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Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
by Jeff Ouellet, 10/7/04

Saturday, October 9th, 2004, noon

TV: JP Sports (click here for station listing)

Forecast (from
Click the "Winston-Salem Weather" link to the right.
Saturday forecast, as of 1:00 pm Thursday: Scattered clouds, high of 78, chance of rain 10%.

Click here for's VT/Wake roster card

Preview: Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-1) at Wake Forest (3-2, 0-2)
by Jeff Ouellet

With the Black Diamond Trophy in tow after a hard fought and well deserved 19-13 win over West Virginia, the Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2, 1-1) travel to Groves Stadium to play the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday. Wake has lost two heartbreaking overtime games in the conference – the opener at Clemson (37-30, double OT) and last week at N.C. State (27-20), and won three games in between, most notably a 17-14 victory over Boston College at home.

Historically, Wake has been a terrible football program. From 1949 until 2000, Wake appeared in exactly three bowl games. However, the arrival of head coach Jim Grobe from Ohio in 2000 did wonders for the floundering program, and he’s led the Deacs to bowl eligible records in two of his three years on the job. It isn’t easy to win at a small private school that plays in a stadium that seats less than 32,000, but he is building a solid program in Winston-Salem. No coach in the ACC gets more out of his talent than Grobe.

Grobe is starting to see his recruits emerge on the depth chart which means the talent level overall is starting to improve. While Wake is undersized, they have some skill position players that can really run and they battle along the lines.

On defense Grobe was forced to go with a 3-3-5 for his first three years because he simply didn’t have the personnel to play a more conventional alignment. This year Wake has moved to a more traditional 4-3 set and that has made a significant improvement in the scoring defense.

Wake’s Offense

Wake runs multiple offense sets and the Deacs use misdirection and ball fakes very effectively. Grobe spent a decade of his career coaching at Air Force, and you can see the option influence in his offense. In fact, Wake’s running game is so effective that the Hokie coaches went down there for some instruction of March of 2003. Wake is very hard to prepare for in one week’s time because of their unconventional style.

To underscore the point, here’s a quote from N.C. State defensive coordinator Reggie Herring prior to last week’s game: “[The Deacs] are the best offensive team we have faced to date. I don’t care if I hurt any feelings at Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Randolph is the best quarterback we will face up to date. That’s not a fakeout. I told the coaches at Miami and Tech when you play Wake, for God’s sake buckle up.” Some of that may be attributed to Holtz-eze (making the next team you play the best one), but his point is well taken: Wake has a tough offense to defend.

On the plus side, Wake’s misdirection running attack has some similarities to N.C. State and especially West Virginia. Consequently, the Hokie defense should be better prepared to face this offense than they might otherwise be.

As noted above, Grobe’s teams show a strong preference for running the football. The last eight teams he has coached led their respective leagues in rushing. This year the Deacs are second behind UVa in conference rushing at 238 yards per game (13th nationally), and they have played a tougher slate. Don’t be surprised if they top the list by the end of the season.

Wake averages a modest 171 yards passing per game (94th nationally), but they do make plays in the passing game as quarterback Cory Randolph is 27th nationally in passing efficiency. They also haven’t had a healthy wide receiver corps until, most likely, this week.

Randolph is a 6’1, 194 R-JR who has started seventeen consecutive games for the Demon Deacons. He is very athletic and is the second leading rusher on the team (257 yards, averaging 4.0 per carry). He isn’t as fast or elusive as Rasheed Marshall, but poses some of the same type of problems with his legs.

As a passer, Randolph is better than Marshall. He only has completed 55 percent of his throws, but his average completion goes for a tidy 14.5 yards and he has only thrown one interception on the season. He has three touchdowns.

The backup at quarterback for the Deacs is a player that I think has a very, very bright future. R-FR Ben Mauk (6’1”, 205) is the son of a coach and it shows on the field. After putting up some insane passing numbers in high school in Ohio, Mauk matriculated to Wake. Statistically, he is 17 of 25 on the season with one touchdown and one interception. More than that, though, he just seems to have the intangibles to be a big time quarterback down the line. Last week against State he led Wake to its only two offensive touchdowns in his four possessions.

