#17 Virginia Tech @ #32 Wake Forest:
TV coverage: ESPN3, 6:30pm
Vegas Line: VT is favored by 7 points
$-line: VT is a 2.7:1 fave, Wake is a 1:2.3 underdog
A let-down trap game?
A game played way way up in Ichabod Crane’s neighborhood of Sleepy Hollow?
Yah; kinda, and maybe even pretty much, as this one has ho-hum, or workman like effort, or a business no thrills like approach written all over it. Think of something along the lines of our recent trip up to Huntington WV, from which Coach Grobe hails.
Yah, Virginia Tech really should win this one. As you just can not say with a straight face that VT enjoys less top-44 talent than Wake Forest does.
Though Wake Forest is better than you think; maybe even a good deal better than you think and they are surely catching VT at the right time for this one gentlemen. As there is no doubt in my mind that Wake Forest will be jacked all the way up for big bad VT; although I’m a bit undersold on seeing an all-out high-octane O&M effort. Kinda tough to ante up and kick in when you have as many walking wounded as we do.
Ergo, don’t die of O&M shock if our beloved Hokies win this one by single digits, or maybe even by a single play.
As VT almost has to be mentally or emotionally down after hosting back-to-back mega home games vs. nationally ranked Clemson and always hard-knocking Miami on national TV; on top of that VT is extremely physically beat-up indeed. To be frank, I’d rather be playing OPEN or BYE this weekend and give this 2011 VT football squad a chance to lick its wounds and engage in some much needed R&R; both in physical and mental terms alike. Alas, that will have to wait ~20 odd days until VT can catch a week off and get some much needed down time to amp back up for the dicey two-step otherwise know as @ Georgia Tech and home for U.N.C., on back-to-back made for TV Thursday nights.
All that to say, if VT is asleep at the O&M wheel on the bus ride down to Winston-Salem for Saturday’s game, VT could be in for a rude awaking in this one as this one already has “ugly win” written all over it.
- One. As in one-hundred second, or 102nd in rushing offense for Wake Forest this season as this is now officially a passing offense indeed.
- Two. VT has only allowed 2 TD’s this season in the first quarter of play.
- Third. Wake Wr M.Campanaro has a Qb rating of 616.8! 3 for 3 for 106 yards and two TD’s, if you need him. And oh by the way, he is third in receiving with 20 grabs for 263 yards on top of that! (BONUS: VT has picked 23 passes in their last 13 games)
- Four. Since 2004, VT is 11-zip playing in North Carolina. Making VT the reining 5 year North Carolina state champion!
- Five. Cody Journell has made 4 of his last 5 FGA’s (80%) and appears to be settling down and stepping it up since E.C.U.
- Six. 47.6%. The average pass completion% by VT opponents vs. Bud Lite this season!
- 87%. Wake however is not so good in Red Zone defense allowing opponents to score 87% of the time that they penetrate inside the Deacon 20 yard line. Size matters, just ask your girl, and the very undersized Wake Forest defense (no starter weighs in north of 259 lbs.!) struggles with its back to the proverbial wall.
- Eight. VT has only allowed 8 sacks in 6 games thus far this campaign. (36th best this year compared to 86th last year –pass blocking has slowly yet surely been improving over the last handful of years –PROPS to Coach C.News!) (BONUS: my home boy David Wilson is now only averaging 8.4 yards per touch of the football for his career at Virginia Tech)
- 32.39%. Meaning, Wake Forest has the very best get-off-the-field third down defenses that we will face all year; as the the Decs are 21st best in third down defense allowed at a 32.39% conversion rate allowed.
- Ten. As in VT is holding the ball for precisely 10:10 (ten minutes and ten seconds) longer than their opponents in Time of Possession (TOP) this season! (BONUS: VT is 10th in sacks this year)
Wake Forest defense: Base 3-4, 9 starters return:
259, 255, 255, (Logan Thomas, 254) 240, 240, 230, 220, 210, 2o5, 190, 160! Nope. That’s not the bottom of the DirectTV screen auction ticker on some stray late night auction show from somewhere in California on chanel 8,00-something that seems too good to be true; population you. That’s the starting line-up as weight-classes go for the Wake Forest Deacon’s stop-unit in 2011. By my count that’s 7 heavyweight boxers of less than the prerequisite Klitschko stature, 3 guys who are or really should drop down and fight at Cruiserweight, and one guy who is barely a Middleweight. Yikes! Can you say the little engine that could? As in, do not allow those aforementioned pigskin featherweights to deceive you, this Wake stop-unit can and has gotten the job done for most of the 2011 regular season thus far.
