The Deacs will face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies this season for the first time since the legendary 6-3 overtime win in 2014 (I’m still waiting for the ESPN 30 for 30 on VT00WF). This will be just the 2nd time Wake Forest has gone to Blacksburg since the Hokies joined the ACC all the way back in 2004. As usual, I will start with a some stats and rankings and then move on to a breakdown.
Game Date: November 9th
Opponent: Virginia Tech
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (4th year at VT, 25-15)
2018-19 record: 6-7 (4-4)
Highest Ranking: 12 (AP)
Bowl Game: Military Bowl (35-31 loss to Cincinnati)
Wins: FSU, William & Mary, Duke, UNC, UVA, Marshall
Losses: Old Dominion, ND, GT, BC, Pitt, Miami, Cincinnati
Yards per Game: 428.2 (39th in NCAA)
Yards Allowed per Game: 438.7 (98th)
Points per Game: 29.8 (60th)
Points Allowed per Game: 31.0 (85th)
S&P+ Rankings (2018-19 season):
- Overall: 55
- Offense: 41
- Defense: 77
- Special Teams: 57
- SOS: 71
Projected S&P+ Rankings (2019-2020 season):
- Overall: 30
- Offense: 36
- Defense: 35
- Josh Jackson - QB (36-58, 575 yards, 5 TD, 1 Int before breaking leg against ODU)
- Steven Peoples - RB (158 carries, 786 yards, 6 TD)
- Eric Kumah - WR (42 receptions, 559 yards, 7 TD)
- Ricky Walker - DT (49 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
- Ryan Willis - QB (213-364, 2716 yards, 24 TD, 9 Int, 354 rushing yards, 4 rush TD)
- Damon Hazelton - WR (51 receptions, 802 yards, 8 TD)
- Rayshard Ashby - LB (105 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 sack)
- Reggie Floyd - DB (80 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 Int)
Last season was probably one that the Hokies would like to forget. VT was ranked all the way up at 12th in the nation in the AP Poll before starting QB Josh Jackson broke his leg in a game where the Hokies lost to Old Dominion (the Monarchs finished 4-8, and, if you remember from the Rice preview, were the only FBS team Rice beat all year) and dropped completely out of the Top 25. After narrowly beating UNC on October 13th, VT was 4-2 and looked to be back on track; they didn’t win another game until beating UVA on November 23rd. Fortunately for the Hokies, they were able to win a make up game over Marshall (due to Hurricane Florence on week 3) and extend their bowl streak to 26 years in a row.
On the offensive end, the Hokies should be pretty good this year. VT returns most of the production from an offense that was able to put up almost 430 yards per game and finished the 2018 season ranked 41st in offense by S&P+ despite losing their starting QB in the 3rd game of the season. Last year, the Hokies used a very balanced attack to move the ball on offense, as evident by their 51.5% adjusted run rate. While a strive for balance may be the goal, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Tech lean more towards the pass this season, as they lost leading rusher Steven Peoples to graduation and return 4 receivers who caught over 25 passes last season. Kansas transfer and presumable starting QB Ryan Willis also returns for his senior season, giving the Hokies some much needed stability at the QB position after 3 straight years of first year starters (outside of Jackson’s 3 games last season). The Deacs could have trouble slowing down a passing attack that ranked 25th a season ago by S&P+ and returns so many weapons, most notably Damon Hazelton, who caught 51 passes and scored 8 touchdowns last season.
Shockingly, it was Bud Foster’s defense that was mostly responsible for Virginia Tech’s struggles last season. The typically staunch Hokie defense gave up 430 yards and 31 points per game, leaving them ranked at 77th in the nation on defense by S&P+. That means that the Hokies finished last season ranked 13 spots worse than Wake Forest on defense despite all of the issues we had on that side of the ball. Whether the decline of the VT defense is a trend or a 1 year anomaly in the historic career of one of the best defensive coordinators to ever coach, we will have to wait and see. The Hokies do return 5 of their top tacklers from a season ago, including Rayshard Ashby, who led the Hokies with 105 tackles last season as a sophomore, and their leading sacker, Houshun Gaines, who finished with 4.5 sacks in just 9 games. With it being Foster’s last season as the defensive coordinator at VT, I have a feeling the Hokies defense will be playing with added motivation all season long.
If the VT defense gets back on track this season, there is no reason they can’t be a Top 25 team. While they did lose several players to the transfer portal (Justin Fuente even put out a statement to put the fan base at ease at several players announced within 48 hours of one another), they are still 11th in the nation in returning production according to Bill Connelly’s in depth look. That means the Hokies are primed to take a big step forward this season. At this point, it is looking like this will be the 2nd toughest game on the schedule, behind only Clemson. The Deacs will have to play their best if they want to come out a Blacksburg with a victory.