This weekend is the make or break for any chance to get somewhere in the ACC. It’s a must win because every game remaining on the schedule is a must win situation. Wake is 7-1 with a type of offense that has completely bamboozled the Hokies, in the past.
Wake is 7-1, with a surprise performance from just about everyone on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It’s also ranked 19th in the CFB, 22nd in the AP, and 20th in the Coaches’ Polls. That’s not the usual spot for Wake Forest.
Their 7-1 record looks quite impressive (and it is for Wake, which usually languishes near the basement of the Atlantic), but on second look, the list of teams played is fairly pedestrian. They did beat N.C. State by a pretty hefty margin, but that was the only peer blow out on their schedule. Wake has hung in to win by 1 score or less in 5 of those 4 wins and their sole loss to Louisville. Here’s the list.
Utah St. - W 38 - 35
Rice - W 41 - 21
N. Carolina - W 24 - 18
Elon - W 49 - 7
Boston Coll. - W 27 - 24
Louisville - L 62 - 59
Florida St. - W 22 - 20
NC State - W 44 - 10
Their three “cupcake” opponents; Utah State, Rice, and Elon have really helped their status. Of course their defeat of Utah State was their closest contest there, and that was a near peer contest, not a true cupcake. In normal years Utah State might have actually pulled off a win.
Well, that’s “normal” years. This season the Demon Deacons seem to have found a rhythm and a pulse. Their offense is something with which we should be very familiar. It’s very similar to our 2016 offense with Jerod Evans at the helm. That means several very good downfield receivers, and a dual threat quarterback paired with a reliable running back in the backfield. Cade Carney and Kenneth Walker III are dominating the Wake run offense with 383 yards each; and Quarterback Jamie Newman is right behind them with 305 yards. That non-trivial set of totals is nothing compared to Newman’s passing. He is 166 of 247 for 2059 and 20 TDs. He’s only had 5 picks which means he’s careful with the ball.
One thing is though, the Wake Forest defense hasn’t been as effective as their offense. With the exception of the two FCS schools and struggling NC State, the Wake D has been keeping their games close, but not in a good way. There in is our opening and the segue to the five things.
Keep Newman Corralled and Running in Circles
On thing about Jamie Newman is that he gets sacked. He’s been buried ten times for 64 yards. This is really common with a running QB, but it’s also indicative of the conditions under which he takes to foot instead of throwing the ball. Newman is a senior. He’s 6’4” and 230 which makes him nearly an Evans clone and almost as big as Quincy Patterson. He’s going to be a serious load to bring down. His 300 yards on the ground is no trivial matter. His passing efficiency isn’t either. The Hokies are going to need to deal with a QB who’s bigger than both of their linebackers and about the size of our defensive ends. That means disciplined 4 man rush schemes with pressure blitzes from other players than the linebackers who are going to have to be set up to spy both the running back and the quarterback. That is something the Hokie defense has struggled with for a decade.
Make Hendon Hooker a Star
No, that doesn’t mean inflate his ego and give him bling to strut around with on the sideline. Call an offense that takes advantage of his skill set. The Wake Forest defense can be scored on. Don’t run the same 5 running plays over and over. Don’t get behind the sticks... that means stay on 21st century schedule. 6-8 yards on 1st down, 1st down on 2nd... never get to 3rd down if you can avoid it. Stretch the field only on higher percentage throws. Get over the line of scrimmage, under the zone, and into the seams. Move Hooker; do not treat him as a pocket passer! Give him room to maneuver, make reads, and find lanes to run. Run Wake’s offense against them. USE KEENE and MITCHELL! Spread the ball around. Don’t run just because you’re “supposed” to. Do something that this offense hasn’t done in years; BE BOLD! This game is going to be won on offense, not defense.
Change the Defense
Bud needs to completely change his defensive looks. Not because his old ones were bad, but because it’s late in the season, there is a ton of film, and there needs to be something that will confuse and challenge the Wake OC and Jamie Newman. Make it difficult for their receivers to run expected patterns. Get their offense to break down before the snap. It only takes a half second to make the difference between a TFL and a Touchdown run. Flip the line. Run three Linebackers in a Heavy Nickel. Swap Hollifield and Ashby at Mike and Backer, so that Dax plays Mike and Rayshard plays Backer. Spy the QB with a linebacker, and key the DE on the Running Back. The key to getting stops is going to be controlled aggression. They spread the ball around to lots of receivers. Bait some man with a safety over the top, jump the routes. The most important thing to do is get off the field with a goose egg on the board.
Feed off the Energy of the Crowd
It’s going to be a big game atmosphere, but sometimes we seem to get full of the hype, and forget the substance. Keep things moving. Use the early noise and distractions to push their offense hard. Wake will look to take the crowd out, fast. That means plays that we tend to get gashed on. That’s where the discipline comes in. Feed off the energy, don’t get drunk on it. Don’t waste it, either. If the Hokies get the ball first, they need to drive and score, not tank two plays, throw a panicked long pass, and punt... thinking that it’s going to be a long game. That’s playing to lose. It’s equally important for the defense, if Wake gets the ball first, to get a quality stop where nearly nothing that Wake tries, works.
In general, the last four games have been relatively clear of bone headed plays, but when they have happened, it’s really hurt. The ineligible receiver downfield penalty was one of those really close calls that home cooking refs took advantage of. Both outside receivers were a yard behind the LOS but there was judgement involved in the flag, and it could have been avoided if the outside receivers had checked with the Head Linesman. Those sorts of mental errors will always kill you.
The other mental error that constantly hurts us is the “over-rush” on running quarterbacks. With a dual threat QB the defensive ends must contain the quarterback. That means not rushing past him, either behind him or inside. It’s critical for the Ends and Tackles to maintain containment both inside and outside so that the QB cannot step up into an open ended pocket (uncovered A-Gap) or slice outside behind an end that has taken himself out of the play. Adrenaline is a double edged sword. It might give strength and quickness, but it tends to dull the senses and narrow the field of vision. It’s time for Belmar and Hewitt to get the front four focused on containment and allow the linebackers to clean up the tackles for this game.
We are 2.5 point underdogs in our own house on this one. The football analyst world is seeing a Wake Forest team that has been playing good football against an average opponent set. That doesn’t put a damper on the 7-1 record, and their 2nd place rating in the ACC (not just the Atlantic Conference... they are Belk Bowl Bound if they keep this up.) Virginia Tech is is still competing for the Coastal. To win it, we need to win every game ahead of us leading into Thanksgiving and Black Friday’s confrontation with the Wahoos. If we do this right, we’ll be bowl eligible AND then the Coastal Championship game will be at Scott Stadium this fall. It’s a pretty great place to be, considering how we felt after the Duke fiasco. However, it is critical to remember that it’s a one game at a time situation. So, really, the most important thing that the Hokies need is to go 1-0, tomorrow.