How do you make up for a nearly High School sized defense? By installing a smart looking 50 (or fifty-two) Set and by doing a whole lotta moving around both pre and post snap alike. You will see about as many Slants, Twists, Loops and Stunts outta the Wake dLine as you can possibly handle in an attempt to see if the opposing oLine (C.News’ boys in this case) can handle some basic assignment based football. You will also see Wake eagle their OLb’s up and create the aforementioned 50 or fifty-two look from time-to-time.
Although Wake is pretty stout in run-fighting terms (see: below) Wake does not pressure the Qb well (107th in sacks) as they are more comfortable playing a scheme or assignment version of defense as opposed to a hard-charging upfield attack oriented stop-unit. That said, as you can see from the above pic, Wake ain’t shy about playing some Tampa-2 with nearly (if not all) 11 guys stationed inside the proverbial box. And guess what? Wake only surrenders 1o2 on the ground for it. The three things I really liked about this Wake defense in breaking tape were…
They sure as hell work like mothers and flat out hustle to the football; yes, you can find fault their diminutive size, although you can not fault the size of their effort or “want-too” as Coach Foster puts it. In fact, I caught a not so subtle whiff of the Boise State Kamikaze effort level from Wake Forest in breaking film for this one. Maybe not that jacked up or that much of a red-line R.P.M. approach, though pretty high revving as elbow-grease or sweat goes.
Next up, we see the obvious fact that you simply do not see this brand of a 3-4 based stop-set all that often anymore. This version of the 3-4 (a modified Bud Wilkinson 50-look) went out with Nixon. Observe that the two Deacon ILb’s are not stacked and therefore, I am hopeful that Nosal-Miller-Brooks can fold-block well enough to the second layer of the Deacon defense when needed. That said, the Wake Ng one #5o Nikita Whitlock (right) may be a little guy, though he sure is a little guy with a big ole heart. At 5`10“ and 259, Nikita plays with outstanding quicks and likewise textbook leverage. He does a real fine job of jumping either A-gap and effectively shielding at least one Wake ILb from contact. Whitlock is fifth in tackles and he has one broken-up pass to his credit; thus making him a very active and therefore very likeable Ng on the inside.
Tertiary speaking, we see that Wake has 7 of their top-8 secondary guys back from last year, they will play a lot of cover-2 with man on the edges (what I’d call medium-man; although look for the Deacon Cb cushion to vary from side to side) and their Safeties are extremely active in run support. This suggests the home-run or at least some medium to elongated work to me. All the more so if we get our ground-attack on track early on and can therefore play-action later in the evening. That said, these Wake Safeties are not contact shy and they are indeed skillful open-field tacklers. Kinda like having a Tweedy and a slimmer Tariq Edwards back there.
Due to their lack of size, this Wake Forest stop-unit is not so precocious in short-yardage (or in the Red Zone0 and looks ripe to be spread out with some wider splits from C.News crew upfront. Watch for that one early on as my boy Wilson could really have a big day here as he is a broken tackle just waiting to happen and these smaller Deacon defenders may get broken down indeed. Ditto, hammering Josh straight ahead right at Wake on A-gap iso’s or wham plays, double-ditto a certain Qb who is certainly bigger/stronger than basically 10 outta 11 Wake defenders. (overall Wake Forest defensive letter-grade: not bad, not bad at all, a very solid B+, although this Deacon stop-unit is prolly capped for the season due to raw physical limitations)
Wake Forest offense: power-I, Pro set, and Spread looks, pass heavy (8 starters back)
Wake Forest went to more of an Option based look after all-everything Qb R.Skinner departed Winston-Salem a couple of years ago. Though a myriad of Qb injuries put the kibosh on all of that; right now you will be seeing more shotgun based Spread elements with a whole lotta play-action off of 2 or 3-Wr sets in an attempt to keep the Tech Linebackers honest if not on the hook. Well, that is presuming that wounded warrior Josh Harris, -who you may recall tore us a new one last year- can give it a go on his bad wheel (hammie). The late week reports are less than encouraging as he has yet to practice through Wednesday. So exactly how is Wake getting it done on offense? The answer is threefold…