If Randolph struggles early, or if the Deacs fall behind, expect Mauk to get a lot of time and perhaps even finish the game. Mauk is the better downfield passer. While he isn’t quite as big a threat on the ground as Randolph, he is nimble in the pocket and capable of making plays on the ground as well (49 yards on 7 rushes).

Junior tailback Chris Barclay may be the most underrated player in the ACC. Barclay is undersized at 5’10”, 173, but the junior has 2,331 yards and 24 career touchdowns already. He is very quick to the hole and has the speed to break runs outside. His vision and ability to cut are well suited for Wake’s misdirection attack. He was a second team all ACC pick last year as a sophomore.

On the season Barclay has 458 rushing yards, a 4.1 per carry average, and 3 touchdowns. Barclay also is a significant factor in the passing game as he has seven receptions, a total that places him fourth on the team.

An emerging player in the Wake backfield is 5’10”, 206 R-FR Micah Andrews. Andrews, the son of former NFL great William Andrews, is the Deacs short yardage go to guy (five touchdowns on the year). He has 186 yards rushing this year with an impressive 7.4 yards per carry, although 125 of those yards game against North Carolina A & T. He earned his first start last week at fullback against State, and responded with a 42 yard run. The staff continues to try to find ways to get him the ball and will use him at fullback and tailback. If the Hokies front four wins the battle over the Wake offensive line, don’t be surprised to see a lot of screens to Barclay and Andrews.

When Wake wants to pound the ball, it brings in battering ram fullback Dan Callahan (6’4”, 260 SO). He only has two carries on the year and no receptions, so his primary objective is to lay the wood to opposing defenders. Callahan was a tight end last year and is sometimes used in an H back role.

6’3”, 195 SR Jason Anderson is a very good, very experienced wide receiver. He is the leading active receiver yardage wise among all ACC pass catchers with nearly 2,000 receiving yards, and he isn’t a nickel and dime performer: his 18.7 yards per catch in his career leads active receivers. Anderson has size, speed, good hands and he runs good routes. He is very polished for a college wide receiver.

This year Anderson had a fantastic opener against Clemson with seven catches for 139 yards and an 85 yard touchdown (from Mauk), but he injured his ankle very early in the second game of the year and hasn’t suited up since then. Despite playing less than five quarters on the year, Anderson has 8 catches for 171 yards (21.4 per catch). As I write this, Anderson is listed as probable and appears likely to play. The Hokies may end up rolling coverage to his side of the field.

While Anderson was out of the lineup other receivers stepped up for the Deacs. SO Nate Morton has a similar build (6’4”, 196) to Anderson and is the leading receiver for Wake in catches (11) and yards (200). Again, note the high average per catch of 18.2 yards. His emergence should make Anderson all the more effective when he returns.

Chris Davis, a 5’11”, 182 JR is second on the team with 10 receptions totaling 158 yards. He leads the team with two touchdown receptions, and he had a big game against the B.C. secondary as he had seven receptions for 112 yards. Davis is a former prep track star, and he has legitimate deep speed.

The fourth receiver who plays a lot is former high school track star Willie Idlette (5’11”, 175 SO). Idlette is Wake’s version of Tremaine Hall: he may catch the ball (5 catches/112 yards/1 TD), run the ball (12 attempts/53 yards) or return the ball (punts and sometimes kickoffs). Idlette is elusive and does his best work out in space. Expect him to touch the ball on some misdirection running plays from the slot at least a couple of times on Saturday. Idlette was a starter for most of last year, so he is experienced.

SR tight end R.D. Montgomery is a good athlete who is capable of getting down the field in a seam (2 catches/52 yards). He doesn’t have the bulk typically associated with a tight end (6’6”, 233) in a Grobe offense, but despite his build he is a solid position blocker.

Overall, the Wake skill positions are filled with good talent, athletic ability and speed. The concern coming into the year was an offensive line that only returned two starters and lost two all ACC blockers.

