Virginia Football Game Preview: Wake Forest

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Doni Dowling and the Virginia pass offense should have some opportunities against Wake Forest. ~ Kris Wright

It has been a tale of two months for Wake Forest, the University of Virginia football program’s opponent this Saturday, November 5, at 3 p.m.

Head coach Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons went a perfect 4-0 in September before losing three of four in October, including two straight. Still, Wake Forest is just one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Meanwhile, UVA must win all four of its remaining games to become bowl eligible.

Despite a 2-6 record, the Cavaliers appeared optimistic following a 32-25 loss to no. 5 Louisville in Charlottesville. Last Saturday’s performance was one of Virginia’s best of the 2016 season. The Cavalier defense put consistent pressure on Cardinals Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson while the offense put together sustained drives against one of the nation’s best defenses.

Bronco Mendenhall’s group faces another stingy defense this week. Wake is ranked no. 14 in the nation among FBS schools in scoring defense, allowing only 18.3 points per game. The Deacs are no. 33 in rushing defense, giving up 134 yards per game, but rank no. 84 in passing yards allowed per game.

Virginia’s offense and defense will have to turn in consistent performances like they did against Louisville to have any chance at a bowl game. The road begins with an away contest versus Wake Forest.

Virginia Football Essentials

Hoo Facts

  • When UVA took on Wake Forest at BB&T Field in 1990, it was the first time Wake Forest had ever hosted a no. 1-ranked team.
  • Virginia is a 34-14 all-time versus Wake Forest. However, Wake Forest won the most recent meeting between the two schools, defeating UVA at Scott Stadium in 2012.
  • UVA owns a 15-2 record versus Wake at BB&T Field. The last meeting came in 2008, when Wake won, 28-17.
  • UVA defeated Wake Forest in 20 out of 21 contests from 1984-2007. However, the Demon Deacons have won each of the past two.
  • Tailback Taquan Mizzell has become the only player in school history to have at least 1,400 yards rushing (1,662) and 1,400 yards receiving (1,411).
  • Linebacker Micah Kiser is averaging 10.4 tackles per game in his 20 career starts.
  • Safety Quin Blanding’s 321 career tackles ranks no. 7 among all active FBS players. He ranks no. 3 among active ACC players with the most career tackles, trailing Duke’s Devon Edwards (327) and Wake Forest’s (322) Ryan Janvion.
  • Punter Nicholas Conte ranks no. 1 in the ACC and no. 9 in the nation in punting average (45.4). He is averaging 45 yards per punt in his Cavalier career, tops in school history.

Demon Deacon Facts

  • Head coach Dave Clawson served in the same role for four years with the University of Richmond. He never faced Virginia in that span. Clawson then coached Bowling Green before getting the job at Wake Forest.
  • Wake Forest has rushed for 1,250 yards in eight games this season. The Demon Deacons rushed for 1,262 yards in 12 games last year.
  • Freshman running back Cade Carney has two 100-yard rushing games to his credit this season.
  • Wake Forest has scored first in only one of eight games in 2016.
  • Either linebacker Marquel Lee or safety Jessie Bates III have led the Demon Deacons in tackles in every game this year.
  • Lee and defensive end Duke Ejiofor are the top duo in the nation in tackles for loss.
  • Senior free safety Ryan Janvion’s 322 career tackles ranks 11th in school history. He’ll move up to number 10 with four tackles on Saturday.
  • While UVA’s Conte is ninth in the nation in punting average, Wake freshman Dom Maggio is pretty good in his own right. Maggio ranks 25th in the country in punting average (43.9).

3 Hoos To Watch

    • Quarterback Kurt Benkert.

Benkert is often in this category, and rightfully so. As he goes, so goes the Virginia offense.

    • Wide Receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.

The play of Doni Dowling and Keeon Johnson, who both had good games against Louisville, is important. However, I have a feeling Zaccheaus could be the X-factor for the Hoos on Saturday. Virginia will need to utilize his explosiveness against this solid Wake defense.

    • Linebacker Micah Kiser.

Kiser and safety Quin Blanding are without question the leaders of the Virginia defense. Kiser will once again be counted upon to help stuff an improved Wake rushing attack and get consistent pressure on Wake quarterback John Wolford.

3 Demon Deacons To Watch

    • LB Marquel Lee.

Lee, who amassed 12 tackles for loss in last week’s loss to Army, leads the Demon Deacons in tackles this season. He also has 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, and three forced fumbles. Expect to hear his name called quite often on Saturday.

    • S Jessie Bates.

Bates is second on the team in tackles. Forty-three of his 59 tackles are solo efforts. Bates leads the team with four interceptions, so he is a player Benkert will have to look out for in the passing game.

    • PK Mike Weaver.

Weaver, the team leader in scoring, is a big weapon for Wake Forest. He has booted 11-of-14 field goals this season. If the game is close, he gives Wake an advantage over Virginia in the place-kicking department.

3 Things To Watch

    • Turnovers.

Neither team has a large margin for error, so whichever team takes care of the ball best could have a huge edge. Wake Forest is one of the nation’s best in turnover margin, having forced 17 (nine interceptions, eight fumble recoveries) and surrendered 12. Wake has surrendered six turnovers in each of its past two games, which have been losses at Florida State and at home against Army. Turnovers have hurt Virginia, which surrendered two key turnovers against Louisville.

    • UVA defensive pressure.

Wake Forest is one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, ranking no. 119 in scoring offense (20.6 points per game) and no. 120 in total offense (averaging 334.3 yards per contest). The Hoos can’t allow quarterback John Wolford to sit in the pocket and gain confidence.

    • UVA’s passing game versus Wake pass defense.

Wake is strong against the run but susceptible against the pass. Benkert and his receivers playing well is a must for the Hoos against the Demon Deacons.

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