First up, we see an oLine that is a mammoth 6`5“ and 338 lbs. on average! Now mix in four senior season starters and an oLine that can go a legitimate 9 deep and you can go ahead and say: “Hello Miami, we have a similar problem.” (note: saw some Gah.Tech ‘esque looking chop-blocking downfield: memo to the VT pursuing defender(s): mind you knees) (note: as well, these massive Wake oLinemen are susceptible to speed-rushing off the edge)
Secondly, Wake has enjoyed a major infusion of catching talent when it comes to their pitch-in-catch combinations. According to the Phil Steele depth-chart, Wake now enjoys the services of no less than eight different VHT’s (very highly touted, recruits) in their pass catching corps. Now note that when these Decs do snag a pass, they do work! As Wake has no less than five different pass catchers who average at least a first down (10 yards) or better pre catch; and four of those five average 13 or more. (note: Wake does not throw to its Te’s hardly at all (I’m not even sure if Wake has Te’s) and to it’s Rb’s about 1.5 times per game; as this is all Deacon Wr work and nearly nothing less that Wr work)
Finally, Wake sophomore southpaw –which changes the hand you attempt to block or deflect as pass with; also tends to cause Db drops; and he throws more often to his left-hand side to be sure- Qb Tanner Price is mucho better this year compared to last. His passing total right now is only 9` short of his passing total for all of 2010! His completion% is up by a generous 6% and his TD:INT ratio has gone from 7:8 the ‘rong way to a very handsome 5:1 to the good. Now note that his carries on the season are already up by 300% and that his rushing TD’s are already up by 400%. Do I hear a nomination for Most Improved player in the A.c.c. please? As for passing itself, I saw a whole lotta intermediary work outta Wake on film. Not quote short; not quite medium, what I’d have to call go-between passing. Yes, Price and Wake may take one or two deep shots just because per game; however, that’s not what this Deacon passing attack is all about. What it is all about is spreading the field and creating throwing lanes if not flat out passing seams. Well, when Wake is not too busy screening for 3-5 yard gainers that is. Note that Wake only has two completions in excess of 40 yards this season; and yet they enjoy no less than five guys gaining 10 yards or better per reception. That’s called creating pass catching space via a lateral or horizontal-stretch and throwing guys open or simply throwing to guys on the run; i.e. not stationary targets that are easier to tackle. Wanna also thrown in the fact that I saw some dang strong looking Wake Forest Wideouts on film. Therefore, tackling angles, secondary-leverage and textbook hit-n-warp-up will be at a premium to help limit Y.A.C. (yards after catch) downfield in this one. Such surely speaks to the Bud Lite $0.05 (Nickel), the 30-set and some zone-blitzing to me. Don’t cry if you see Wake getting a little bit of yardage here and a little bit of yardage there and even a few 20-something gainers in aerial terms as this contest unfolds. Rushing however is the key to this game and Deacon ball-carrying health (or lack thereof) may have already picked the lock on a VT win.
As rushing goes, I did see a few more single back sets in film-study (note the use of a true Fb by Wake above with a true Hb in tow). The kicker here is the health of #25 Josh Harris who rewrote the O&M record books all by his ownself last year inside of Lane. Nobody has ever shredded VT like Mr. Harris did last year, not the annihilation games vs. Alabama in the 70’s and not the ugly sets of franchise runs in the 30’s and 50’s alike. Presuming Mr. Harris isn’t good-to-go, that should go a long way towards making Wake uno-dimensional; and we all know that Bud Foster is quite effective in getting after any offense that can only do one thing. That said, the injury to Harris is not making this Deacon oLine any smaller or any less physical. If Harris does sit, could a particularly beat-up VT dLine make another Wake Forest Rb famous –#22 Brandon Pendergrass for $1,000 anyone? That’s not umpossible and I for one will be rather interested to see how Wake and offensive coordinator Steed “Scrabble points” Lobotzke attacks Bud Lite this weekend?
