Sunday, September 4th, 2005, 7:15 pm
Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):
Click the “Raleigh Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Clear, 75 degrees, 10%
chance of rain.
TSL Roster Card
(PDF format; to read
it, you’ll need Adobe
2005 VT Roster
Note: some numbers
have not been updated
yet. The roster card
contains the correct
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Preview: #7 Virginia Tech (0-0, 0-0) at NC State (0-0, 0-0)
by Chris Coleman
The highly touted Virginia Tech Hokies will open their
season Sunday night in Raleigh against a talented NC State team that is looking
to rebound from a subpar season in 2004. NC State is in a position much like the
Hokies were last season. They have a talented team, they lost a big time running
back to the NFL (T.A. McLendon), they are coming off a bad season (5-6 and no
bowl), and they have a somewhat maligned senior quarterback.
NC State is a dangerous team right now. Most teams coming
off a losing record and playing a top ten team have no reason to be confident.
Not so with the Wolfpack. They beat the Hokies in Blacksburg last season behind
a defensive effort that registered ten sacks. They were in some pretty good
company, as the only other teams to beat Tech were #1 USC and #2 Auburn.
NC State knows they are talented, and they know they can
beat the Hokies. The pride of their program was hurt with last seasonï¿½s
performance, and they are anxious to get it back.
The NC State Offense
The Wolfpack offense is led by r-senior quarterback Jay
Davis. Davis did not enjoy the best of seasons in 2004. Following in the
footsteps of arguably the greatest quarterback in ACC history in Philip Rivers,
Davis was turnover prone and couldnï¿½t get the Wolfpack into the end zone
enough to have a winning record. For the season, Davis did throw for 2,104 yards
and he completed 55.9% of his passes, both good numbers. However, he threw just
12 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions, an unacceptable ratio if youï¿½re Chuck
Amato. Davis must protect the football if NC State hopes to knock off the
NC Stateï¿½s backup quarterback is sophomore Marcus Stone.
Stone saw playing time early last season and scored a rushing touchdown against
Virginia Tech. He saw his playing time drop off as the season progressed when it
became obvious that he didnï¿½t have a good grasp of the offense.
Jay Davis will likely have a much better season in 2005.
New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has installed the West Coast offense and
will give Davis the opportunity to throw high percentage passes. Plus, those
senior quarterbacks are a strange breed of football player. They can struggle at
times throughout their career, but they know the game very well by the time they
become seniors and can have big seasons.
Sophomore Darrell Blackman will start at tailback for NC
State. A big time recruit out of high school, Blackman prepped for a year at
Hargrave before rushing for 206 yards and one touchdown last season. Behind
Blackman, Chuck Amato has a plethora of tailbacks. Amato describes them as being
five second stringers. They are all talented and could all see action against
the Hokies. Reggie Davis, a bruising 6-0, 236 tailback from Tallahasse, FL is
the teamï¿½s leading returning rusher, gaining 227 yards last season.
Other options for NC State include highly touted freshmen
Andre Brown and Toney Baker. Baker was a Virginia Tech recruiting target last
season, but he shunned Blacksburg, as well as just about every other school in
the country, to play in Raleigh. He has been impressive in the preseason.
Blackman won the job because of his versatility. He is
quick, can run with some power, and he catches the ball well out of the
backfield, which is essential for a tailback in the West Coast offense.
Speaking of versatility, itï¿½s difficult to find a more
versatile player on the east coast than Tramain Hall. Hall is a senior who is
listed on NC Stateï¿½s roster as a halfback/wide receiver. He can line up all
over the field and can beat a defense in many ways. He will split out wide and
catch passes, line up in the backfield and run screens, or lineup as a wingback
and run reverses. He is dangerous in the open field. His numbers dropped from 69
receptions in 2003 to 28 in 2004. That coincides with the departure of Philip
Rivers. Look for NC State to try and get him back in the offensive attack this
season. He will also return punts for the Wolfpack.
The most underrated player on NC Stateï¿½s team is tight
end T.J. Williams. Williams is not mentioned among the top ACC tight ends, but
his production more than warrants some attention. Williams led the Wolfpack in
receiving last season, catching 31 passes for 382 yards. Thatï¿½s 12.3 yards per
catch. The Tech linebackers must not forget about Williams in pass coverage,
because he is more than capable of making some plays.
The Wolfpack offensive line is not the best in the ACC,
but they are certainly serviceable. Injuries hurt them a year ago, but right now
they are healthy, more experienced, and a bit deeper. They arenï¿½t likely to
create many holes in the VT defense, so they must use the passing game to open
up the running game. Like the Virginia Tech offensive line, they face the
daunting challenge of slowing down a very good group of defensive ends in Chris
Ellis, Darryl Tapp and Noland Burchette.
Jay Davis must be patient for NC State. He has to realize
that the Wolfpack wonï¿½t march down the field on a consistent basis against the
Hokies. He must take what the VT defense gives him, and protect the football. NC
State will focus on the short passing game when they throw the ball, but expect
them to take a few shots deep. This will test Techï¿½s new safeties, as well as
open up the running game and shorter pass patterns. Expect them to test Aaron
Rouse in particular.
The NC State Defense
Youï¿½ve spent the entire offseason reading about the NC
State defense. Simply put, they were the best in the nation last season, giving
up only 221.4 yards per game. They were good against the run, allowing 102.4
yards per game, but where they really stood out was in pass defense. The
Wolfpack defense allowed only 119 passing yards per game in 2004, good for
second in the nation. Their pass efficiency defense was ranked first nationally.