The numbers indicate that Wake’s line has overcome that and done a fine job this year. The Deacons average 4.7 yards per carry, a very good number, and have only surrendered six sacks on the year against some pretty good pass rushing teams. Wake’s offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke (also their offensive coordinator) does a fine job and annually produces at least one all ACC caliber lineman.

The undisputed leader up front is SR center Blake Lingruen. Lingruen is 6’4”, 298, and has that Jake Grove type football disposition. He is a three year starter and he has a chance to be an all ACC type.

The other interior lineman are Greg Atkins (6’3”, 290 JR) and newcomer Arby Jones (6’4”, 255 SO). Atkins had some experience coming into this year (three career starts), but has really emerged this fall as a solid player. Jones earned his first start last week and he apparently held up okay against N.C. State despite being very, very light for an offensive guard. Lingruen will have to help him when he is matched up with Jim Davis and Jonathan Lewis. SR Joe Salsich (6’4”, 281) may also see time at left guard to spell Jones.

Left tackle Steve Vallos (6’3”, 297 SO) is going to be a very good player eventually, and he is already the second best player on the line for Wake. He has started all 17 games of his college career at four different positions: that versatility helps Wake and it will help him when the NFL comes calling. He is not a traditional tackle type, but he is physical, intelligent and competitive. He is probably the best run blocker for the Deacs.

The right tackle is redshirt freshman Matt Brim (6’6”, 305). Brim is okay in the run game, but he is probably the weakest of the Deacon linemen in pass protection. He will have his hands full with the Hokie ends. Experienced backup left tackle Wesley Bryant (6’4”, 293 JR) has a sprained ankle and may not play. His potential loss could be significant because his presence permits Vallos to move to any number of other positions along the line, if necessary.

As a whole, the Wake lineman are not overly big or experienced, but they are physical and tough. They aren’t afraid to chop block (which most defensive linemen hate), and they were effective enough last week to hold N.C. State to one sack for five yards.

Wake’s Defense

The preliminary results from Wake’s shift to the 4-3 aren’t great on paper. The Deacons are giving up 163 rushing which ranks 74th nationally, 227 passing yards which is 79th nationally, yielding a total defense ranking of 79th nationally. However, in the most important statistic, scoring defense, Wake has been solid surrendering only 20 points per game (42nd nationally).

Wake’s decent scoring defense ranking is the product of three things. First, the Demon Deacons have good kickers so they often win the field position battle. Second, Wake does a nice job turning other teams over (+5 on the season, 20th nationally), including a league high eight interceptions. Third, Wake has done a credible job of red zone defense. Of 19 trips to the red zone, opponents have mustered 10 touchdowns and 4 field goals.

Wake gives up an average of 4.5 per rush, and that’s a product of a young front that is undersized. Four defensive ends rotate for Wake: 6’2”, 226 FR Matt Robinson, 6’5”, 230 FR Jeremy Thompson, 6’4”, 250 SO Jyles Tucker (a returning starter who is questionable while recovering from a knee sprain), and 6’6”, 252 SO Bryan Andrews (recovering from a shin injury). Robinson leads the quartet with 13 tackles, three for a loss including a sack. Robinson is a high motor player. Thompson (three tackles for a loss in the last three games) and Tucker (2 tackles for a loss, 1 interception) have also made plays and are solid athletes. Thompson got his first career sack last week against State. He is the only scholarship true freshman to play for the Deacs this season. Injuries have slowed Andrews this season, but he might have the highest ceiling of all the Deacon defensive ends.

Inside the bell cow is returning starter Goryal Scales (6’0”, 283 JR), who has been battling an ankle sprain. Scales is tough and plays with good technique. He gutted it out last week producing two tackles for a loss against the Wolfpack even though he was far less than 100%. If healthy, Scales is the only player on the line that may command a double team. 6’2”, 273 SR Jerome Nichols is also a returning starter, and he has made the most plays this year because he’s been healthy. Nichols has three tackles for a loss on the year, including a sack. He is a “glue” guy for the Wake line in that the coaches can count on him to play solid assignment football.

