West Virginia in the rear-view mirror, the Hokies move on to bigger and more
important targets with a conference road game against Wake Forest.
This will be Tech's first true road game of the season, and it comes against a
conference foe that is vastly underrated by many fans, media, and other college
Wake Forest may be limited athletically at some positions,
but they play smart, tough, physical football and they will not beat
themselves. They can't match Tech's team speed, but they are
efficient and their execution is technically sound and consistent.
To say Tech should win because they have superior athletes
at more positions would be overly simplistic, as well as inaccurate. For
sure, the Hokies have certain matchup advantages on both sides of the ball,
but those athletes will have to counter the precision of the Demon Deacons in
all phases of the game. It's a matchup of athletes vs. technicians,
and many of those technicians are pretty athletic as well.
Let's break it down a bit further and identify the key
factors for a Tech victory. Acknowledging the importance of
special teams and turnovers to any win or loss, the focus here once
again will be on the offense and defense.
When Tech is on Defense
Offensively, Wake Forest is well known for their scheme.
They do a little bit of everything from power to option to shotgun to screens to misdirection.
I've heard their offense described as the "super sized" version of
Tech's offense with a few added twists. The two teams have shared ideas
over the years, so it's no surprise that there are similarities. Wake
typically brings a little more into each game plan and they will try a
lot of different things, particularly in the first half of games. They tend
to narrow it down as the game advances into the second half, focusing on
what is working from earlier in the game. So, the scheme is their
identity, but in my opinion, the key to their success isn't so much
their scheme, it's the precise and consistent execution of a wide and varied
Key #1: Discipline at DE and LB
Wake Forest is going to test the discipline of Tech's
defensive ends and linebackers early and often. If the Tech DE's are too
aggressive in pursuit, then look for option and reverses off the power
game. If they are too aggressive in contain, then look for big doses
of trap blocks and Chris Barclay between the tackles. Mentally, this might
be Darryl Tapp's toughest assignment of the year. Wake will try several
things to take advantage of his relentless play. In this game, patience
and focus will be big for him. He must guard against trying to do too
much and not get frustrated by some of the tactics Wake will use against him.
On the other side of the line, Wake likes to use one of
their TE's as an H-back that pulls from the strongside to take out the weakside
defensive end with a trap block. Against that formation, look for Tech to
jump into a familiar 8-man front to force Wake to run into numbers or to
audible out of the play. It will be important for Noland Burchette
(and Chris Ellis) to attack that trap block and allow the Mike and Whip
linebackers to secure their gaps. One adjustment Wake might make is
to utilize flanker reverse action, using the H-back trap block as a false
key against Tech's weakside defenders. The cat and mouse game will be
interesting to watch. In the meantime, Wake will send Cory Randolph on a
quick QB draw or run a power isolation with Barclay right up the middle, either
one with pinpoint execution.
Key #2: Adjusting to cut blocks
Wake's offensive line isn't as big as some, but they play
hard and physical football. In watching the NC State game film, I was
impressed by how well they executed as a unit. It's not a surprise that
they are at or near the top of the conference in rushing statistics. That
all starts up front, and as I mentioned earlier there is no better example of
their precise and consistent execution than the offensive line.
One thing to look for is Wake's tendency to cut
block, both from the front and side of defensive players. The objective is
to neutralize any size or speed advantages by sweeping defenders off their feet.
It gets to be borderline and controversial in the trenches because defenders are
often engaged up top with an offensive lineman when another blocker goes low
with the cut block. This combination block is called a chop block and it
is not legal in the college game (nor in the pro's for that matter).
Darryl Tapp is particularly vulnerable here because Wake likes to use their
TE to cut the strongside defensive end and there will be times when he will be
engaged with the right offensive tackle as well. Tech's defenders have to
stay alert and not let their feet get planted at bad angles. Most of all,
they need to stay poised because chop blocks are hard to see in the trenches and
they often go uncalled.
Key #3: Collapse on the run and short passing game
All year, Frank Beamer has been preaching to his defense
to eliminate the big play and force the offense to snap the ball.
