Any time a football team scores 38 points, especially on a conference foe, it’s a cause for celebration for the offensive side of the ball. And for much of the first half of NC State’s 38-21 beatdown of Virginia, the Wolfpack offense had plenty of reasons to be happy with the way it played.
But when the first half ended and the second half began, the Pack offense struggled to move the ball down the field with as much consistency as it had earlier. Considering its entire body of work on Saturday, it’s apparent that NC State stumbled its way toward the 38-point marker rather than sprinted to it.
While junior Ricky Person Jr. didn’t enjoy as productive an afternoon as his previous outings this season, the other half of the Wolfpack’s elite running back tandem certainly did. Sophomore Zonovan Knight continued his excellent form against the Cavalier defense, as he rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries. Person chipped in with 55 yards on 14 carries, which for a running back of his caliber isn’t great, but with all things considered, isn’t a terrible total for a single game.
With Knight carrying the load on the ground against Virginia, not only did the Pack nearly double the amount of rushing yards as its opponent, but the team is well positioned to cause problems for opposing defenses in the games to come.
After seeing what redshirt sophomore Devin Leary did to Pitt’s defense last week, it’s obvious the game against Virginia wasn’t the young quarterback’s finest. He completed just 11 total passes on the day, though he did accumulate 184 yards on those throws, and tossed a pick for good measure.
Leary was missing easy throws he’d normally complete all day against the Cavaliers, and that’s reflected in his 44% completion mark. Luckily for him, points came so easy for the Wolfpack that even the defense chipped in a touchdown late, but if NC State is going to continue to defy expectations this year, Leary simply has to be better.
Here’s the good news: Redshirt senior Cary Angeline was on the receiving end of one of Devin Leary’s touchdown passes. The bad news? It was the only reception credited to the tight ends all game. Now it isn’t entirely the tight end group’s fault, as fellow redshirt senior Dylan Parham didn’t play in Charlottesville, Virginia and Devin Leary wasn’t exactly threading the needle to his receivers out there, but if the entire unit only accounts for one catch, it’s hard to justify giving them a good grade. The Wolfpack tight ends are a talented and experienced bunch, but they just didn’t have the counting stats in their favor.
It was a mixed bag of both moments of brilliance and disappointment in terms of how well the wide receivers played. On the one hand, freshman Porter Rooks continues to make surprising contributions early on this season, grabbing three Leary passes for 51 yards against Virginia, which very well could’ve been four Leary passes and a touchdown if the referees had rewarded Rooks for his would-be amazing haul in the first quarter.
Again, it must be stated that Leary didn’t do the best job finding his receivers all afternoon, but on the other side, senior Emeka Emezie really should’ve been more productive than the three catches and 54 yards he had. Leary targeted Emezie often against Virginia, but the receiver often couldn’t shake free from the relatively small Virginia cornerbacks. It was almost like watching Shaquille O’Neal getting hacked by an opposing team’s hapless point guard, but instead of towering over his defenders and shaking them off, Emezie let the Virginia corners get the best of him. And it’s a shame because this game had double-digit catches and 120 yards for Emezie written all over it.
This was by far the best game the Wolfpack offensive line has played so far in this young season, as it provided enough time for Leary to make his, often errant, throws and created holes for Knight and Person Jr. to barrel through. Leary got sacked zero times, which is a testament to his presence in the pocket, but also to how well the offensive line kept Virginia pass rushers at bay.
But what’s more astounding is the miniscule 19 total yards lost by the NC State running back group — less than five total lost yards per quarter. It’s hard to replicate a performance like that, but with that game against Virginia, the NC State offensive line has just catapulted itself into the discussion of one of the best offensive lines in the country, let alone the ACC.