Football preview: Wake Forest at Tech

WAKE FOREST at GA. TECH – NOV. 7 (3:30 PM)

The Demon Deacons travel to Historic Grant Field to take on a top-10 opponent, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Wake Forest holds an overall record of 4-5 and a losing record of 2-3 in the ACC as well. Recently they have struggled with a streak of three losses to opponents Clemson, Navy, and No. 17 Miami.

Last Saturday’s loss to Miami was especially disappointing, for the Deacons. Wake led the entire game and had the upset in sight until a touchdown pass by Miami quarterback Jacory Harris late in the fourth quarter put the Hurricanes ahead 28-27. The Deacons drove downfield but were unable to get in range for a reasonable field goal attempt. Wake freshman kicker Jimmy Newman attempted to make the kick from 60 yards out to win the game, but his try fell short.

Perhaps the most compelling of Wake’s recent losses is that to Head Coach Paul Johnson’s former team, Navy, which still runs a triple-option offense. Navy’s sophomore quarterback Kriss Proctor scored the winning touchdown with a 40 yard run late in the third quarter. Wake Forest’s loss in Annapolis, MD could spell trouble for the team as they head to Atlanta.

This Saturday, Wake Forest will attempt to exploit Georgia Tech’s struggling pass defense with their strong passing game, but the main cog of their offense may be out for the game. Senior quarterback Riley Skinner has accumulated an impressive 2,290 passing yards and 18 touchdowns this season, but due to a concussion, Skinner did not practice Monday or Tuesday night and his status for Saturday’s game remains uncertain. Wake’s backup quarterback, Ryan McManus, has only attempted 14 passes this season for 47 yards and no touchdowns.

Wake Forest’s defense ranks near the middle of the ACC, allowing an average 23.3 points and 360 yards per game including 141 per game on the ground. The unit lost two of its best players from last season, including No. 4 overall draft pick Aaron Curry. With Tech’s season-high performance of 597 total yards last Saturday in Nashville, the Deacons could have trouble containing the Jackets’ potent rushing offense.

This weekend the No. 10 Jackets return to the Flats for their first home game in three weeks as they host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The meeting will be the first between the teams since 2006.

Last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt resulted in an offensive slugfest, with Tech rallying in the second half to nearly double Vandy’s score, 56-31. The Jackets’ offense displayed some versatility during the game with less than usual reliance on the triple option and the ground game. Junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt once again showed the rarely utilized passing ability that helped Tech to score touchdowns this season against opponents like FSU and Mississippi State. Even with two passing touchdowns, the running game did not suffer. Nesbitt ran for two touchdowns and junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer had three, and for the fourth time this season, no field goals were necessary to aid in Tech’s victory.

The Jackets’ defense struggled in the first half to contain the Commodores’ young but quick running backs, yielding 28 points to one of the statistically weaker offenses in the SEC. However, Tech made adjustments at the half and held Vanderbilt to only three points in the last two quarters. The unit forced four Vanderbilt fumbles, three of which led to touchdowns for the Jackets.

Tech’s return to ACC play this Saturday marks the team’s first meeting with Wake Forest since the 2006 conference championship in Jacksonville, Fla. The Jackets lost the title game 9-6 with neither team scoring a touchdown. Now, as the top ranked team in the ACC, Georgia Tech has the opportunity to revenge the ’06 loss.

Offensively, the Jackets will continue to rack up rushing yards using the triple-option and could explore a possible integration of more well timed pass plays, primarily to Junior wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the eighth-ranked receiver in the nation in terms of receiving yards. The defense will need to step up the pass rush against the Deacons if the Jackets want to take pressure off their secondary against Wake quarterback Riley Skinner.

Although a victory against Wake Forest likely would not do much to advance the Jackets in the BCS rankings, it will take them one step closer to winning out the season and earning a spot in the ACC Championship Game.