Preview Capsule – Wake Forest
Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-2, 1-1)
Time: 7:30 p.m./BB&T Field/Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Last meeting: Georgia Tech won 30-27 in overtime last season
Georgia Tech: Last week against North Carolina State, the Yellow Jackets had their worst total offensive output (363 yards) of the season. While that number and the 21 offensive points they put up may sound respectable, the unit looked anything but. Starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt had hardly any time to throw as the Yellow Jackets were forced to pass while playing catch-up most of the game, and fumbling issues hampered the run game. Injuries to first- and second-string centers Sean Bedford and Jay Finch clearly set the offensive line and its blocking duties back a pace or two. But after rejoining the team on Wednesday, both will be back, and stability should return to the unit, particularly with an outspoken leader like Bedford back in the mix.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have had their own struggles on this side of the ball, as a quasi quarterback drama ensued. Freshman starter Tanner Price was sidelined all week trying to recuperate from a concussion suffered last week against Florida State. Backup Ted Stachitas, who has played often this season, should instead lead Wake Forest on Saturday night, with hopes of continuing the unit’s fine offensive production at home. In two games at BB&T Field this season, the Demon Deacons have outscored opponents 107-61. Those opponents were Duke — which scored 48 of those points — and Presbyterian.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: Rather alarming news came from defensive players and coaches this week, as it was revealed that once again, communication issues hurt the unit. Following the blowout over South Carolina State, some defenders said they were trying new hand signals to try to ensure that messages were being relayed across the defense. But against North Carolina State, the new methods didn’t seem to work. Back to the drawing board they went, searching for better ways of communication. While they shouldn’t give up 359 yards passing to the mostly option-running Demon Deacons, the Yellow Jackets will need to tighten up defensive pressure lanes in order to prevent Wake Forest for still running for big gains. Last week’s 527 yards of total Wolfpack offense was a testament to how wide of spaces the Yellow Jackets were giving.
Wake Forest: Defensive problems have plagued Wake Forest, as well, as the Demon Deacons rank 113th in the county allowing 40.0 points per game. Against Florida State, however, it was the yardage that was a big concern, as the Seminoles tallied just shy of 500 yards of total offense. With a pair of defenses who can give up the big play and who have proven at times virtually inept at stopping the run, something will have to give. Saturday’s contest may be decided in the run game, and will be dependent upon whose team can do the best job of preventing ballcarriers from getting loose.
Georgia Tech: This area has still been one of concern for the Yellow Jackets who have not seen any consistency in either of the punting games. The punt return game has, rather surprisingly, seen no success to speak of this season. On just six return attempts, specialist Jerrard Tarrant has been held to a 2.2-yard average per return. Last season, after the first two games, he already had a pair of return touchdowns. Bottled up mostly near the point of catch, his lack of returns has been a point of contention from head coach Paul Johnson, who wants his defense to force more punts and his blockers to give Tarrant more time to get downfield. On the punting team, Georgia Tech likely will continue playing musical chairs with punters Chandler Anderson and Sean Poole. Neither has wowed Johnson this season, with Anderson’s blocked attempt last week — that led to a touchdown — being a mistake he hopes the player learns from. Meanwhile, Scott Blair is 4-for-4 on field goal attempts this season.
Wake Forest: The numbers for the Demon Deacons are a little misleading in this area. While punt returner Devon Brown holds a strong 17.7-yard return average, he has done so on only three returns. Like Georgia Tech’s defense, Wake Forest has forced very few punts this season, but unlike the Yellow Jackets, Brown has been in position to capitalize. Of punter Shane Popham’s 21 punts, five have been fair-caught and another five have landed inside the 20-yard line.
EDGE: Wake Forest
Georgia Tech: Johnson has a mantra that he has repeated since long before he arrived at Georgia Tech three years ago. He likes to say, “Good teams don’t lose two games in-a-row.” The Yellow Jackets will find out if they have a good team this weekend. In the days leading up to this contest, he has challenged his players, forcefully. He has appealed for more energy, more urgency, more focus and determination from his players. Physically, they have competed well, but haven’t been into the action mentally, he has argued. Saturday’s game will be a good test to see how much they have been listening.
Wake Forest: You may never find a college coach more humble and with a smaller ego than Jim Grobe. It has been several seasons since the veteran coach has fielded a contender, but he isn’t letting what could be termed a “rebuilding year” slow him down. With the departure of heralded superstar quarterback Riley Skinner, he has retooled his offense this season, turning it from a pass-happy package into one that rests heavily on the option. Keeping his team focused during this transition will be of utmost priority this season. So far, in two home contests, he has done that with the Demon Deacons.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Offense: Georgia Tech’s offensive line vs. Wake Forest’s linemen and linebackers. The floodgates poured open last week as the Yellow Jackets’ porous offensive line allowed N.C. State linemen and, particularly middle linebacker Nate Irving, to rush into the backfield and sack Nesbitt. With Bedford’s return, look to see how well the Demon Deacons get picked up.
Defense: Brad Jefferson/inside linebackers vs. Wake Forest’s offensive line. The penetration hasn’t been there for Georgia Tech’s interior. Look to see how well inside linemen Jefferson, Brandon Watts, Julian Burnett and Kyle Jackson are able to defeat blocks and break up plays in the Demon Deacons backfield.