2009 Football Game Preview: #15 Virginia Tech vs. NC State

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  • Date: Saturday, November 21st, 2009
  • Time: 3:30
  • TV: ESPNU

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Virginia Tech still has hopes to win 10 games for the sixth consecutive
season, but a loss to NC State this Saturday would end those hopes. The Hokies
are better than the Wolfpack, and they are the rightful home favorite. However,
there are matchups in this game that should concern Tech fans.

Despite not being traditional rivals, NC State and Virginia Tech always play
great games, and they always go down to the wire. Here’s a look at the Tech-NC
State series during the Frank Beamer era.


Frank Beamer vs. NC State

Year

Score

Winner

1989

25-23

VT

1990

20-16

VT

1991

7-0

NC State

1992

13-13

Tie

2004

17-16

NC State

2005

20-16

VT

The series has featured one tie, and all games have been decided by a touchdown
or less. The average margin in those six games is three points.

NC State is only 4-6 this season. Two of their wins have come over 1-AA
opponents. Despite the record, they are still a very capable team. They are the
only school to defeat Pittsburgh this season, and they have one of the best
offenses in the ACC. This will be a tough game for the Hokies on Senior Day.

NC State also features some important players who are from the state of
Virginia. They will all be looking forward to returning to their home state and
trying to knock off the in-state power.


Virginians on NC State Roster

Name

Pos.

Role

Russell Wilson

QB

Starter

Mike Glennon

QB

Backup

Alan-Michael Cash

DT

Starter

Bryan Slay

DT

Backup

Jay Smith

WR

Backup

Josh Czajkowski

PK

Starter

Mike Maurer

SN

Starter

The NC State Offense

NC State’s offense is one of the most productive units in the ACC. The
Wolfpack favor the pass, but they are a good enough running team that they can
be considered a balanced offense.


The NC State Offense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank

Rushing

136.1 ypg

78

Passing

277.1 ypg

19

Total

413.2 ypg

35

Scoring

32.6 ppg

23

Pass Efficiency

139.71

31

Sacks Allowed

2.4 per game

78

The NC State offense is led by quarterback and Virginia native Russell Wilson
(5-11, 201, r-So.). At first glance, Wilson doesn’t look like a quarterback
capable of putting up big numbers. He’s not tall enough to be a traditional
pocket passer who is adept at hitting big plays down the field. However, his
numbers suggest otherwise.

For
the season, Wilson is completing 58.2% of his passes. He has thrown for 2,534
yards, with 26 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The Wolfpack rely on
Wilson’s arm, and he doesn’t let them down. He threw 17 TDs and just one
interception as a full-time starter in 2008, but in 2009, though his
interceptions are up, his overall pass efficiency has increased (143.9 this year
versus 133.9 last year).

Wilson is a dual threat quarterback. When he’s not beating defenses with his
arm, he’s running by them. He has 319 rushing yards this season, with four
rushing touchdowns. He can buy time to pass down field, or he can use his legs
to make big plays in the running game.

Overall, Wilson is a dynamic playmaker for NC State. He is a very difficult
player to defend, and Bud Foster’s unit has their work cut out for them.

Wilson has a lot of big targets, and he’s also not afraid to throw the ball
to the tight end. In fact, tight end George Bryan (6-5, 265, r-So.) is the
leading receiver on the team. He has 38 catches for 393 yards and six touchdowns
on the season. Obviously the Wolfpack like to use Bryan in the red zone.

The top wide receiver this season has been Jarvis Williams (6-4, 213, r-Jr.).
Williams is a big-bodied receiver who doesn’t have great speed, but he’s capable
of making plays downfield in traffic. He has 36 receptions for 472 yards, and
his nine receiving touchdowns leads the team.

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Owen Spencer (6-3, 185, Jr.) is the big play threat of the NC State receiving
corps. He is still somewhat raw as a receiver, but he can huge plays in the
passing game. He has 23 catches for 561 yards this season, with an eye-popping
average of 24.39 yards per catch, tops in the nation by a narrow margin over
Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas (24.36 ypc). It’s not uncommon to see Spencer
getting behind defensive backs and making big plays. The Tech secondary can’t
afford to let Spencer beat them.