The secondary is where the Wolfpack took their biggest hit
in the offseason. Cornerback Marcus Hudson is a returning starter, having
started six games at free safety last season. He also started 13 games at
cornerback in 2002 before being ruled academically ineligible in 2003. He is the
best, most experienced player in the Wolfpack secondary. The other cornerback,
A.J. Davis, is not a returning starter, but he does have a lot of experience,
playing a total of 768 snaps his first two seasons. He also runs a 4.28 40 yard
However, losing veterans such as Andre Maddox, Dovonte
Edwards and Lamont Reid will hurt. NC State will be fine at cornerback, although
the backups are very inexperienced. Safety is still a question mark at this
point. Starting rover Garland Heath only played 71 snaps last season, while
starting true sophomore free safety Miguel Scott saw limited time, recording
The NC State secondary does have above average size,
however. Marcus Hudson stands 6-2, 200, while rover Garland Heath checks in at
6-2, 225. A.J. Davis is the smallest member of the starting secondary at 5-10,
Like Virginia Tech, NC State should be good at cornerback,
but will begin the season with a question mark at safety. And like Virginia
Tech, they have an outstanding front seven.
The NC State starting defensive line appears to be the
best in the country. They are headlined by defensive ends Manny Lawson and Mario
Williams. The defensive tackles, John McCargo and DeMarcus ï¿½Tankï¿½ Tyler, are
rock solid. These four players combined for 44 tackles for loss last season,
with 29 coming from Lawson and Williams. At defensive tackle, NC State also
employs a former Virginia Tech recruiting target, the ultra-talented DeMario
Pressley. Pressley played well as a true freshman in 2004, and is ready to have
a breakout season in 2005.
No defense plays well without good linebackers, and NC
State has those as well. Senior Oliver Hoyte is their best. He spent part of
2004 injured but still managed to lead a very good NC State defense in tackles.
He also posted 16 tackles for loss and two sacks. Stephen Tulloch only started
six games in 2004 but still finished fourth on the team in tackles. He also
posted a very impressive 14 tackles for loss. Junior Patrick Lowery and
sophomore LeRue Rumph will split time at the other linebacker position, with
Rumph likely getting the start. They are both solid players.
As you can see, the Wolfpack defense likes to play in the
backfield. They are very aggressive up front, and they donï¿½t wait for a play
to develop before they react. They will also attack an opposing quarterback.
This type of play can be dangerous, as itï¿½s possible for the secondary to give
up big plays when faced with one-on-one coverage, but NC State makes it work
very well for them.
This is a game that could go either way. Virginia Tech has
fewer question marks than NC State, but the game is in Raleigh, and Stateï¿½s
strength (defensive line) matches up well with Techï¿½s weakness (offensive
line). The Hokies looked awful last season against the Wolfpack, and with NC
Stateï¿½s defensive front four returning, it could be a long night for the Tech
offensive line yet again.
On the other hand, with the exception of Marcus Vick
replacing Bryan Randall, Tech’s skill players (Eddie Royal, Josh Hyman, Mike
Imoh, Cedric Humes, etc.) are healthier and more experienced than they were last
season against NC State. The Hokie offense will feature two tailbacks that can
run the ball effectively, five wide receivers that are capable of big plays,
arguably the best tight end in the conference, and a quarterback who can make
things happen on the ground and through the air. Despite the talent and ability
of NC Stateï¿½s defense, the Tech offense will put more pressure on them than
the NC State offense will put on the Tech defense.
This one will be tight down to the end. It could very well
be a battle of field goals between Brandon Pace and John Deraney. This battle
should be won by Brandon Pace, who was 21-27 last season. Deraney was only
The Hokies will hold a narrow lead late in the game. At
that point, Tech will make a big play on either special teams or defense that
will result in a late touchdown. After that, the Tech defense will not allow NC
State past midfield to seal the game, and the Hokies will win by ten points in a
game that was much closer than the final score.
Prediction: VT 23, NC State
Will Stewart’s Take: In
a way, this game is hugely important. In another way, it’s not. If the Hokies
lose this game, they can still win the ACC and go to a BCS bowl, so losing it
isn’t a disaster. But if VT wants to play in the national championship game,
every game is a must-win, including this one. If the Hokies drop this one,
climbing back up the rankings into the #1 or #2 slot in the BCS is going to be
difficult to impossible.
This game serves as an early litmus test for the focus,
concentration, and leadership of this team. Chemistry and leadership aren’t
critical when you’re winning; they’re critical when you face adversity. This
game can throw plenty of adversity at VT, from the crowd to the NC State
defense. How the Hokies respond to that adversity will, in some measure, shape
the rest of their season. After all, it did last year. The 2004 loss to the
Wolfpack was a potential backbreaker, but instead of folding up, the Hokies got
leadership from Bryan Randall and the coaching staff and ran the table for the
rest of the regular season.
In gauging how good this VT team is, I won’t just be
looking for a win in this game. I’ll be looking to see how the Hokies handle the
environment and the opposition. Even if the team loses, I’ll be looking to see
how they handle it. Everyone around the VT program has been thumping their
chests about how focused this team is and how great their leadership is. I say
“Show me,” starting Sunday night in Raleigh.
By the way, all else being equal (i.e. no major injuries),
you should know that I’m going to predict the Hokies to win every game this
season. I like Chris’ scenario (late TD by the Hokies breaks open a close game),
but take a field goal off the Wolfpack’s score as Chris has it.
Will’s Prediction: VT 23,