The No. 19 Demon Deacons (7-1) entered Lane Stadium on Saturday afternoon as one of the ACC’s premier teams and the only legitimate threat to Clemson in a weird season in the ACC Atlantic.
The goal was straightforward: win against a 5-3 Virginia Tech squad, as predicted by most sports outlets, and the Deacs would control their destiny regarding their Orange Bowl odds.
However, as seen time and time again, things rarely go according to plan and narratives are ever-changing in the one-week game that is football. In front of a loud crowd of 65,632 people, by far the largest attendance Wake Forest football has faced in any away game this season, the Deacs struggled to match the Hokies’ energy in the second half and suffered their second loss of the season.
In the absence of receiver Scotty Washington (ankle), the usually high-powered Wake Forest offense led by quarterback Jamie Newman had problems establishing any kind of rhythm offensively. The Hokies stacked the box and played a lot of zero coverage for much of the game, daring Newman to make plays in the passing game. As a result, the Deacs registered their lowest rushing number of the season with only 63 yards in 29 carries for an average of only 2.2 yards per carry.
Newman had plenty of one-on-one situations with Sage Surratt and Kendall Hinton throughout the game, but in many instances, the Deacs were not able to exploit the mismatches that usually go in their favor in the passing game.
“We didn’t have the numbers to run it and all year we’ve had that type of box count and we’ve thrown the ball for 300-400 yards and Sage, Scotty and Kendall have had huge games and in that game, credit to Virginia Tech, they covered us. We didn’t get the separation that we’ve gotten most games,” said Head Coach Dave Clawson. “I don’t think our response to that as an offense was as good as it needed to be. We had some things open in the passing game that we missed. Kendall three or four times, was wide open across the middle and those are plays that we usually hit in our sleep and whether Jamie overthrew it or underthrew it or Kendall dropped it or the angle of the route wasn’t like we’ve practiced, we were off.”
The Hokies also applied consistent pressure on the Wake Forest backfield, registering three sacks, seven TFLs and seven QB hurries. Newman’s two interceptions of the game came in pressure situations. On both occasions, Newman was hit as he threw the ball, making it lose all of its spin and forward momentum and becoming an easy interception for the Virginia Tech linemen. Newman completed only 16/35 of his passes for 238 two touchdowns and two picks.
The bad news continued to pile up for the Deacs against Virginia Tech. Early in the fourth quarter, after securing a third-down conversion down the middle of the field, Surratt came down with a shoulder injury and was ruled out of the game. Clawson confirmed on Tuesday that Surratt will miss the remainder of the 2019 season. Surratt leads all ACC receivers in both yards (1,001) and touchdowns (11) and was en route to an All-American type of season.
His absence will be strongly felt by the Deacs in their upcoming matchup against Clemson on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., as Washington is also ruled out of the clash against the Tigers. Surratt and Washington formed one of the best receiving duos in the nation this season with a combined 1,608 yards and 18 touchdowns. As the Deacs prepare to visit Death Valley, their absence could have not come at a worst time.
“[Receivers] Waydale Jones, Steven Claude, A.T. Perry, there is a reason we recruited these guys. They are talented and this is their chance to step up and we have confidence they will,” Clawson said. “We need to play a little bit better on the O-line, the running backs will need to play better, the tight ends will need to play better and [Newman] is going to need to be really sharp.”
A week ago, the Deacs seemed like the ACC darlings, frontrunners for the Orange Bowl bid and capable of making things interesting against ACC juggernaut Clemson. Now, plagued by injuries at wide receiver after a poor offensive performance at Virginia Tech, the Deacs are looking at possibly going to a tier-1 bowl game, and an upset against Clemson never seemed so out of reach. Narratives do change quickly in football.