Darrell Davis (6-4, 204, r-Jr.) is the #3 receiver for NC State. He has great
height, just like the rest of the Wolfpack receivers. He has caught 20 passes
for 323 yards and a touchdown this season.

The Wolfpack also have a solid running game to fall back on, led by former
Virginia Tech recruiting target Toney “The Touchdown Maker” Baker
(5-11, 225, r-Sr.). Baker has run for 664 yards and six touchdowns this season,
averaging five yards per carry. He also has 24 catches for 306 yards and three
receiving touchdowns.

Baker is a big, bruising tailback who is also pretty good in the open field.
He has had a rash of injuries during his career, missing the last two full
seasons because of knee injuries. He’s finally healthy in 2009, and he’s playing
well. Baker is an excellent complement to Russell Wilson and the passing game.
He can get things done on the ground, and he helps out a lot in the passing game
as well.

Jamelle Eugene (5-10, 198, r-Sr.) is another senior running back who will see
action against the Hokies. NC State coaches were once very high on Eugene, but
he’s never quite been as good as expected. He has 80 carries for 263 yards and
two rushing touchdowns this season.

The Wolfpack have a big, experienced offensive line.


The NC State Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

LT

Jake Vermiglio

6-5

315

Jr.

LG

Julian Williams

6-5

309

r-Sr.

C

Ted Larsen

6-2

296

r-Sr.

RG

Andy Barbee

6-3

310

r-Sr.

RT

Jeraill McCuller

6-7

325

r-Sr.

That’s a lot of experience up front for the Wolfpack. However, that size and
experience doesn’t necessarily mean great play. NC State is only 78th nationally
in sacks allowed this year, giving up 2.4 per game.

Considering the talent at quarterback and the skill positions, the NC State
offensive line is the weakness of the offense. That being said, this is still a
good enough unit to get a push on a Virginia Tech front seven that has struggled
getting off blocks this season.

The NC State Defense

Defensively, NC State has suffered through a rash of injuries that began
before the season when All-Everything linebacker Nate Irving was lost for the
season following a car crash. The Wolfpack defense played pretty well to start
the season, but injuries and youth have taken their toll.

NC State has played two 1-AA opponents this year, which pads their defensive
stats. Here’s what they’ve done against 1-A competition.


NC State Defensevs. 1-A Teams

Opponent

Rushing

Passing

Total

South Carolina

108

148

256

Pitt

94

206

300

Wake Forest

30

361

391

Duke

43

459

502

Boston College

293

187

480

Florida State

278

280

558

Maryland

108

162

270

Clemson

254

200

454

Average

151

250.4

401.4

You can see the downward trend, particularly in rushing defense, as injuries
have started to take over.

That
doesn’t mean the Wolfpack don’t have some good players on defense. Defensive end
Willie Young (6-4, 250, r-Sr.) is one of the best in the ACC at his position.
Young is a very good edge rusher and he can move effectively from sideline to
sideline. He is easily the biggest playmaker on the NC State defense, with 11
tackles for loss and seven sacks on the season.

Virginia Tech struggles with star defensive ends, which we saw against
Georgia Tech and Derrick Morgan. It will be very tough for the Hokies to block
Young one-on-one, as they tried to do against Morgan (which was a colossal
failure). Tech needs to double team young, or chip him with a tight end or
running back, or anything that will keep him off Tyrod Taylor. If the Hokies can
neutralize him, no one else in the NC State front seven is capable of taking
over the game.

The Wolfpack will have another defensive lineman who will be very motivated
to play the Hokies. Alan-Michael Cash (6-1, 291, r-Sr.) is a Varina High School
(Richmond, VA) alum who did not get a scholarship offer from the Hokies coming
out of high school. He has the prototypical size to play defensive tackle in
Tech’s system, but instead he has developed into NC State’s best defensive
tackle.

Cash has been banged up at certain times this year, and that’s contributed to
NC State’s inability to stop the run at times. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and
two sacks on the season. He’s a better player than his numbers indicate, and you
can bet he’ll be ready to play the Hokies on Saturday.

The other starting defensive linemen for NC State have not been playmakers
this year. Michael Lemon (6-4, 267, r-Jr.) starts at defensive end opposite
Willie Young, and he has just 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack on the season.
He splits time with Shea McKeen (6-5, 265, Sr.), and McKeen has 2.5 tackles for
loss and 1.5 sacks.

