent seasons with those 462 yards of offense including 7.1 yards per play. Tech's passing attack was able to stretch the field a good amount while the Hokies' talent at the skill positions showed out in this game. This was an inconsistent performance though despite the great amount of yards with half of their scoring drives ending with field goals and Tech going a languid 3-12 on third down.
Tech's passing attack was the best it's been under Kyron Drones beyond just the easy perimeter run throws. Most importantly, Drones had great pocket feel and did a great job getting through his progressions in this game though he did have a few ill-advised throws that gave Wake at least somewhat of a chance at an INT.
Overall, this may have been Drones' best game as a Hokie as he was 20-29 for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns plus 15 carries for 59 rushing yards. He played like a true dual-threat QB rather than a run-first QB who could provide moments in the passing game. In a week where he was named QB1, Drones proved he is the Hokies' long-term quarterback.
Jaylin Lane had one of the biggest plays of this game with a 75-yard touchdown to highlight a 3-catch, 102-yard performance. Stephen Gosnell was a very reliable target for Drones with a team-high 6 catches for 75 yards taking lots of hits and fighting for extra yards consistently.
Defensively, the Hokies were dominant for most the day as Wake Forest only allowed 3.8 yards per play. Tech's run defense shined the most, with the Hokies only allowing 67 yards on 24 non-sack carries in this game, holding WF under 3 yards per carry. This came after FSU's Trey Benson had one of his two touchdown runs go for 85 yards, longer than the total WF yards in this game.
More importantly, Wake's longest run went for 12 yards while Tech kept Wake from having a single play of 50+ yards on offense for the first time since at least the Purdue game.
For a defense that has struggled with giving up home run plays, today was a big step in the right direction.
Tech also did a great job defensively of getting lots of big plays with the Hokies having 3 turnovers plus 13 tackles for loss including 7 sacks. Tech easily could have had more turnovers with Wake Forest recovering 2 of their 4 fumbles and Tech almost having 1 or 2 more interceptions handed to them.
Keonta Jenkins was all over the field in this game making plays and having a team-high 12 tackles including 3 for loss with 1 sack, 1 QB hurry, and 2 forced fumbles. Meanwhile, Antwaun Powell-Ryland gave Wake Forest plenty of problems, especially on the final drive finishing with 6 tackles including 4.5 for loss with 4 sacks (3 of which came on the last drive) plus a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Derrick Canteen had an up-and-down day but had some big moments with a spectacular interception in the first quarter plus a pair of pass breakups. Keli Lawson made some big plays with 5 tackles including 1.5 for loss with a strip sack plus a pass breakup while Alan Tisdale had 9 tackles including 0.5 for loss. Jorden McDonald had a big first half with 4 tackles including 2.0 for loss with 1 sack in what was his best game as a Hokie.
After a rough start to the season, Virginia Tech seems to be showing signs of improvement beating the types of teams with ease that they struggled with earlier this year.
Offensively, Virginia Tech is showing signs of a clear identity built around running the football and finding ways to get their playmakers in space with Tech putting together some strong performances off of it. Defensively, that unit seems to have taken strides, especially defending the run with very good performances in the past three games after that was an Achilles heel of this team to start the season.
In many ways, it feels like the Hokies have turned the corner in this rebuild and are starting to ascend in this conference. Yes, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest are having down years compared to their recent success, but these are also two programs who played for the ACC Championship just two years ago.
Tech no longer can be seen as a bottom feeder in the ACC and has a legitimate chance now to reach a bowl game in year 2 of the Brent Pry era. Given how the Hokies have positioned themselves to do that in large part due to their own improvement, there's plenty of reason for Hokie fans to now feel confident about the direction of this program.
Is there still a ways to go for the Hokies? Yes, but there are legitimate strides that are being made that are now proving fruitful in producing quality, conference victories.