2010 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at #23 NC State

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  • Date: Saturday, October 2, 2010
  • Time: 3:30pm
  • TV: ABC

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
right.

Virginia Tech has righted the ship somewhat in their last six quarters of
football. They have outscored East Carolina and Boston College 47-3 in those six
quarters, and those two teams are both projected to go bowling this season.
However, they’ll face a different challenge when they go on the road to take on
#23 NC State, a good football team with an outstanding quarterback and offensive
system.

NC State is 4-0, and they are coming off big wins against Cincinnati and
Georgia Tech. Their most recent win was a 45-28 thumping of the Yellow Jackets
on the road in which the Wolfpack offense put up 537 total yards. This is a very
confident football team right now.

This is also a ranked football team for the first time since the Philip
Rivers era. The Wolfpack are #23 in the latest AP Poll. Tom O’Brien has done a
great job with the NC State program. They’ll face their most significant
challenge of the season thus far when Virginia Tech comes to town.

The NC State Offense

Offensively, things begin and end with All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson
(5-11, 201, r-Jr.), a Richmond native. He’s having another great season in 2010,
though it’s pretty interesting that his numbers were very bad against Central
Florida.

Russell
Wilson in 2010
Game Comp. Att. Yards TD INT

Western Carolina
21 31 306 4 0

UCF
10 30 105 1 0

Cincinnati
26 40 333 3 0

Georgia Tech
28 41 368 3 1

Totals
85 142 1112 11 1

 

Other than that game, his numbers have been phenomenal. He can throw from the
pocket, but NC State offensive coordinator Dana Bible will also move the pocket
and use him on half rollouts to take advantage of his legs. He doesn’t run a
lot, but he’s very effective in the open field.

Last season the Hokies got pressure on Wilson, sacking him five times. He was
just 15-of-26, with a touchdown and an interception. He did throw for 234 yards.
This year they’ll have to do the same. They have to pressure Wilson and throw
off the timing of the NC State passing game. The Wolfpack offensive line starts
four sophomores, which we’ll get to later, so the opportunity to bring pressure
will be there.

Wilson does have a number of good targets to get the ball to. Owen Spencer
(6-3, 185, Sr.) is NC State’s top receiver, and perhaps the greatest big play
threat in the ACC. He averaged 22.3 yards per catch in 2008 and 25.5 in 2009. So
far this year that number is down to 15.1, but the threat remains the same. The
Hokies have to keep Spencer in front of them, because he’s more than capable of
burning them deep.

Spencer entered 2010 as the ACC’s active leader in receiving yards, but
Wilson also has Jarvis Williams (6-4, 219, r-Sr.) as a big target. He is the
ACC’s active leader in touchdown receptions with 16. Williams had 11 touchdown
catches in 2009, and he’s got one so far this year. He and Spencer, along with
T.J. Graham (6-0, 180, Jr.), Darrell Davis (6-4, 211, r-Sr.), Jay Smith (6-2,
209, r-Jr.) and Steven Howard
(6-2, 200, r-Jr.), make up one of the top groups of wide receivers in the ACC.

Wilson also has arguably the top tight end in the ACC, George Bryan (6-5,
265, r-Jr.). He has caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown so far this
year after catching 40 passes a season ago.

Wilson will also spread the ball to his tailbacks. Mustafa Greene (6-0, 201,
Fr.) has 12 receptions on the season. Here is a breakdown of the receivers who
have been used in the passing game so far this season.

NC
State Pass Distribution
Player Pos. Rec. Yards YPC TD

Owen Spencer
WR 14 211 15.1 0

Jarvis Williams
WR 13 209 16.1 1

Mustafa Greene
RB 12 123 10.2 0

T.J. Graham
WR 11 161 14.6 3

George Bryan
TE 11 123 11.2 1

Darrell Davis
WR 8 88 11 1

Taylor Gentry
FB 6 50 8.3 2

Steven Howard
WR 5 73 14.6 1

Jay Smith
WR 3 36 12 1

Dean Haynes
RB 1 34 34 0

Mario Carter
TE 1 14 14 0

Paul Horst
TE 1 12 0 0

Curtis Underwood
RB 1 12 12 1

Quinton Payton
WR 1 9 9 0

Donovan Counts
FB 1 2 2 0

Totals
89 1157 13 11

 

That’s 87 completions spread amongst 15 different players. Russell Wilson
obviously knows what he’s doing out there.

True freshman Mustafa Greene is NC State’s best tailback right now. Besides
being a very good receiver, he also has 53 carries for 242 yards and four
rushing touchdowns. He shares time with Dean Haynes (5-11, 199, r-Fr.), who has
46 carries for 213 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. They are a dangerous
tandem, and Greene in particular looks like he has a very good future.

The weakness of NC State is their offensive line. The Wolfpack start four
sophomores up front, including a couple of true sophomores.