The other starting defensive tackle is Leroy Burgess (6-1, 290, Sr.). Burgess
has one tackle for loss and one sack this year. He is not a penetrating
defensive tackle. J.R. Sweezy (6-5, 280, r-So.) has 5.5 tackles for loss and two
sacks this year. He is the best playmaking tackle for the Wolfpack.

The offseason loss of Nate Irving was a major blow to the NC State
linebacking corps, and to the entire defense as a whole. Irving was the best
returning linebacker in the ACC, and the biggest playmaker on the NC State
defense.

Strongside linebacker Audie Cole (6-5, 239, r-So.) has developed into the
Wolfpack’s best linebacker. He is second on the team with 50 tackles on the
season, and he also has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Weakside
linebacker Dwayne Maddox (6-2, 237, So.) has 37 tackles, three tackles for loss
and a sack. Maddox splits time with former Virginia Tech recruiting target
Terrell Manning (6-3, 220, r-Fr.), who has 31 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Ray Michel (6-0, 227, r-Sr.) and Sterling Lucas (6-2, 230, So.) combine at
the middle linebacker position. Together they have 60 tackles and three tackles
for loss on the season. The NC State defense needs more production from their
middle linebacker position.

All three linebacker positions have been played by committee this season.
They haven’t played particularly well, but they certainly aren’t the weakness of
the defense. The weakness is the secondary. Just take a look at the inexperience
in the two deep.


NC State Two-Deep, Defensive
Backfield

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

FC

C.J. Wilson

5-11

177

r-Fr.

FC

DeAndre Morgan

5-10

170

r-Jr.

FS

Brandon Bishop

6-2

200

Fr.

FS

Justin Byers

6-0

188

r-So.

BS

Clem Johnson

6-0

200

Sr.

BS

Earl Wolff

6-0

196

r-Fr.

BC

Jarvis Byrd

5-11

180

Fr.

BC

Gary Grant

6-0

186

r-Fr.

Starters in BOLD

NC State starts two true freshmen and a r-freshman in the secondary. Boundary
safety Clem Johnson leads the team in tackles with 53, and it’s never a good
sign when a safety leads the team in tackles.

The Wolfpack have just seven interceptions on the season, and only two of
them came from members of the secondary. One of them came from a r-senior
walk-on who is not even listed in the two deep.

In short, this NC State secondary has struggled big time. The Wolfpack give
up big plays in the passing game, and they aren’t coming up with any big plays
of their own. Of the eight players in the two-deep in the secondary, five are
freshmen, and three of the four starters are freshmen. You would be hard-pressed
to find a less experienced defensive backfield in the entire country.

The Tech offense has struggled with teams who have bigger cornerbacks who can
lock down the Hokie wide receivers in man-to-man. These NC State cornerbacks are
smallish, and they certainly aren’t lock down defenders. The Wolfpack don’t have
any linebackers who are capable of spying Tyrod Taylor, and they have just one
good pass rusher on the defensive line. On paper, it looks like the Tech offense
can have its way with the NC State defense.

Special Teams

NC State has a dangerous return man in wide receiver T.J. Graham, but he is
out with an injury. Starting boundary safety Clem Johnson is returning kicks and
punts right now, and he’s doing a decent job. Johnson is averaging 13.2 yards
per return on five punt returns. He hasn’t been very effective on kickoff
returns with a 20.2 yards per return average.

The Hokies have been impressive in kickoff and punt coverage this season.
Zach Luckett and Alonzo Tweedy should be able to have a good day against a
return team that is missing its best player, T.J. Graham.

Josh Czajkowski (5-9, 184, r-Jr.) is 9-of-11 on his field goal attempts this
season, with a long of 48 yards. Czajkowski is a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond 40
yards, so he appears to be a pretty good kicker. However, 11 attempts is a small
sample size.

Punter Jeff Ruiz (6-2, 185, r-Jr.) has struggled this season. He has averaged
just 37.6 yards per punt, and the Wolfpack are only 93rd nationally in net
punting.

The Wolfpack have had one field goal and one punt blocked this season. You
could see Frank Beamer elect to bring a lot of pressure at Ruiz.

The Hokies do have an advantage on special teams, especially playing on their
own home field. They need to take advantage.