This is a game where he and the defensive coaching staff will be tempted to do
the exact opposite. The Hokie game plan of old would
seem to be the way to go -- load up the box, stop the run, and make the QB beat
you by staying in the pocket and taking deep shots down the field against single
coverage. Wake has good skill at WR, but forcing Cory Randolph to make
those throws has to be at the front of Bud Foster's thought process.
James Griffin's status for this game may tip the game plan
even further in that direction. Look for Mike Daniels to get quality
snaps at Rover in this game. Daniels is a physical player that likes to
mix it up at the line of scrimmage (remember his starting days as the Whip LB?)
and he is less effective down the field where his limited speed is a
liability. Going with an 8-man front as the base defense will force
Wake into certain tendencies they may not like as much as some others.
In addition to forcing some shots down the field, they would tend to try more
option, which would be a good matchup for Tech's defense when Ben Mauk
is in at QB. Mauk is a good runner, but if I'm Bud Foster, I want to see
him on the edge with a decision to keep it or pitch it against Tech's speed on
While we may see a lot of 8-man fronts, I would not
expect a lot of all-out blitzes. We may see one or two, but the Hokies
must respect Wake's screen game to the RB's and WR's from shotgun
formations. I expect Tech to show 8-man fronts, but then drop
out into underneath zones at the snap. Also look for the Hokies
to use a zone blitz in certain situations. Given Wake's tendencies, look
for the Hokies to drop out their defensive end on the opposite side from where
the Wake RB is aligned.
Key #4: Expect the unexpected
Wake isn't a team that will run a lot of so-called
"trick" plays, but they will set up plays by using false keys that are
specifically intended to trigger certain defensive tendencies. Defenses
can often bait offenses into certain hot reads and then jump the hot route for a
big play (anyone remember Anthony Midget baiting Kenny Kelly and Miami in the
1999 game?). Wake does a similar thing on offense. They will bait
defenses with certain keys and then counter with a false key.
For example, they will trap block all day with their H-back and their RB
will run in behind it. Then, they'll show a trap block but run a
QB bootleg, misdirection option or WR reverse directly against
conventional tendencies. They are very good at it and they will catch the
Hokies with a few "false keys" in this game. It will be
important for Tech's speedy defenders to close the window quickly in order
to keep a good play from becoming a big play.
Key #5: Continue to play good defense "up the
In baseball, there is an old saying that teams win with
good defense "up the middle". The corollary is just as true --
teams lose with poor defense "up the middle". The same can be
said for football (as Tech fans know all too well). So far this year, the
improvement in the middle of the defense has been dramatic, particularly at
defensive tackle with Jim Davis and Jonathan Lewis. Watch Jonathan Lewis
in this game to see if he gets consistent penetration. So far, he has been
playing on the other team's side of the ball a lot. Similar to WVU last
week, Wake's line is experienced and they will try to be physical with him.
If #56 is creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage, then it will be a
frustrating day for Wake's running game.
When Tech is on Offense
Wake plays a straight 4-3 defense, with a lot of 2-deep
looks. They are tough and they play hard, but they are a bit undersized
and their depth is questionable. They held NC State scoreless for the
first half last week, but then wilted in the second half when NC State decided
to stop the cute stuff and run TA McClendon right at them. They're not
particularly quick or fast and they're not flashy with what they do. They
are a hard-nosed unit with good toughness and good experience,
especially in the secondary. Their best cover corner, Eric King, is probably
their best player on defense, but there is some question about his status for
the game due to a concussion he suffered last week against NC State.
His availability will be critical for Wake's defense -- it was no
coincidence that NC State started to get things going right after King left
Key #1: Time for the OL to shine
Although Tech's running game has been sputtering for much
of the year, it got back on track last week behind Mike Imoh. Power
football is the Hokies' bread and butter, and I expect that to be the
primary element of Bryan Stinespring's game plan, particularly early to set the
tone and late as Wake's defense starts to tire. It will be another war in
the trenches, much like it was last week against West Virginia. It's the
first true road game and penalties have been an issue, so look for the return of
the fullback and the I-formation, with a dose of man blocking and isolation
I believe this game will reveal a lot about the status of
Tech's offensive line and their capabilities to be a dominating run
blocking unit. If they struggle, particularly in the second half of this
game, then that will not bode well heading into the second half of the season.
