5 things to know about Georgia Tech’s return to Wake Forest

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coach Brent Key during a football game against South Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 9, 2023.  (Bob Andres for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coach Brent Key during a football game against South Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 9, 2023. (Bob Andres for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia Tech’s penultimate game of September is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Wake Forest, the second conference game of the season for the Yellow Jackets. Tech then hosts Bowling Green on Sept. 30 before a stretch of six consecutive ACC tilts.

But first, on Saturday, the Jackets will be trying to avoid their first 0-2 start in conference play since 2019. Tech lost its league opener Sept. 1 to Louisville 39-34 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Tech is coming off a 48-23 loss at No. 15 Ole Miss where it was outscored 38-20 in the second half to fall to 1-2. Tech hasn’t played at Wake Forest (3-0, 0-0 ACC) since 2010, a program that is 22-8 in its past 30 games.

Coach Brent Key’s team will be playing in a fourth consecutive different stadium (Mercedes-Benz, Bobby Dodd, at Ole Miss and at Wake Forest) to start the season, the first time the program has done that since 1997 (Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Bobby Dodd Stadium and Boston College, respectively).

Here are five other things to know about Saturday’s matchup which will be televised live by The CW Network (Peachtree TV in the Atlanta market):

Beware the mesh

Tech supporters who haven’t intently watched Wake Forest in recent years may be in for a bit of surprise when tuning in Saturday to the Jackets’ matchup with the Demon Deacons.

Coach Dave Clawson’s team has become adept at running the mesh offense, a system that wears thin the patience of a defense before exploiting it for explosive plays.

“It’s unique, very unique. We’re not used to seeing this style of ball,” Tech defensive lineman Eddie Kelly said. “I think their O-line, they’re pretty good. They’re pretty solid. They’re very patient. As a D-line we have to make sure we stay in our gap and hold it. We got to be (comfortable) being (uncomfortable) and being as patient as them.”

Typically, Wake Forest’s quarterback, who is Mitch Griffis this season, receives a snap in the shotgun formation while flanked by a single running back. Griffis and that back will move toward the line of scrimmage while Griffis holds the ball in the back’s belly for as long as possible.

From there, depending on how the defense reacts and moves, Griffis has the option to hand the ball off, keep it or throw it.

“It’s very interesting. But with a coach like (Tech defensive line coach) Marco Coleman, he’s the best of the best so with him in our ear every day, he makes sure that we make sure we’re holding our gap and not peeking,” Kelly said. “Because if we peek they might go for 60 (yards).

“Coach Coleman puts us in the best position to succeed in the game and in practice. We’re never in the wrong and if we do make mistakes we’re watching the film and going over it. With a guy like Marco Coleman you can’t really beat that.”

Wake Forest is averaging 33.3 points per game this season, scored 36.1 per contest last year and 41 per game in 2021.

Red-zone matchup

When it comes right down to it, Tech can’t waste opportunities inside the 20-yard line Saturday against the nation’s best red zone defense.

Wake has allowed only three scores with its backs against the wall this season and just two touchdowns. Last week the Demon Deacons kept Old Dominion off the scoreboard twice in as many red zone trips.

Tech has been very good in its red-zone trips this season, scoring 12 times in 16 chances. Those 16 opportunities are only four behind national-leader Syracuse. The Jackets have punched the ball in the end zone 10 times when reaching the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Key said Thursday those type of situations represents high-pressure moments for his team – and he wants a team that thrives in those moments.

“The only way to thrive in pressure situations is to prepare and practice in pressure situations,” Key said. “There’s pressure from the coaches, there’s pressure from the way we go about practice, then you have to put pressure on yourself. You have to put pressure on yourself so when you get in those situations, you don’t ever want the game to be bigger than it is during the week, bigger than the practice is.

“We structure practice a certain way, we do things a certain way to make sure we narrow that gap as much as we can. But then at the same time there’s individual players that put the pressure on themselves as well and understand that.”

Time to get in the backfield

Tech’s struggles as they pertain to creating negative plays from a defensive standpoint have been well-documented. But if ever there was a week to make some headway in that area, this week may be it.

Wake Forest has allowed 10 sacks already, the most among ACC teams. Old Dominion and Elon each recorded four against the Deacons and Vanderbilt registered two. Wake Forest also has allowed 21 tackles for loss in three games.

Tech only has one sack this season (by Kelly) and just seven tackles for loss, the fewest in the nation.

“Our coach has been harping on that every day. We try to get to the quarterback every day,” Kelly said. “We do drills every day in practice. We, as a D-line, know we need more sacks, we need more (tackles for loss) to be a great D-line in this conference. Every day we’re working and they’re coming for sure. That’s a promise.”

Family weekend

Saturday’s game at Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium is part of family weekend festivities at Wake Forest. The school announced last week that the game was sold out, and according to Wake Forest, it’s the program’s eighth sellout since the start of the 2021 season.

Should Allegacy Stadium reach its listed capacity of 31,500, the Jackets will have played in front of least 31,000 fans in each of its first four games with the largest crowd being 64,150 at Ole Miss and the smallest being 31,452 at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 9.

Key vs. Wake Forest

Key has experienced some previous success against the Demon Deacons during his long college football career.

As an offensive lineman for the Jackets, Key was part of three wins against Wake Forest in 1997, 1998 and 2000. In 1999, Wake Forest had a 20-0 lead at halftime before holding on for a 26-23 win over the 14th-ranked Jackets.

The teams split games in 2001 and 2002 when Key was a graduate assistant for the Jackets.

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