Conclusion

NC State scares the heck out of me. They have nothing to lose in this game,
and they have several Virginians who will be looking to have big games in their
home state. Russell Wilson is the best overall quarterback the Hokies will face
all season. He’s a terrific passer, and he can also make things happen with his
feet. Tech had problems with a mobile quarterback in their last game, so it will
be interesting to see what approach Bud Foster takes against Wilson.

So far this year, the Hokies have had a lot of trouble offensively against
three teams, all of which had the same attributes. Alabama, Nebraska and UNC had
the cornerbacks to defend the Tech wide receivers one-on-one, and they all
possessed the talent to use unique strategies to keep Tyrod Taylor in the
pocket, or spy him. Against those three teams, the Hokies have averaged 81.7
yards per game rushing, 148 yards per game passing, and 229.7 yards of total
offense.

Against the other competition the Hokies have faced, teams that didn’t have
the talent to match up effectively, Tech has averaged 247.7 yards per game on
the ground, 193.7 yards per game through the air, and 441.4 total yards of
offense.

It’s pretty safe to say that the Tech offense has progressed to the point
where they can move the ball on “normal” college defenses. They can
dominate against Boston College, Marshall, Duke, Maryland and even push around
Miami and East Carolina. However, get them against a team that features some
exceptional talents (Rolando McClain, Ndamukong Suh, Bruce Carter), and they
can’t move the football. At all. They don’t just play average offensively
against really good defenses … they play downright awful.

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The NC State defense obviously does not compare to Alabama, Nebraska and
North Carolina. Statistically, this is a horrible defense. It doesn’t look like
they are going to be able to stop the Hokies on the ground or through the air.
This season has taught us that Tech is very good offensively when not facing a
team with exceptional talent, so it’s realistic to expect a big game from the
Hokie offense this week.

I think the NC State offense has the weapons to take advantage of Virginia
Tech’s weaknesses. Their offensive line is big, and I think they might be able
to get an effective running game going against Tech’s smallish front seven. Not
a dominant one, but an effective one.

I also expect to see Russell Wilson take advantage of the middle of the
field, between the linebackers and the safeties. I can see him picking on Kam
Chancellor. NC State has the size at wide receiver to beat Tech’s cornerbacks,
and with Owen Spencer they also have the speed to hit big plays behind the
safeties. This is a diverse offense, and they will get their yards and points
against the Hokies.

I see this as a pretty high scoring football game that will be decided in the
fourth quarter. The Hokies will win because that NC State defense won’t be able
to hold up against Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams, and the Hokie receivers will
be able to strike for big plays downfield.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, NC State 27

Will Stewart’s Take: This reminds me of the setup for the Georgia Tech
game. The Hokies are once again going against a team with a good offense (though
the schemes are completely different), combined with a bad defense characterized
by bad DBs, mediocre linebackers, and a DL with just one playmaker.

It didn’t work out very well the first time around, did it? Let’s hope the
Hokies bring it this time around.

Offensively, the Hokies will have to do a better job of exploiting NC State’s
weaknesses than they did GT’s weaknesses. As Chris noted, Tech will have to
neutralize NC State’s best defensive player, Willie Young, something they failed
to accomplish with Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan.

VT will need to get out of the gate early offensively and score some points,
because if they let NC State and their potent offense hang around, anything
could happen.

Scoring early would also put NC State in catch-up mode, forcing the Wolfpack
to slant even more heavily towards the passing game, which would play into VT’s
hands. The Hokies are 4th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 5th in
passing defense (yards per game). Pass defense has been the Hokies’ strength
defensively all year long.

Run defense? Not so much. Tech is 65th in rush defense, and that’s a big part
of what killed them against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The Hokies failed
to score early, allowing both of those teams to stay in their comfort zone
offensively and exploit Tech’s defensive weakness.

I can’t lay it out much more clearly than that:

  • Neutralize the defensive threat (Willie Young)
  • Attack the defensive weakness (defensive backfield)
  • Score early, forcing NC State into passing mode
  • Stop the pass and bring home the victory

Despite NC State’s bad 4-6 record (2-6 against 1A competition and 1-5 in the
ACC), I don’t see them as a pushover at all. I see this as a very competitive
matchup. I’m going to assume that the Hokies can do what’s necessary to win in
front of a home crowd on Senior Day.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, NC State 24

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