The running game showed signs last week and it's very important to build on that
this week. Tech's full complement of tailbacks are now in place, so
it's important to take another step forward, especially against a defense that
has shown a tendency to wear down later in games.
Key #2: Patience and execution in the pass game
The offense is overdue to hit some big plays down the
field, but it will be risky against Wake's experienced corners (assuming King
plays). Look for the Wake corners to challenge the Tech WR's one on one at
the line of scrimmage. They are both excellent at playing the ball and
they will try to get Bryan Randall to take shots against them. Randall
must stay patient and not force anything against their corners.
Wake's pass defense is vulnerable in the middle and Tech
must take advantage of that, even though it's normally not a strength of the
passing game. Initially, look for the Tech offense to work the fullback
and TE's against the Wake LB's underneath and the slot receivers against the
limited speed at safety. Establishing the run game will force Wake to get
out of their 2-deep looks and bring a safety up to support the run. That
should give Tech some short and mid-range opportunities to the WR's outside
against 3-deep coverage. Then, go for the home run when Wake presses with
their corners and one of their safeties bites up on play action. Wake's
defense is vulnerable to play action, so early on look for the Hokies to set it
up with a couple of their own "false keys" against the Wake Forest
Key #3: Balance power with speed advantage
It will be important for the Tech offense to get into a
rhythm, control the ball, and take advantage of the speed difference when the
opportunities are there. Although Tech's defense has been playing well
this year, I expect Wake's offense to put up some points, so the Tech offense
will have to do its share in this game. I am expecting power football
early and late. In between, look for a run/pass balance utilizing
options, WR reverse action, rolling pockets, and passes that start underneath,
then middle, then outside, then play action deep (as described above in Key
Off the run game, look for the Hokies to get the ball to
Mike Imoh with some swing passes so that he can utilize his speed and
quickness advantage out in space against the Wake LB's. Watch for that to
set up the wheel route when they get man coverage against a Wake LB.
Wake won't blitz as much as NC State did two weeks ago,
but they will blitz more than West Virginia did last week. Wake is certain
to challenge Tech's protection packages to see if they have improved from
two weeks ago. Their speed on defense isn't close to NC State's, so look
for some RB screens against Wake's blitz packages, regardless of which Tech
tailback is in the game.
Key #4: New looks in the red zone
To win this game, Tech must get some touchdowns out of
their red zone offense. Will we see some new wrinkles? Probably
not, but look for a couple of things that we haven't seen in a few games,
namely the play action TE and fullback drag routes from the I-formation.
The Tech TE's could come up big in this game, particularly in the red zone.
Inside the five, look for Tech to go straight at the Wake defense from the power
I-formation. We should get our first good look at Mike Imoh's effectiveness
as a goal line back in this game.
Another thing to look for is Wake's desire to blitz when
Tech is in the red zone. Because of the confidence they have in their
cornerbacks, look for Wake to use the back of the end zone as another defender
and be more aggressive with blitzes. Bryan Randall's pre-snap reads
and checks will be a key when Wake shows red zone pressure. Checks out of
run plays will be available, particularly to the TE in the middle of the
field. Look for that to be the first read rather than outside to a WR against
the Wake corners.
Key #5: Production against zone coverages
When reading zone, the Tech offense should look to attack
the Wake defense with an even run/pass balance. Play action can catch
their LB's and their limited speed will impact how quickly they can recover into
their drops. This will be some of the best opportunities for Bryan Randall
to hit the WR's (particularly Josh Hyman) for big yardage as they should
find themselves with a lot of space between the LB's and safeties. Look
for Tech to use a lot of WR motion across the formation to read man vs zone
Both teams realize the importance of this game to their
season goals and bowl prospects. I think both teams will play hard and
physical and with a lot of emotion. I also think both teams will play
well. I'm expecting to see another close, nail-biter that gets decided by
a big play in the fourth quarter. I'll be there taking notes for the
follow-up on Monday.