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McFarling: Hokies' quest for No. 2 begins in earnest

McFarling: Hokies' quest for No. 2 begins in earnest

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We’re No. 2!”

Realistically, if you’re in the ACC and your name isn’t Clemson, that seems about as high as your aspirations can be for this regular season. The Tigers aren’t falling back; they’re getting scarier. Just ask Georgia Tech, which just suffered a loss to Clemson by the widest margin (73-7) in ACC history.

Virginia Tech would never admit this publicly, but a second-place finish in this conference would be a reason to do cartwheels. And the Hokies are right in that bridesmaid mix, along with the likes of Notre Dame, Miami and North Carolina.

Tech’s offense has been staggeringly efficient, and its defense should get better by the week as players return from quarantine and Justin Hamilton finds his groove as defensive coordinator.

“I have been proud of the way our kids have handled some tough things that we’ve been through, but those things aren’t over,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “This isn’t time to for us to sit back and relax and slap each other on the back. This is time for us to continue to focus, knowing that there’s a long road ahead of us and there will be a lot of twists and turns in the road.

“We’ve got to do our best to keep it in between the ditches and keep it rolling in the right direction.”

Which brings us to Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, where the potential ditches are easy to spot. The Demon Deacons are coming off back-to-back victories and were feisty in their losses to Clemson and N.C. State. They also have the No. 3-ranked passing efficiency in the conference led by quarterback Sam Hartman.

“The quarterback’s throwing it all over the yard,” Fuente said. “They’ve got a great running game. They’re averaging 40 points per game. Defensively, it seems like they’ve got every single guy back. I know it’s not all 11, but they’ve got a bunch. They make very few mistakes. No penalties, no turnovers.”

Still, the Vegas line opened at Tech by 7.5 and was quickly bet up to 9.5. That makes sense. There’s no reason to think Tech’s offensive line and rushing attack will stumble after four straight excellent performances.

The Hokies have handled Wake Forest well since joining the ACC, winning four of the five meetings. Tech’s lone loss came in 2014, in that infamous 6-3, double-overtime game in Winston-Salem. That happens to be the Hokies’ most recent visit to the stadium now known as Truist Field.

Don’t expect anything close to that score in this one. The key for Tech will be getting the most out of its defense, which has been missing pieces in each of the first four weeks.

“I feel good when we get all our guys in there,” Fuente said. “It’s just been a little bit of shuffling the deck. I’d like to get a little bit of consistency; hopefully we will, in terms of guys playing together and playing at one spot and not moving around all over the place. Hopefully, that’s on the horizon for us.”

Tech will almost certainly be favored in each of its next three games. Consider this mini-stretch of winnable matchups to be Phase 1 in the quest for No. 2.

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