That said, from what I am seeing on film, the drop-off between the explosive Josh Harris and Brandon Pendergrass; who has never been much more than a very impoverished mans Josh Oglesbly (except smaller) is large and in charge indeed. Pendergrass is semi fast and he is kinda bullish (i.e. strong); however, he has a history of really bad shoulder troubles (note: #22 looked like he hurt his right-shoulder vs. F.S.U. on film last week) and he is a touch undersized at 5`9“ 199 lbs. Ergo, if Harris is indeed in civis on Saturday VT’s odds on winning get a noticeable boost. Say no less than 10% give or take. I did see some misdirection off of the given pre-snap motion or some counter looks outta Wake. Such has me wondering if Grobe will have Price carry the mail (in lieu of Harris) on some read-option keepers; and it also has me wondering about Tweedy’s penchant for over-pursuit? To take all of that to its natural fruition, the Wake O reminded me of the Wake D. Utah-passes, misdirection’s, picking downfield, with a few chops mixed in and you almost have something approaching a gimmicky offense. That’s not an insult as much as that is shrewd X’s and O’s personnel mandated scheming and therefore making the most of what you have at your disposal. Finally, note that Wake has only fumbled once and Price only has two INT’s; or in other words, don’t expect this Deacon offense to gift-wrap anything, not even an inch. (overall Wake Forest offensive letter-grade: a flat-C if Harris sits, or very high B- if he balls)
Wake Forest special Teams: (1 specialist returns, K)
Wake FG kicker Jimmy Newman is 92% on his FGA’s and yet only 90% on his P.A.T.’s? Go fig’ on that one folks. To put it mildly, this Newman kid is nearly automatic inside of the 40-yardline, in fact he has not attempted a place-kick from beyond the 40 this campaign. Point of fact, Mr. Newman is only 23 outta 25 over the last two seasons on 3-pointers when he swings his elongated right let. That sure sounds positively Beamerball ‘esque to me folks. Newman also handles kick-off duty for the Decs, although he is not quite as strong legged as our own Justin Meyer is; hence the limited range on his FGA’s although his exceptional accuracy does extend out into the mid to high 40’s with a little help from the wind. Wake is solid on kickoff coverage (47th best) and just a tad below average on punt coverage (71st best). Wake is 80th in punt returns and 69th in KO returns. Nothing bad bad, just very vanilla or pedestrian football as the Deacon return game goes. Lovell Jackson returns both kicks and punts alike, and he has broken a couple of kicks in his college career, despite having ankle troubles and a mustache that would make Thomas Magnum proud. It is however punting that has been a stone in the Deacon’s shoe this season. The Deacon punter, one #24 Alex Wulfeck is 113th best in Net Punting this year. Wulfeck only averages 36 and change per punt and he only has a long of 44 this year. He does however make up for his lack of distance with his signature height as 75% of his punts have been fair-caught. Wake has blocked a punt already this season; so do be mindful of that if you surname just so happens to be Brahthover. (overall Wake Forest special-teams letter-grade: highest possible B+++, would be higher if Wake had some threatening returners, as Newman will win them a close game or three this year)
Conclusion(s), illation, and OPT digits:
To borrow from Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not: “I tell you true”… when I say that VT will very likely attempt to play a simple yet highly O&M altruistic game of keep-away vs. Wake on Saturday. Last year VT held the ball for 41:26 minutes vs. the Dec’s, and that’s the all-time Frank Beamer coaching career (301 games) Time of Possession (TOP) mark folks! Right now VT is only fifth best in TOP at 35:05 per game.
Now note the following markers that pretty much tell the 2011 Deacon tale…
- 21st in rushing defense
- 26th in passing efficiency defense
- 26th in total defense overall
- 28th in red zone offense
- 15th in turnover margin
Or in other words, this is an extremely fundamentally sound, high football I.Q., and exceptionally well-coached Wake Forest football team folks. These Deacons do not make many mistakes (see: Qb Tanner Price’s 1.23% INT percentage) and they will not be found guilty of beating themselves. Further, note that someone said in a recent TSL.com publication that Coach Grobe was in the Top-2 or Top-3 football coaches in the A.c.c. right now. Why? Because Coach Jim Grobe is in no less than the Top-2 as A.c.c. coaches go when it comes to getting the most outta his talent and his talent is indeed somewhat south of dazzling in Atlantic Coast terms. Think about it … now try to name me some A.c.c. schools that Wake can simply line-up and out-talent. Duke you say? Phil Steele listed no less than 5 Dukies in his all-A.c.c. first, second, third and forth team all-conference position rankings pre-season. hoo-Va you answer? The dumb frenchies have 10. Only Wake Forest checks in with a lowly 2, yes, that’s t-w-o guys outta 100 listed players listed by Phil Steele preseason! Makes you wonder what a Coach Grobe would do with, oh, say Virginia Tech caliber talent –don’t it?