Providing relief on the inside is 6’4”, 279 FR Zack Stukes, who emerged as a pleasant surprise in the spring. He has good size, but he hasn’t developed the technique to be a real playmaker yet.

Wake’s linebackers make the majority of the plays on this defense, and they have been a strength thus far this season. The two starters on the outside are returning seniors, while the middle is anchored by a sophomore and a freshman.

SR Brad White (6’2, 232) started last year in the middle and this season moved to the weakside. He runs well and is okay at the point of attack as well. White is the second leading tackler with 35 stops this year, including five for a loss (that leads the team) and a sack. He is the quarterback of the defense as he is an intelligent and experienced player.

On the strongside is former safety Caron Bracy (6’0”, 226), the leading returning tackler for the Deacs. Bracy has started 37 consecutive games, the second longest streak on the team. Bracy is fourth on the team this year with 22 tackles, including two for a loss, and his strength is his football instincts.

In the middle, the starter is SO Pierre Easley a 6’0”, 246 run stuffer. However, the emerging name (and leading tackler for Wake) is redshirt freshman Jonathan Abbate (6’0”, 247). Abbate has 38 stops on the season, which leads all ACC freshman, and an interception. He provides for Wake the same type of interior toughness that Vince Hall provides to the Hokies. Unfortunately for Wake, Abbate is nursing a knee injury which may limit his availability. That would be a blow against the newly found Hokie running game.

The headliner in the Wake secondary is veteran starter Eric King (5’10”, 185 SR). King appears to be 50/50 to play this week as he suffered a concussion against N.C. State. His loss was a significant factor in the passing game last week as State’s quarterbacks hit some big plays in the second half when he was on the sidelines.

King has started 37 consecutive games and was first team all ACC last year. He led the league with 15 pass breakups and also had three interceptions as a junior. He isn’t afraid to support the run either, and this year he has 15 tackles, including three for a loss.

The position opposite King is split between SR Mark McGruder (5’9”, 188, 17 consecutive starts) and up and comer Riley Swanson (6’0”, 178 SO). A lot of balls have been thrown in this direction this season which has led to McGruder having two interception returns for touchdowns in his last three games. Swanson has 17 tackles on the year and has basically played enough to be considered a starter.

Wake has a pair of young safeties that are first time starters who have bright futures. Free safety Josh Gattis (6’2”, 196) is only a sophomore but he is third on the team with 25 tackles and two interceptions. Gattis is a big time talent as he beat out two year returning starter Warren Braxton (6’0”, 208) for the job. Braxton still sees significant time as he has 17 tackles on the year.

The strong safety is SO Patrick Ghee, a 6’2”, 204 playmaker that had 10 tackles against N.C. State. On the year Ghee has 27 tackles and has recovered a fumble. He plays with an intelligence that belies his relative inexperience. His name may also be familiar to Hokie fans as his younger brother, Brandon Ghee, was a Hokie recruiting target that chose Wake this week.

Youth abounds on the Wake defense, but the relative strength is in the defensive backfield if King is healthy while the front four is young and banged up right now.

Wake’s Special Teams

Wake’s punter is one of the very best in the nation. JR Ryan Plackemeier has averaged 44.2 yards per kick this year with a net of 36.0 yards, and his numbers include five kicks inside the 20. He isn’t a one year wonder either: his career average of 45.0 yards per punt is first in the NCAA. The snapper is walk-on freshman Nick Jarvis and he might get a little jumpy when facing the Pride and Joy unit. Wake has already had one punt blocked this year, and I think the Hokies will come after them Saturday.

SR placekicker Matt Wisnosky is a lefty who is 5 of 8 on the season on field goals and a perfect 17 of 17 on extra points. He hasn’t had any kicks from under thirty yards, and is 4-6 from 30-39 and 1 of 2 from 40-49. He missed a big kick in overtime last week against State. Each of the last two years he has had two kicks blocked, so that again may be an area of emphasis for Hokie special teams.