The
NC State Offensive Line
Pos. Player Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT
Jake Vermiglio
6-4 325 Sr.
LG
Andrew Wallace
6-5 304 r-So.
C
Camden Wentz
6-3 296 So.
RG
Zach Allen
6-3 322 r-So.
RT
R.J. Mattes
6-6 303 So.

Vermiglio and Mattes are returning starters, though Mattes started at
offensive guard last year. The three interior linemen are very inexperienced. It
will be interesting to see how much Bud Foster blitzes Russell Wilson. The
Wolfpack have allowed 11 sacks this year, despite not facing any good defenses.
With sophomores on the offensive line, and freshmen tailbacks assigned to pick
up blitzers, pass protection is going to suffer as a result.

So far this year, NC State has moved the ball easily on Western Carolina (a
1-AA team), Cincinnati (76th in total defense) and Georgia Tech (71st in total
defense). The game against Central Florida was a different story.

UCF is ranked 14th nationally in total defense, 12th in pass defense and 9th
in pass efficiency defense. In that game, the NC State offense totaled just 239
yards, including the bad numbers put up by Russell Wilson that we noted at the
beginning of this section. State was very fortunate to leave Orlando
with a 28-21 win.

NC State is playing at home, and they will be playing with confidence thanks
to huge wins over Cincinnati and Georgia Tech. They’ll have a better performance
in them than they showed against UCF, though the Tech defense will likely rise
to the occasion and play well also.

The NC State Defense

Virginia Tech is going to face a defense that is capable of bring a lot of
pressure. The Wolfpack defense lives in the offensive backfield. They are sixth
nationally in sacks this year, averaging 3.5 per game. They are 31st in tackles
for loss.

It all starts with NC State’s terrific group of linebackers. Nate Irving
(6-1, 231, r-Sr.) has had an injury plagued career, but he is finally healthy.
He is one of the best linebackers in the country when he is 100%, and he’s
capable of taking over a game by himself at times. He plays the middle
linebacker position for the Wolfpack. So far in 2010, he has five tackles for
loss and two sacks. He is constantly around the football.

Playing the strongside is Audie Cole (6-5, 239, r-Jr.), who is one of the
most underrated linebackers in the ACC. Cole led his team in tackles in 2009,
including a career-high 13 against Virginia Tech. He’s got good size and a lot
of experience after starting all 12 games last year. He has 4.5 tackles for loss
and two sacks this season.

Terrell Manning (6-3, 224, r-So.) is a former Virginia Tech recruiting
target. The Hokies wanted Manning badly to play the whip linebacker position,
but he selected the in-state Wolfpack. He plays weakside backer for NC State,
and he can be a playmaker. He has three tackles for loss, two sacks and two
fumble recoveries.

Those linebackers have good size and a great ability to put pressure on the
quarterback. Expect to see these guys in Tech’s backfield a lot on Saturday,
especially if
the Hokie offensive line continues to perform at their current level.

The defensive line is very experienced, but they don’t stand out. In fact,
defensive end David Akinniyi (6-4, 262, r-Sr.) is in his first season playing 1-A football. He
was a starter at 1-AA Northeastern for the last three years, but transferred to
NC State when Northeastern dropped their football program. The other defensive
end, Jeff Rieskamp (6-3, 245, r-Jr.) missed all of last season with a sports
hernia, and is still pretty inexperienced as a football player.

The defensive tackles have been solid this year. Natanu Mageo (6-3, 285, Sr.)
finally broke into the starting lineup as a senior, and he has three tackles for
loss and two sacks. J.R. Sweezy (6-5, 293, r-Jr.) is also a full-time starter
for the first time. He had a sack last season against the Hokies in a reserve
role.

Though NC State doesn’t really have any standouts on the defensive line, they
have quality depth. The backup defensive ends are Michael Lemon (6-4, 274, r-Sr.)
and Audi Augustin (6-2, 256, r-Sr.). Both have plenty of experience, and Lemon
is a transfer from Georgia who is the best pass rushing defensive linemen on the
team. They will get heavy playing time against the Hokies.

The backup defensive tackles are Markus Kuhn (6-4, 303, r-Jr.) and Brian Slay
(6-3, 290, So.). Slay is a Virginia native who did not receive a scholarship
offer from the Hokies, so you can be sure he’ll be fired up to face a team from
his home state.

The NC State secondary was plagued by injuries last year, and the Wolfpack
had to play a lot of freshman defensive backs. They still have a young secondary
this year, but their sophomores are as experienced as sophomores can be.

NC State uses a boundary corner and a boundary safety, as well as a field
corner and a field safety. It’s similar to Virginia Tech’s defense. C.J. Wilson
(5-10, 179, r-So.) starts at the field corner position, and his interception
returned for a touchdown against Central Florida was the difference in that
football game. The boundary corner is Justin Byers (6-0, 183, r-Jr.), the most
experienced member of the secondary.

