Sitting on a 5 game losing streak, the Hoos simply must get a win this week if this season is going to end up as anything other than a complete disaster. Their opponent this week is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who sit at 3-3.
After a few very good years in the latter part of the last decade, Wake has struggled of late, winning just 14 games the past 3 seasons. Still, the Jim Grobe era at Wake has been an overall success. While his record is just 71-70, he did take them to an ACC Championship Game, and the coach he replaced (Jim Caldwell) was just 26-63.
Wake is riding a 2 game losing streak, losing at home to Duke and then on the road at Maryland. They are also coming off a bye week. Wake has beaten UNC this year, so clearly they have talent. They've also lost to FSU by 52 points.
The Hoos will need to play better than they have this season in order to come away with the win. With a bye week next week, there is no reason for the Hoos to not leave everything on the field.
Virginia on Defense
Wake Forest's offense begins with junior QB Tanner Price. Price isn't particularly big or fast, but he is capable of tucking the ball and picking up some yards. He's been sacked 12 times this year, but he's picked up 104 yards on 25 non-sack rushes. Truthfully, though, Price's strength is passing. He has a good, not great arm, and relies on making good decisions. Last year, Price completed 60% of his passes for over 3000 yards, with a 20:6 TD:INT ratio. Obviously, those are very solid numbers and Price finished 56th in the nation in passing efficiency. This year, however, has been a bit of a different story. Price, thus far, as completed just 52% of his passes, and has thrown 4 INTs versus 7 TDs. He has been good in Wake Forest's wins, but bad in some of their losses.
The offense that Price leads is balanced, but struggling to find a real identity. A year ago, Wake finished 24th in the nation in passing, and just 105th in rushing. This year, they aren't much better on the ground (97th), but they are just 81st in passing. All told, they are 102nd in total offense and 90th in scoring offense. (All ranks courtesy ncaa.org.)
Junior RB Josh Harris returns after missing much of last season with a hamstring injury. Harris has rushed for 377 yards thus far, at 4.3 yards per carry. Harris (5'11" 210) is big and fast and can run between the tackles or outside on the edge. Behind Harris is redshirt freshman Deandre Martin, a 6'2" 215 pounder who is more of a bruising back.
Wake's base offensive formation is a two-back set, with senior FB Tommy Bohanon lined up with Harris. Bohanon doesn't really ever carry the ball, but he has 8 receptions and 3 TDs already this year. The Hoos LBs will have to be wary of him in the red zone.
The main receiving threat for the Deacons is junior WR Michael Campanaro. Campanaro has 38 receptions for 429 yards despite missing last week's game. Unfortunately for Wake, Campanaro is out for this game as well. Starting at Flanker in his stead is senior Lovell Jackson. Jackson has been primarily a return man for the Deacons and has tremendous speed. Still, Jackson has just 2 catches this season. With Campanaro out, the real threat is senior Terence Davis. Davis has 18 catches for 280 yards this season, after catching 20 balls a year ago, including 5 TDs. Davis had 7 receptions for 130 yards and a TD a couple of weeks ago against Maryland. Sophomore WR Brandon Terry is also a threat, and his 6'5" frame presents a big problem for the Hoos diminutive secondary. Another WR to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Sherman Ragland III. Ragland (6'2" 195) has 10 catches for 140 yards on the season. He is a big guy with speed that Wake is very high on.
Last year's starting TE Cameron Ford graduated, leaving the TE cupboard bare. Junior Spencer Bishop is the starter, but he has just 2 catches for 18 yards on the season. Ford caught just 12 passes a year ago, but did grab 3 TDs. Bishop will be somebody to pay attention to in the red zone.
Probably the main reason Wake's offense has struggled so much is the loss of 4 starters on the OL from a year ago. Only senior C Garrick Williams (6'4" 310) returns, but he is a solid anchor to have in the middle. On the right side of the line, the starters are junior OG Frank Souza (6'4" 310) and sophomore OT Colin Summers (6'5" 315). Souza was one of 6 players suspended for the Maryland game, but he'll return for this one.
On the left side, the starting OG is junior Whit Barnes (6'4" 290), who actually played on the right side against Maryland with Souza out. The starting OT on the left is junior Steven Chase (6'7" 205). Sophomore Antonio Ford has started all over the line this year, but he suffered a broken leg against Maryland and it out for the season. Chase has been playing on a torn ACL and meniscus all season.
Wake's offense is better than the overall numbers look. They were terrible against Florida State, and that is skewing their numbers somewhat. That said, they aren't great, and their OL will struggle. Considering the play of Chris Brathwaite and Eli Harold last week, there is reason to be believe that the Hoos will be able to pressure Price consistently. That will go a long way towards shutting down the Deacons. The loss of Campanaro can't be overstated, as he was the main weapon in the passing game.
LaRoy Reynolds and company did a great job bottling up Maryland's ground game, and Wake shouldn't be much tougher. Josh Harris, however, is more talented than any back the Terps had, so Wake may have more success. Keeping Wake from being able to run the ball means making Price throw, and should lead to overall success.
Virginia on Offense
Wake Forest switched to a 3-4 defense two years ago, largely due to necessity. They have stuck with it, and were very good defensively last year, finishing 40th in the nation in total defense, 33rd in rushing defense and 37th in passing defense. They haven't been near as successful this year, ranking 83rd in total defense, 102nd in rushing defense and 65th in passing defense. Once again, the numbers are a big skewed by their performance against FSU when they gave up 612 yards of offense, along with Army when they gave up over 500 yards and over 300 rushing. Still, the numbers are what they are, and Wake's defense has underperformed overall.