Idlette has speed, but he struggled last year to consistently field the ball and this year his 7.3 average on punt returns is mediocre. Kevin Marion, a 5’9” 159 R-FR from Florida, is the primary kick returner and he has averaged 26.2 yards on the year. He might be the fastest player on the Wake roster.

The other deep back is Andrews. He has only handled two kickoffs thus far, averaging 22 yards per return.

The Lowdown

When I first looked at the schedule, I cringed when I saw the Wake game immediately after the West Virginia game. This game has the potential to be a real land mine on the schedule.

Fortunately, this VT team has shown solid resolve and also received the good fortune of facing a Wake team that is tired and injury riddled after a tough overtime loss to the Wolfpack. I also feel better about the Hokies’ chances after seeing the way they contained the running games of State and WVU.

Wake is very well coached and it will not beat itself in the turnover department. The Demon Deacons also do a decent job on penalties (66 yards per game) and in the kicking game.

One point that is important to watch is how both teams start the game. The Deacs have scored first in every game thus far this year, and have outscored their opponents 86-26 in the first half. VT often struggles when trying to come from behind. If the Hokies get up early in this one, I will feel good about their chances. Conversely, if they have to overcome a two score deficit in the first half, things could get very tough in Winston-Salem.

I think VT should, and will, successfully run Mike Imoh to control the clock and keep the ball away from Wake’s potent offense. On defense, VT should get better as the game progresses defending the Wake misdirection running game much like N.C. State did. Remember that the Deacs had 180 yards in the first half last week against the tough N.C. State defense before the Wolfpack made some halftime adjustments, and the Pack was more familiar with Wake than our defensive coaches will be. Just a hunch, but I think VT will see a lot of Ben Mauk in the second half.

More than half of the Wake games in the Grobe era (21 of 41) have been decided by a touchdown or less. I see this weekend’s game being much the same type of battle. The Hokies will prevail, but I don’t think it will be comfortable.

Jeff's Prediction: VT 23, Wake 17

Will Stewart's Take: I for one am glad see this game on the schedule, in an odd sort of way. Is Wake scary? Yes. Could VT lose? Yes. Will it be boring?


After a steady diet of JMU, Western Michigan, Central Florida, UConn, and Arkansas State out of conference the past few years, followed by two gigantic cupcakes in conference in Temple and Rutgers, it's fun to have games that "matter" almost every week, which is the case now that the Hokies are in the ACC. When you are set to tangle with a team like Wake that has traditionally been at the bottom of the league, and yet that team is good enough to make you sweat, or even beat you, that's a good thing.

These two teams, VT and Wake, have their backs up against the wall. Whoever loses is going to see their season take a huge turn south, both in conference and overall. With a loss, Tech would be 3-3 (1-2). If Wake loses, they fall to 3-3 (0-3). Neither scenario is pleasant to think of, so look for this one to be a battle, despite the fact that both teams are coming off of emotional games.

To be honest, I don't really know what to expect from this one. There's a tendency to say, "Oh, sure Wake's got that cute little misdirection thing going (wink, wink), but it's still just Wake. 35-10, Hokies." Just ask NC State about that. The Wolfpack has athletes galore, but they almost dropped a big one to the Demon Deacons last week.

But let's cut to the chase. Like Jeff, I expect VT's offensive game plan to center around the rushing game. I'm worried about Wake's red zone execution on defense, and the fact that they have a secondary that can pick the ball off. I don't want to see VT run like gangbusters from one 20-yard line to the other, only to falter in the red zone or turn the ball over.

Defensively, I worry about Vince Hall's youth. Don't be surprised to see Vince winding up in the wrong place all day Saturday. He's young, and misdirection can kill those young linebackers. So the onus falls upon the Tech defensive line to disrupt the rushing lanes and make it easier on the linebackers.

In the kicking game, things look about even, with the exception of Wake's punter being one of the best around. He may give Wake a 5-yards per punt advantage over the Hokies, depending upon how Vinnie Burns does this Saturday, and if that occurs, VT is going to have to get those yards back with the return game.

All signs point to a close one, with VT's mistakes, or lack thereof, being the difference.

Will's Prediction: VT 27, Wake Forest 20

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