Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
After a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame last weekend, Virginia Tech returns home this Saturday for a pivotal conference matchup against Wake Forest. As they look to pick up the important ACC win, the Hokies should focus on the following matchups.
Wake Forest Wide Receivers vs. Virginia Tech Cornerbacks
In the fourth quarter of Virginia Tech’s matchup with Notre Dame last weekend, starting cornerback Jermaine Waller was ejected for targeting. That means he will be forced to miss the first half against Wake Forest, as well.
While losing a starter is never a positive, Bud Foster and the Hokies may feel the ramifications even more this week. Wake Forest has two of the top receivers in the conference with Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington.
Surratt has 62 receptions for 948 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season. He leads the ACC in reception yards by a 168 yard margin.
Washington is not quite at that level, but he is still one of the top ten receivers in the conference. He has 35 catches for 607 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the opposite side of Waller, Caleb Farley has been the starter for Virginia Tech this season. He has easily been the best cornerback for the Hokies this year, but he has been hampered by some injuries during the past two games.
If Farley is available, he will most likely spend most of his time against Surratt. That leaves redshirt freshman Armani Chatman to fill in for Waller and cover Washington.
“We’re going to need [Chatman] to step up this week,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Obviously with Jermaine [Waller] down the first half, he’s going to have to step up and just not participate, but we expect him to perform and perform extremely well.”
Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman will almost certainly target Chatman in the first half. Whether or not Chatman can shut down whoever he covers could play a huge role in this game.
Virginia Tech Running Backs vs. Wake Forest Defensive Line
The Hokies had just 101 net rushing yards against Notre Dame, and 77 of those came from quarterback Quincy Patterson. Justin Fuente and the offensive staff are well aware that 32 yards from the running backs, which is what Virginia Tech managed in that game, is not going to get the job done.
“We weren’t able to run the football as well as I’d like for us too,” Fuente said after the game. He singled out the running game as one of the biggest areas for improvement that the team needs to make against Wake Forest.
As impressive as the Demon Deacons’ offense has been this season, their defense has not been anywhere near the same level. Wake Forest has surrendered an average of 400 yards per game this season including 156 yards per game on the ground.
Deshawn McClease had standout games against both Rhode Island and North Carolina, but he came back down to earth a bit last Saturday. That may be due in part to a number of injuries.
Freshman Keshawn King was unable to make the trip to South Bend for medical reasons. That left the Hokies without a true backup for McClease at running back.
In addition, quarterback Hendon Hooker was held out of the game due to a leg injury. His command of the run pass option had been a big reason that McClease had more room to run in recent games.
Both King’s and Hooker’s statuses are somewhat up in the air for this weekend. If they are able to play, that should take some pressure off of McClease’s shoulder. Yet even if they do not play, McClease will have to step up for the Hokies’ offense this week.
Jamie Newman vs. Virginia Tech Defensive Line
Jamie Newman has been one of the most effective quarterbacks in the ACC so far this season with his 73.5 total QBR ranking third in the conference.
Having weapons like Surratt and Washington certainly help Newman in that regard. However, he has also shown the ability to create plays for himself in both the running and passing games. Newman led a balanced attack with three touchdowns through the air and two on the ground against NC State last Saturday.
If the Hokies are going to limit his production, they will need to create some pressure from the line. The more time Newman has to sit in the pocket, the more dangerous he becomes.
Against Notre Dame, defensive coordinator Bud Foster was pleased with the pressure his unit put on quarterback Ian Book. While the Hokies only recorded one sack, they forced Book into throwing the ball away numerous times.
Defensive line coach Charley Wiles says he is pleased with the strides the Hokies have made as far as creating pressure.
“I'm happy with our progress,” Wiles said. “Would we like to be leading the country in sacks and TFLs? Yeah, we would. But we’re working, and I’m pleased with where we are.”
The Hokies need to continue that improvement against Wake Forest this week. If they can force Newman into making quicker decisions, they will have a much easier time containing this offense.