Emotions will be running high when Virginia Tech faces No. 22 Wake Forest on Saturday.
The surprising Demon Deacons (7-1, 3-1, No. 19 CFP) are looking for a victory against the Hokies that would send the Demon Deacons to No. 4 Clemson next weekend in a showdown for the ACC’s Atlantic Division title and a likely spot in the league’s championship game.
The Hokies (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) are looking to stay in the Coastal Division title chase and honoring defensive coordinator Bud Foster before the game with “Bud Foster Day.” Foster, who has kept the Virginia Tech defense among the nation’s best during his 33 years at the school, is retiring after this season.
Foster has said he will reflect on his career when it’s over, but prefers the in-season focus to be on the players.
“This thing is a celebration of me, but it’s a celebration of every player I’ve coached,” he said this week.
Coach Justin Fuente, who retained Foster from Frank Beamer’s staff when the Hall of Famer retired four years ago, said he’s taking the same approach.
“I’m anxious for this season, doing everything we can to send coach Foster and our seniors off the right way, and continuing to build for the future,” Fuente said.
The Hokies will have their hands full with the high-flying Demon Deacons.
Sixth-year coach Dave Clawson has long been regarded as a brilliant offensive mind, and this year’s Demon Deacons show why. Behind quarterback Jamie Newman, Wake Forest ranks among the nation’s top 10 in total offense (510.6 ypg), passing offense (323.6) and third down conversions (50.3 conversion rate).
The teams is averaging 38 points, allowing just 24.6 and its quarterbacks have been sacked just 10 times.
“I’ll tell you what, their quarterback is dynamic,” Foster said. “The Newman kid is big, athletic, he’s got a lot of arm, he’s very accurate. Their receiving corps might be the best in the league. … “We’re going to have to play a great football game. … They’re very explosive in all they do.”
Some other things to watch when Wake Forest visits Virginia Tech:
WHO’S AT QB?
Fuente said Hendon Hooker (3-0 as a starter) will start if he has recovered sufficiently from a leg injury, but if Hooker can’t go, the Hokies are likely to go with Quincy Patterson, a dual-threat who is much stringer as a runner than as a passer. Both, and Ryan Willis, have started at QB this season.
Newman came from the shadows to become among the front-runners for ACC player of the year and getting a victory here and putting the Demon Deacons into an Atlantic Division showdown with mighty Clemson would only add to his accolades and candidacy.
The matchup highlights two of the ACC’s best receivers. Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt had a school-record string of eight games with a touchdown catch end earlier this season and is 52 yards shy of 1,000. The Hokies’ Damon Hazleton has five TD catches in three games since returning from an injury.
The last time these teams met in 2014 they produced one of the ugliest games in conference history. Scoreless through regulation, both teams kicked a field goal in the first overtime before the Demon Deacons’ won it with another FG in the second OT, giving Clawson his first ACC victory.
The Hokies pledged before the season to play for Foster and send him out on a high note, then started poorly. They are coming off a solid defensive effort at Notre Dame and seeking their third straight win at home, but any perceived extra pressure to win for Foster could be a distraction.
One thing in their favor is that the game is sold out with Hokies fans eager to pay homage to Foster.
AP sports writer Joedy McCreary in Winston-Salem contributed.
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