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Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Wake Forest

Hoos face Wake on a Friday night in Charlottesville.

NCAA Football: Duke’s Mayo Bowl-Wake Forest vs Wisconsin Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After heading on the road for the first time in the 2021 season to play North Carolina in Week 3, Virginia Football returns home to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in their second ACC contest. The game is going to be under the lights at Scott Stadium on Friday, September 24 at 7:30pm. ESPN2 will broadcast the game. Let’s take a quick look at the Demon Deacons.

2020 Recap

Record: 4-5
Postseason: Duke’s Mayo Bowl, 42-28 loss to Wisconsin

During October 2020, Wake Forest had wins over Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse (plus Campbell). Over the rest of the season, Wake Forest had wins over no one else. Those four wins made up the entirety of their 2020 victories, as they finished 4-5 (3-4 ACC). At 4-4 in the regular season, they earned an invite to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (previously the Belk Bowl) against Wisconsin.

In that bowl game they took an early 14-0 lead and they piled up over 500 yards of offense. Then they lost 42-28.

Sophomore QB Sam Hartman threw for 2200 yards with 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions over the course of the season. That’s good enough for a QB rating of 138.7, which is solid. Those numbers are similar to what Brennan Armstrong did, though Wake’s offense overall was better than Virginia’s. The Deacons averaged 444 yards per game (423 for the Hoos).

The Deacons had a pair of RBs that basically split carries with Christian Beal-Smith leading in yards (732), but Kenneth Walker III led the duo with 13 TDs. They both averaged around 5 yards per carry. WR was a different story, with Jaquarii Robinson leading the way with 62 catches for 926 yards. Both of those marks were good for third in the ACC.

As promising as the offense was, the defense was the opposite. That unit ranked 90th nationally in total defense. That is actually better than Virginia ranked, but at least Virginia was good at rushing the passer and at stopping the run. Wake’s defense wasn’t good at much. They had 13 interceptions in 9 games, which ranked 13th nationally. That’s really it.

2021 Outlook

Key Returners: QB Sam Hartman, RB Christian Beal-Smith, WR Jaquarii Robinson, the entire Offensive Line, DT Miles Fox
Key Departures: RB Kenneth Walker (Michigan St), DE Carlos “Boogie” Basham (NFL), LB Ja’Cquez Williams (ULM)
Key New Faces: DT Kevin Pointer (ULM)

Losing Boogie Basham hurts, as he was the one guy who put fear into opposing OLs and QBs. Add the loss of Ja’Cquez Williams to transfer, and those are two big losses to the Wake defense. That is the top tackler and top pass rusher.

Everybody else returns from the defense, and other than Walker, pretty much the entire offense returns. This offense should be very good, but the defense will have to step up.

The OL had problems keeping Hartman upright last year, giving up an average of three sacks per game. A full complement of returning offensive linemen should help, but this was already a veteran unit so how much improvement can they really expect? If that unit doesn’t improve, the ceiling for Wake isn’t a whole lot higher than last year’s unit.

Series History

All-time Record vs. Wake Forest: 34-16
Last meeting: 2020, Wake Forest win 40-23

From 1984 through 2003, Virginia and Wake Forest played every year and the Cavaliers lost once. Since 2008, the Hoos and Deacons have played every four years, and Wake Forest has won every one of those games, including a 40-23 win in 2020.

The game was tied at the halftime break, but Wake Forest ran away with the game in the fourth quarter. Quite literally ran away, as Kenneth Walker had two rushing TDs in under two minutes to put the game out of reach. Three fourth quarter turnovers from the Hoos — including two Lindell Stone INTs (playing for an injured Brennan Armstrong) — pretty much ended any shot the Hoos had.