“I don’t know if there’s anybody who loves the game more than I do, I’d still rather be playing.”
-Wake Forest head football coach Jim Grobe-
What a great guy, who runs a trouble-free football program, graduates his players (93%), wins way more than his fair share of football games (with: 41 wins and 1 A.c.c. title since 2006) during his signature five year red-shirt based cycle. To take that thesis of thought to its rightful fruition, Jim Grobe is just like an overloaded 24 credit hours per semester –all class; or the antithesis to what we just played.
Coach Jim Grobe and Coach Frank Beamer … “on and on and on and on, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” -Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi-
I was gonna finish this preview on the basis that Josh Harris would sit; and that therefore Wake Forest would be reduced to uno-dimensional terms on offense. We all know how erudite the Dean of D-1 defensive coordinators nationwide is vs. a one-dimensional offense. However, Josh’s very own Friday tweets on Twitter from his ownself, say that his hamstring now feels: “great”.
So here we have VT visiting a surprising 4-1 Wake, on an artificial surface (which I abhor) and playing inside of the less than raucous 31,500 seat BB&T Field down in Winston Salem. Now we note that VT’s total defense has backed up or unimproved by virtually 70 yards of total defense on average over their last three contests –primarily due to having 3 starters out for the year (A.Hop, K.Battle, and “G.Dub”); and with Gayle already ruled out for Wake that makes 4. According to the McBryde Hall in me, that works out to a 36.6% reduction in starting manpower; and make no mistake; that is no small defensive problem folks. In fact, at the rate that this level of 2011 stop-unit attrition is trending –and dangerously trending at that- we are ever so swiftly trending the direction of becoming downright debilitated in terms of remaining 2011 O&M defensive prowess to be sure. VT simply does not have the size, the experience nor the depth upfront to support a single Gap based defensive system for the remainder for 2011 at this time. This matter will only ameliorate itself during the off-season as the remaining front-liners have the looks and feel of a front-wall that will only continue to erode or wear-down as the 2011 season wears on. i.e. this is as good as they will be from here on out, which really brings U.N.C. and GT into the arena of contact if not flat out concern. Wake on the other hand has seen their stop-troops stiffen of late, as they are actually 25 yards tougher overall in their same last three contests. This has made the aggregate total defensive margin swing an aggregate -95 yards or nearly centennial swing that has very much not swung in Virginia Tech’s favor of late.
As you can see above, this year Coach Grobe is 15th best in turnover margin in national D-1 terms. So I went back and studied the Deacon turnover margin timeline to see what I might uncover. During the Skinner years where Wake won a combined 28 games and one A.c.c. title, the Dec’s were nearly +10 on the nose in turnover margin per season on average. Right now Wake is on pace to finish +13 in turnover margin this season. One other item that favors Wake in a significant manner for this match is experience. Wake has 17 more returning lettermen than VT does, Wake has 9 senior starters with seven defensive linemen with starting experience and 9 of their top-10 back on their oLine on top of all of that. If Harris is suddenly good-to-go, (and the Friday returns suggest that he is) this one is a much stiffer competition than most will expect or forecast. Something like 20-10; or maybe even a single digit Hokie win. If however Harris is lame, pulls up lame or is simply tweeting smoke, VT will win by something approaching a two score margin; possibly more if L.T. remains sizzling hot after a career defining performance and come from behind win vs. Miami last week. If Harris and his tight hammie loosen up a bit, I give Wake a downright solid 30% shot at pulling this upset at home vs. a very physically beat-up Virginia Tech football team that finds itself firmly ensconced in a textbook let-down-trap. If not, I am expecting a methodical, grinding, blue-collar, no thrills Hokie victory down in Carolina. As of now, I am leaning towards the latter, as I am expecting Bud Lite to unveil some new wrinkles or even stopgap measures to combat so much depletion in Bud Lite 2011 defensive personnel terms. Unless Harris is suddenly right with the world; that should be enough for a highly deliberate Hokie victory; even if it is not a gimmie or blow-out one to begin with.
Virginia Tech=27, Wake Forest=1o