Which Jacket team shows up this week is perhaps the Saturday's biggest mystery.....
Tech goes on the road & under the lights this weekend as we travel to Winston-Salem to take on a Wake Forest squad that it many ways mirrors the Jackets: youthful, struggling with key injuries, & looking to establish themselves on both sides of the ball. Both teams are coming off bad losses, Tech's a 45-28 home defeat at the hands of NC State while Wake looks to recover from a 31-0 loss to Florida State on the road. And both teams certainly need a win on Saturday, Tech to keep any fleeting ACC title hopes alive, Wake simply to right the ship after two very tough road losses. A victory for either team will be a significant step in the right direction for two teams struggling to find their identity in 2010. Let's look at Wake first:
Ted Stachitas possesses Ginger powers.......which makes us here at The Barrel nervous.....
It seems almost surreal that Riley Skinner won't be under center for the Demon Deacons on Saturday night. After a great career at Wake the four-year starting QB has moved on and left a sizable void in the Wake offense. So far this season Wake has struggled with injuries at QB & this week is no exception as nominal starter freshman Tanner Price is out with a concussion & his replacement, Ted Stachitas, is questionable with a rib injury suffered against FSU. Stachitas, a good runner & marginal passer (we're certainly familiar with that....) looks to be able to play & I expect to see him on Saturday. If he can't go, Skylar Jones will likely start for the Deacs.
Whomever plays QB for Wake on Saturday expect to see a more "traditional" Jim Grobe offense as Wake has returned to the spread option look they ran before the Skinner era. Look for multiple formations & plenty of mis-direction on Saturday, very similar to what we do albeit it out of a different base formation. Wake's base set is a "21" (two backs/ one tight end) but they vary their personnel regularly in an attempt to keep the defense off balance. So far this year the Deacons have run much more than they have passed & used a primarily zone read scheme in running the ball. Tech was exploited by NC State using zone blocking last week & I expect Wake will try and do much the same (although the Wake offensive line isn't nearly the caliber of the Wolfpack's). We'll see lots of stretch plays including fly & orbit series designed to spread the defense wide & allow the Deacon wide receivers to get the hand off with some momentum. Wake really hasn't thrown the ball with any effectiveness so far this year but with our struggles in route recognition I expect we'll see lots of short stuff to the backs & WR's. Look for the Deacs to use lots of play action to entice our LB's forward, leaving large holes behind our defensive line for short dump passes.
Wake sits 113 out of 120 FBS teams in scoring defense & while they've played some potent offenses (Stanford, FSU) they have struggled for most of the year. The Deacons base package is a 4-3 Over (great, great stuff by Shakin the Southland behind that link) but I expect to see a significant amount of 5-2 Monster from them on Saturday. So far this year the biggest weakness for Wake has been their defensive line which is very small (they average about 250 per man) and hasn't generated any pass rush or shown the ability to consistently stop the run. DE Kyle Wilber leads the nation in tackles-for-loss and has done most of his damage using his speed to chase plays down from the backside. While a fine player, particularly against the pass, he could be a liability for Wake on Saturday at 235 pounds - look for us to run right at him. The Deacons have a solid if not spectacular group of LB's led by redshirt sophomore Joey Ehrmann. Hunter Haynes patrols the middle while 6'0", 260 pound Matt Woodlief plays the weakside. Woodlief will have to be on his game Saturday as I expect CPJ to attack him in space both running the ball & in coverage. In the secondary, safety Cyhl Quarles is a solid player who excels in run support; expect to see him around the line-of-scrimmage frequently.
After missing almost all of last week with a leg injury Sean Bedford should be in the lineup for Tech this week
The Jackets got some great news today as both starting center Sean Bedford & backup Jay Finch look to be ready to go for Saturday after missing significant time against NC State with injuries. Their return to the offense will be a big boost for Tech. One area of that certainly needs improvement for Tech is the play of our offensive tackles. In our offense, the tackles must get to the second level consistently if we are to be successful. Watch for this early as an indicator of our success.
Our offensive performance against NC State was perhaps more disappointing than that of the defense as many Tech fans, myself included, expected our offense to take another step forward this year. In reality, we've played well offensively at times but haven't truly clicked on all cylinders yet this season. There are two things that kill us offensively, turnovers & negative plays & we have to avoid both this week. Against Wake's average defense, we should be able to score plenty. The Deacons are very light up the middle & I expect CPJ to try & exploit this with plenty of dives, more midline than we've seen all year, & even some Qb & B-back draws. Wake is well coached & has seen plenty of option football so they will likely know their assignments; Saturday will be about imposing our will physically on the offensive side of the ball. One thing we'll most certainly see is an increased roll for true freshman A-back BJ Bostic; he may be our most explosive player & I expect he''ll see plenty of touches in an attempt to get him in space where he's lethal.
Well, at least we're not facing Russell Wilson......Two factors will define Tech's defense on Saturday: mental focus & play recognition. We didn't fair well in either of those areas against NC State but it's a new week & frankly an easier offense to defend than the one we faced last week. Wake has shown almost no ability to throw the football this year so why not load the line & dare them to pass on Saturday? Until they prove they can beat us through the air, there's little reason not to load the line & take away the run. Wake will try & spread us out & zone block so it will be important we do a better job winning one-on-one match-ups and shedding blocks on Saturday. Improved tackling will obviously help the effort. I don't expect we'll miss as many assignments as last week & it will be important to see how we rebound mentally & how much progress we've made this week.
What's perhaps the biggest common denominator in both our losses this year? Poor special teams play. We simply aren't good enough this year to be able to overcome special teams breakdowns so we'll need to be solid if we want to win Saturday. Wake is pretty average on special teams & we did flash some ability on kick off returns last week so there may be an opportunity for big play in the return game.
Keys for Wake:
1) Win the One-on-One Battles: whether it's blocking or shedding blocks, Wake needs to win the individual battles if they want to have success, particularly on offense.
2) Control the Clock: Wake's best defense may be a good offense. Play keep away from our offense by "dinking & dunking" down the field on sustained drives. A "reverse death march" if you will.
3) Stop the Dive: Wake's defense is small & vulnerable up the gut. They will need to play defense from the inside out.
4) Big Plays: Wake hasn't broken off many this year; they will need at least one if they hope to win.
Keys for Tech:
1) Punch Them in the Mouth: we should be able to impose our will physically on a smaller Wake squad. We need to win the physical battles on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
2) Play Smart, Play Focused: it's no secret mental errors doomed us last week. We need to clean it up mentally & play focused on Saturday.
3) Avoid Negative Plays: 2nd & 12 isn't our strong suit. 3rd & 2 is right where we want to be. Even if the gains are minimal we have to avoid negative plays.
4) Special Teams: we can't afford mistakes. We don't have to be great but we can't be below average, we're simply not good enough to dig ourselves out of those kinds of situations.
5) Make Wake One Dimensional: force them to beat us through the air. Load the line & bring pressure both against the run & the pass. Play them the same way teams want to play us.....
How it Plays Out
It will be very interesting to see how Tech comes out. We'll know a lot about this game in the first five minutes: if we come out with high energy & focus, we should win & score plenty. If we come out flat or make an early mistake & go into a shell, we'll almost certainly lose. Wake will try & exploit our linebackers both running & passing through short passes & mis-direction. They will move the ball but settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, which in the end is why Tech wins. Offensively we'll score plenty & clean up many of the errors from last week. I expect a much better effort for the Jackets than what they showed last week: we may not be a great team this year but we're better than how we played last week. A small measure of redemption this week.
Tech 31 Wake 20