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Wake Forest Football: 3 Keys to Beating Georgia Tech

How can the Deacs secure a victory in week 4?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Vanderbilt at Wake Forest Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite last week’s emotional roller coaster of game for Wake Forest fans, the Deacs are returning home 3-0 for the third straight season. Up next, Wake takes on the 1-2 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a team whose improvements on the field have not yet been reflected in their overall record. Let’s check out the 3 keys to Wake Forest winning their conference opener and moving to 4-0 on the season.

Finish the Play

The Georgia Tech offense has started the season off extremely hot—the Jackets are averaging 35 points and 513 yards of offense in their 3 games this year. Starting QB Haynes King leads the ACC in almost every passing statistic so far, including passing touchdowns (9), passing yards (910), passing yards per game (303.3). Those numbers may give the impression that GT is slinging the ball down the field quite a bit, but that is not exactly the case. From what I have seen, the Yellow Jackets’ offense uses a lot of quick hitters such as WR screens and swing passes to get their best athletes the ball out in space, and it’s the yards after the catch where Tech really excels. That means that making open field tackles against some very talented players like Jamal Haynes and Trevion Cooley will be critical for Wake Forest’s defense on Saturday. Failure to wrap up or thinking a play is over before the whistle blows could result in a pass behind the line of scrimmage turning into a 50+ yard touchdown.

Discipline on Defense

As previously mentioned, the Yellow Jackets offense has been very good this season. Despite only scoring 23 points last weekend against #15 Ole Miss, the Jackets were able to gain 474 yards of offense against a defense that hadn’t given up over 350 yards going into the game (Ole Miss had only played Mercer and Tulane, so take that with a grain of salt). One of the ways that GT is able to gain so many yards is by using a lot of pre-snap motion to get the defense moving and looking in one direction before attacking them somewhere else on the field. They’ll send a back in motion to get the defense drifting towards the sideline—no doubt thinking another swing pass is coming—and then they’ll hit somebody working back the other way for a big gain. They also use it in the run game to get linebackers out of position to make it easier to set up blocks and get big chunk plays on the ground—Georgia Tech is currently the 29th best rushing team in the nation with 202 rushing yards per game. The Deacs needs to be ready for a lot of pre-snap motion and stay with their assignment rather than cheating over to where the ball appears to be going. Getting caught overreacting to some misdirection against the Yellow Jackets is a good way to get gashed for huge gain.

Protect the Football

This is a key to pretty much every football game, but after what we saw last weekend, the Deacs absolutely must do a better job protecting the ball. Last season, the Yellow Jackets were the 6th best team in the nation with a +11-turnover margin, and Wake has been incredibly loose with the ball so far this season—through 3 games, the Deacs have turned the ball over 5 times, with 3 of those being returned for touchdowns. That’s 5 turnovers and 21 points spotted to an FCS team and two defenses that rank 100th and 109th in total defense so far this season.

As the opposing defenses are only going to get better, the Deacs have to do a better job in 2 key areas: blitz pickups and decision making. Wake really struggled against ODU picking up blitzes, which left Mitch Griffis throwing the ball while get plastered by unblocked linebackers running at full speed. Both interceptions against the Monarchs were a result of Griffis throwing the ball while getting hit.

When Griffis did have time, he often held onto the ball way too long and got himself into trouble trying to make a big play instead of just taking what the defense gave him. That’s something that is going to get better as he gets more game experience, but as Clawson said this week, the time Griffis has to make a decision is only going to get shorter as the season goes on. Griffis must do a better job getting rid of the ball quicker or taking off and running if no one on is open as Wake moves into ACC play. Improving in these two areas should really help Wake limit the turnovers going forward.