Wake Forest hosts Duke in meeting of slumping instate rivals

Virginia Tech defensive lineman TyJuan Garbutt (45) knocks the ball loose as Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman (12) attempts a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Virginia Tech defeated Wake Forest 36-17.

BLACKSBURG — Wake Forest’s offense hit a lunch pail shaped roadblock on Saturday.

The Demon Deacons came into the game putting up monster offensive numbers, but Virginia Tech brought them down to earth in a 36-17 loss. They finished with a season-low in total yards (301), first downs (16), rushing yards (63) and yards per play (4.6).

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster detailed the team’s approach after the game that included press coverage and bringing more blitzes when Wake Forest was down by two scores in the second half.

Tech watched plenty of film during the week of Wake receiver Sage Surratt dominating opposing offenses. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was as physical of a receiver as the Hokies faced this season, but defensive backs coach Brian Mitchell and safeties coach Justin Hamilton didn’t think he was “overly quick” at the line.

“We felt like if we could maybe get them at the line of scrimmage a little bit and get into them that it may negate some things,” Foster said. “And it did today. It kind of negated some of their timing a little bit... and they just weren’t on target a whole lot. There were some overthrows and things of that nature.”

Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman came into the game completing 67% of his passes. He was 16 of 36 on Saturday (44%) and threw two interceptions.

Tech’s defensive backs didn’t let up once Wake’s receivers got off the line either. All three of the Hokies defensive backs that played for an extended stretch — Caleb Farley, Jermaine Waller and Armani Chatman — each were credited with a pass breakup. 

Surratt had two touchdowns, but only had four catches for 53 yards on eight targets. Fellow receiver Kendall Hinton had big day for Wake Forest with eight catches for 162 yards, but he was targeted 15 times in the loss.

“They probably covered us better than anybody this year,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “A lot of those 50-50 balls and one-on-one shots that we’ve been so good at making this year — we didn’t get a whole lot of separation. We were off in the passing game. We were behind a little bit and they dropped a few. We just didn’t make plays.”

Clawson called Tech’s secondary the best his team have faced all year.

“We were close,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “We connected to their receivers. They made some plays throughout the course of the game, but we were right there throughout the entire game making them earn every completion, every yard.”

Once Virginia Tech got out in front, Foster turned up the heat with some additional blitzes like the one that forced Newman to throw an interception early in the third quarter to defensive tackle DaShawn Crawford. Crawford dropped back off the line as Foster brought pressure on the edges.

“I think he knew that when they were going to slide their protection a certain way and he was just starting to blitz the side that they were going to slide away from,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said.

Hollifield was credited with a quarterback hurry on Crawford’s interception. The sophomore had an interception of his own late in the fourth quarter when he dropped back in coverage when Foster blitzed to the other side.

Tech ended up with seven quarterback hurries and three sacks (Wake Forest allowed 10 sacks through its first eight games). Defensive end Emmanuel Belmar and safety Chamarri Conner came up with sacks on third and short.

TyJuan Garbutt, Rayshard Ashby and Hollifield each had two hurries.

“I thought in the first half, we protected well. In the second half, when they got a lead, they tee’d up and got after us,” Clawson said. “That happens when you become one-dimensional. It allows you to rush the passer. They did a good job with it.”

Tech players executing the game plan to perfection was a sign for Foster that his young defense is turning a corner.

“I like how our kids have played,” Foster said. “We’ve kind of used the term ‘A.D. After Duke.’ We kind of have really made an approach to just come out in our work ethic and our practice habits really focusing on us, not worrying about anybody else and I like the direction we’re going.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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