The leader of the 3 DLs is junior NG Nikita Whitlock, who at just 5'11" 260 lb is undersized for a 3-4 DT. He is very quick though, and his low center of gravity helps him with tremendous leverage. He plays a bit like former Virginia DT John-Kevin Dolce, another LB-turned-DT. Whitlock had 14 TFLs a year ago, but he has been slowed this year by an ankle injury and has just 1.5 so far (he missed 2 games with the ankle). Whitlock does not come off the field much.
One DE is junior Zach Thompson (6'5" 255) and the other is senior Hasan Hazime (6'5" 270). Hazime transferred from Akron after playing 4 years there to attend grad school at Wake. Thompson would likely be a better fit as a 4-3 DE due to his lack of size and strength but he's having a solid year, leading the DLs with 27 tackles and 2 TFLs despite missing the UNC game with an eye injury. Junior DE Kris Redding will also see time at DE and is actually tied for the team lead with 4 TFLs and is second with 2 sacks. Freshman Tylor Harris may see some time in passing situations.
Last year's top LB, Kyle Wilber, is currently plying his trade for the Dallas Cowboys, so it was somewhat inevitable that Wake would see a drop in performance from the LBs. That being said, the LBs have played well as a group, and provide the bulk of the plays for this defense. The star, this year, has been junior ROLB Justin Jackson (6'1" 220), who leads the team with 47 tackles, 3 sacks and 4 TFLs. He's also recovered a fumble and blocked a kick. He was an inside LB last year, and moved outside after Wilber left. The other OLB is senior Joey Ehrmann (6'4" 220). Ehrman shares the team lead in TFLs with 4, and has 1.5 sacks.
The two ILBs are senior Riley Haynes (6'1" 220) and junior Mike Olson (6'3" 230). Olson started last year, while Haynes was backing up Jackson last year. Olson was one of the 6 players suspended for the Maryland game, and yet he is 2nd on the team in tackles (and just 3 behind Jackson). Haynes is third. Olson is a more of a fill-the-hole LB, while Haynes is a bit better in space.
Wake Forest lost their two starting safeties from last year to graduation. This included leading tackler Cyhl Quarles and the ACC's 2nd in interceptions, Josh Bush. Junior Daniel Mack (6'0" 200) was the Bush's replacement, but he was one of the 6 suspended for the Maryland game and he is listed as the backup to senior Chibuikem Okoro (6'1" 190). Okoro started at CB last year, but struggled. Junior A.J. Marshall (6'0" 190), another former CB, moved over to take the FS spot. Both Marshall and Okoro are a bit undersized, especially compared to the guys they replaced. Okoro has struggled with the move, but Marshall has played well. Unsurprisingly, as former CBs, they are both better against the pass than against the run. Marshall has proven to be a sure tackler though.
Replacing Okoro at CB is sophomore Kevin Johnson (6'1" 175), who leads the team with 4 pass break ups. On the other side is fellow sophomore Merrill Noel (5'11" 180), who started every game last year as a freshman and was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had 19 passes defended and 2 interceptions. (Johnson played as a true freshman in 2010, but was academically ineligible last year.) Johnson has been the better player this year, and Noel was another of the players suspended for the Maryland game after having already missed the opener due to a hamstring injury. Wake's secondary is small, but they are all quick. A guy like Adrian Gamble could have success on jump balls, and obviously our talented TEs could have a field day over the middle against Wake's undersized safeties.
Wake has proven to be susceptible to a power rushing game this year, which is good news, especially considering Perry Jones is likely out with a concussion. Kevin Parks has been more productive than Jones this year, and is a stronger interior runner. Parks also has the ability to get the edge on off-tackle runs. Clifton Richardson is healthy, and he could provide a good inside-outside combination with Parks. The two of them could both have big games if the OL continues its improved play and Bill Lazor gives them the chance. Wake's defense is undersized, but quick. The stretch plays and sweeps aren't likely to have much success, but running with power between the tackles should. Also, things like delayed draws and screens may have some success against Wake's aggressive defense.
Wake's LBs are pretty solid in pass coverage, so Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco will have to be careful with the short passes. Wake's CBs are good, so we may not get much open deep downfield either, but intermediate passes could be successful. Wake will use a variety of players to bring pressure, bringing at least one LB on almost every play. Keeping our QBs upright will be important, because Wake's defense loves to capitalize on turnovers. They have forced 10 turnovers this season.
Obviously, the Hoos are not a very good team right now. Luckily for them Wake Forest really isn't either. Wake has the benefit of coming off a bye week, but is going through a bit of team turmoil due to a handful of suspensions and a couple of arrests on drug charges. Jim Grobe and the rest of Wake Forest's coaching staff will have to work hard to keep the team's focus.
The Hoos aren't dealing with the same off the field issues, but have had to answer questions about the losing streak for the past couple of weeks. The issue for the Virginia coaching staff is keeping the team together and confident. A win would make the upcoming bye week much more pleasant for the players and the fans.
I keep thinking the Hoos are going to pull it together and play a complete game in all 3 phases. I haven't seen it yet, but I still think it is there. The Hoos are 3.5 point favorites, and are at home. The special teams can't help but to improve from last week, while the offense and defense simply need to fix a couple of issues. I am going to stubbornly continue my optimism, even if it makes me look foolish again.
Prediction: Hoos 27, Deacons 20