The field safety is Brandan Bishop (6-2, 210, So.), and Earl Wolff (6-0, 201,
r-So.) starts on the boundary. This secondary as a whole has talent, but they
have yet to be challenged by a good quarterback and a good group of wide
receivers. They’ll face both this Saturday against Virginia Tech, but will
Tech’s passing game as a whole be up to the challenge?

NC State does lack quality depth in the secondary, with three true freshmen
in the two deep. David Amerson (6-3, 185, Fr.) backs up at field corner, with
D.J. Green (6-4, 214, Fr.) and Dontae Johnson (6-3, 184, Fr.) at the safety
spots. They have great size, but they are still true freshmen.

The NC State defense specializes in making sacks and tackles for loss.
Offenses get behind the chains and are left in third and long situations. It’s
imperative that Virginia Tech do well on first down, because they will probably
struggle against NC State in obvious passing situations.

The Wolfpack are only allowing 311 yards per game, however opposing teams are
averaging 5.2 yards per play. The Hokies are talented enough and experienced
enough to move the ball on this defense. They scored 38 points against NC State
last year, and had 397 yards of total offense despite sitting on the ball the
entire fourth quarter.

However, the Hokies have struggled to block the two good defenses they’ve
faced this year, not to mention 1-AA James Madison’s smallish defensive front.
On the road, with a loud crowd and facing the athletic NC State blitz … it’s
tough to envision a good outcome for the offense, with the exception of Tyrod
Taylor improvising and making plays.

Special Teams

Virginia Tech needs to get the ball rolling from a special teams standpoint.
The Hokies haven’t exactly been special this year. 108th in net punting, 116th
in punt returns, 75th in kickoff returns, 104th in kickoff return defense and
67th in punt return defense. It doesn’t get much worse than that. This will be a
game where VT will need some hidden yardage, and it would help if special teams
would step up and do their share.

NC State has had trouble of their own on special teams. Jeff Ruiz (6-2, 185,
r-Sr.) was the punter for the first three games of the season, but he averaged
just 33.9 yards per punt. He was replaced with Andy Leffler (5-10, 170, r-Jr.)
for the Georgia Tech game, and he averaged 36.5 yards on four attempts. The jury
is still out on Leffler. NC State is just 98th nationally in net punting, and
this is a battle the Hokies need to win.

Josh Czajkowski (5-9, 184, r-Sr.) is the placekicker, and he is 4-of-6 on the
season. He has made just one kick beyond 30 yards in 2010, going 1-of-3 from
beyond that distance. However, he has made more than 84% of his field goals in
his career with a long of 48 yards, so he’s capable of performing much better.

Wide receiver T.J. Graham is NC State’s primary threat on kickoff and punt
returns. He is averaging 21.5 yards per kickoff return, and just 5.2 yards per
punt return. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, so the
Hokies need to be wary.

This football game seems like a completely even battle, so special teams
could end up being the deciding factor.

Final Thoughts

The NC State offense is on a roll, and though the Tech defense is good, I
have a hard time seeing them holding the Wolfpack under 20 points. Why is 20
points critical? Because the Hokies are just 3-7 the last 10 times an opponent
has scored 20 points or more.

When
Opponents Score 20+ Points
Year Opponent Result
2010
Boise State
Loss
2010
East Carolina
Win
2009
UNC
Loss
2009
GT
Loss
2009
Duke
Win
2009
Alabama
Loss
2008
Florida State
Loss
2008
Boston College
Loss
2008
Nebraska
Win
2008
East Carolina
Loss

 

Those three wins came against the East Carolina defense (115th nationally
this year), the 2009 Duke defense (61st in total defense) and the 2008 Nebraska
defense (55th in total defense). I’m not saying the NC State defense is filled
with world beaters, but they are a very athletic group that gets in the
backfield a lot, and they’ll be facing a Tech offensive line that sometimes
resembles bull fighters. Just wave the red cape and let those big guys through.

To me, this game looks like it will come down to Tyrod Taylor’s improvisation
skills off broken plays. If he makes enough plays after the original playcall
breaks down, then the Hokies will win. If the NC State defense manages to
contain him, then the Wolfpack will win.

I don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence in the Tech offense right now,
and I’m picking the Hokies to lose this game. I think it’s going to be a close
game, and I don’t have the confidence that the Hokies can move down the field
and score on a game-winning drive in the two minute offense, and I’m also
skeptical of Frank Beamer and Bryan Stinespring’s clock management at the end of
games.

However, it might be a good thing that I’m picking against the Hokies. Last
season about this time I thought the Tech offense was pretty bad, and was going
to remain pretty bad, so I picked Miami to beat the Hokies 20-17 in Lane
Stadium. We saw how that turned out. Hopefully they can come up with another
game like that one, and the offense can get its stride. I’ll be a believer when
I see it happen.

Prediction: NC State 23, Virginia Tech 20

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