NC State’s defense had an up-and-down day in the team’s 30-29 win over Pittsburgh, giving up over 400 yards in the air but less than 100 on the ground and earning average grades from Assistant Sports Editor Tristan Tucker.
In the last two Pitt drives of the first half and the first drive of the second half last week, the Panthers made it inside the Pack 15-yard line three times, but only scored six total points. Those are the glimpses of huge stops the NC State (2-1, 2-1 ACC) defense has made in the red zone, but to win this week against Virginia (1-1, 1-1 ACC), it cannot let the Cavaliers put together long drives that often.
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong
Replacing Bryce Perkins after his 2019 season with 3,500 passing yards and 750 rushing yards is sophomore Brennan Armstrong, who actually played in seven games last season. Armstrong has been very consistent through two games; in fact his stat lines are almost identical.
Vs. Duke (38-20 Win): 24-for-45 passing, 269 yards, two TDs, two interceptions
At Clemson (41-23 Loss): 24-for-43 passing, 270 yards, three TDs, two interceptions
At first glance, it looks like NC State might not have to worry about Armstrong throwing for 400 yards and no turnovers, like Pitt’s Kenny Pickett did last week. Football beat writer Jaylan Harrington included in his takeaways this week that the Pack needed to start forcing turnovers, and this might be the perfect week to snag its first interception, or two, considering Armstrong’s first two games.
That isn’t the only thing the Wolfpack needs to be prepared for; Armstrong also ran for 47 yards against Duke and for 89 against Clemson, one of the best defenses in the country.
Remember Virginia Tech’s rushing attack from two weeks ago? The Hokies' two quarterbacks put up almost 100 of VT’s 314 rushing yards in that game, and Pickett added 40 last week too. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson needs to be prepared for Armstrong to take off when the pocket collapses.
Pack secondary vs. Virginia receivers
So far, it’s another year of NC State secondary woos, as they have allowed at least three receivers to reach the 40-yard mark in all three games this season. Although only one team has thrown for significant yardage, Pitt’s Pickett, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech worked on the ground as well, with 149 and 314 rushing yards, respectively.
Ironically, exactly three of Virginia’s receivers have gone over 40 yards in each of its first two games. The Cavaliers’ leading receiver, by catches and yards, is Billy Kemp IV, with 17 and 168, respectively. However, after giving up that 75-yard home run ball on the second play against Pitt, look for Lavel Davis Jr. to go deep early and often as he has 159 yards on just six catchers, which adds up to a 26.5 average).
After returning from injury, hard-hitting junior safety Tanner Ingle made sure Pittsburgh knew his name, with nine tackles and two pass break ups. He’s battled injuries the entire game, but when he was on the field, NC State could rely more on its backbone.
The Pack won't be able to shut down these receivers, a conclusion based on the recent history of the secondary, but as long as Ingle and Co. can avoid getting beat over the top too much, this defense has shown it can slow teams down in the red zone.
Bold prediction: Defense forces three turnovers
NC State linebackers vs. Cavaliers running backs
Besides Armstrong’s ability to run, Virginia has at least one, maybe two, solid running backs that performed well in the Duke game, but not as much in their loss to the Tigers. Wayne Taulapapa rushed 16 times for 95 yards against the Blue Devils and leads the team in rushing yards, only by 6 over Armstrong.
The Pack hasn’t exactly been able to shut down the run, giving up 185 yards per game on the ground and ranking 56th in the NCAA among 74 playing teams. In both the Wake Forest and the Virginia Tech game, the defense allowed a 100-yard rusher. In fact, the Hokies had five players rush for more than 40 yards.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson missed the game in Blacksburg, Virginia, which was a large part of why the Pack couldn’t stop then run like it did against Pitt, who averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on 37 attempts. With a mobile opposing quarterback and strong linebackers, expect NC State to crowd the box until Armstrong proves he can win through the air.
Bold prediction: Less than 100 yards rushing for Virginia
NCSU D-line vs. UVa O-line
NC State has nine sacks through three games, although six of them came in the season opener against the Demon Deacons. However, only three have come from defensive lineman, as most of the sacks are the result of creative linebacker blitzes.
Armstrong has only been sacked four times this year, with three of those coming against Clemson’s D-line. Neither Clemson or Duke had a defender collect a quarterback hurry either, so expect a lot of time for Armstong to throw.
Even Armstrong said the O-line played well against Clemson and is one of the strengths of the team.
Bold Prediction: No sacks for NC State
The Pack will travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for the game on Saturday, Oct. 10 at noon. The game will be on ACC Network.