The Wolfpack Comes to Blacksburg
The final two games of the season, and both are important in their own ways. In our current one-game-at-a-time philosophy though, we are going to speak only of the game facing the Hokies at 3:30 PM on November 18th. Right now, that’s the only game that counts, and it’s against a team that has a better record, but right now, not a better chance to win.
North Carolina State is currently 7-3 with those three losses being administered by the likes of Notre Dame, Louisville, and Duke. Their wins include Clemson during the height of the Swinney statement controversy and Miami (which is not ‘back’, BTW). They are just off a win against the foundering Wake Forest. There is something interesting to note, though. In none of their ACC contests have they scored more than 26 points. What they have done is held their opponents to low scores. The last two games their defense has managed to keep the oppositions scoring down to two field goals in each game. They held Clemson’s struggling offense (for Clemson, anyway) to 17 points. That defense includes former Hokie defensive coaches Charlie Wiles and Brian Mitchell. The NC State coaching staff also includes former ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill. If you remember those days of a decade ago, well that is a Hokie nightmare.
The Wolfpack Offense has “Issues”
There isn’t much more to be said than Brennan Armstrong to highlight the problems plaguing the Wolfpack’s offensive situation. Underclassman (sophomore) MJ Morris had replaced Armstrong in mid-season, but essentially forced the team to hand him a redshirt. He was still eligible for one since he was a true sophomore. That’s a portal suspicious move if there ever was one but we’ll see in the post season transfer mayhem that will most assuredly follow New Years. That move handed the ball back to Armstrong. The UVA transfer has never been a consistent performer for NC State. He is a dual threat, and when he is actually “on” he’s dangerous, but he’s also inconsistent. During the first half of the season when he was the Wolfpack’s starting QB, he only managed five touchdown passes and that wasn’t even at a one a game pace. He only rushed for three, and 2 of those were against cupcake challenge UConn. Eventually, NC State made the move to Morris, but he derailed that with his redshirt move. That put Armstrong back in the saddle, and even with the win at Wake, his numbers were relatively modest in the air, and a bit intimidating on the ground. He was 12 of 17 for 111 yards in the air, with one touchdown pass, and rushed for 96 yards which included three sacks, so he racked up some mileage on the ground. That also included a touchdown run.
The Wolfpack doesn’t really have a passing game to speak highly of. With Morris it gets the job done, but no one stands out as a barn burning receiver. Kevin Concepcion leads their receiver corps with 573 yards, and the fall off to the next total of Terrell Timmons, Jr. at 195 is steep. There are two listed receivers below Timmons that are within the same range of passing yardage, Julian Gray and Keyon Lesane both have right around 160 yards each.
As to the ground game, it’s mostly Armstrong with 433 yards on the ground and that’s only playing 6 games. The next two backs are Michael Allen, Kendrick Raphael, and Delbert Mimms III with Allen sporting a touch over 250 yards, and the others just over 200. That’s a major one-dimensional look that needs to be exploited. The upshot is that the Wolfpack is struggling on offense in a collegiate football style that is all about big offense.
It’s ALL About Their D
The NC State defense has been the golden tone for them. It’s been smothering over the last few games and has always been stiff. Like Louisville stiff. Payton Wilson (Linebacker), Red Hibbler (Tackle), and Davin Vann (Defensive End) lead their sack totals with 15 between them. They are a dangerous combination, and their defensive scheme looks very much like a Bud Foster sort of mix of speed on the defensive line and bewildering blitzes. In addition, their pass coverage has netted 14 interceptions this season which includes 2 pick-6s. By far, though Payton Wilson is the defensive star of the crew, and his 109 tackles leads the team.
The Wolfpack defense is stout and will be a serious challenge for the Hokie Offense. With the exception of the early oopsies of the 45 points allowed to Notre Dame, and the 41 given up to Marshall in a weird shootout, the Wolfpack defense is only giving up 13.5 points per game (rough calculation cutting off the two anomalous scores). That number includes Louisville. Duke was the only team to manage 24 points in their win. (Film study, please!)
This Might Be a Slugfest - What Tech Needs to Do
Let’s look at what needs to happen on both sides of the ball.
Offense Needs to Find a Way to Move the Sticks
The Hokie offense finally clicked last weekend. I promised that we’ll talk about the Power Spread, and its strengths and weaknesses, and I meant it, but it’ll have to wait until the season wraps and I see more about how the OC is implementing it with this particular group. Suffice it to say that this offensive style is heavily dependent on dynamic cooperative key reads to actually work, and the critical skill players were finally all on the same page for the Boston College game.
The problem is that the offense “is what it is” structurally, procedurally, and schematically. That means changing the way things are done is difficult, and some serious changes need to be made to get traction against the Wolfpack’s defense:
- Use their rush aggression against them. This means fast developing passes downfield on 3-second drops to patterns between the hashes and under the zone coverage. Reads must be fast, and plays must develop quickly with lots of misdirection and countering.
- Their secondary is excellent and dangerous. The Hokie offense needs to develop pre-snap separation opportunities by forcing motion and actively implementing the RPOs that fit into the scheme. It also means not being afraid to go over the middle with passes and with the exception of a well baited tunnel or traditional screen play here and there, the OC must avoid calling bubble routes, flares, and dinky dunks at the line of scrimmage. This defense is too fast to throw a 20-yard slow moving pass to a receiver behind the line.
- Plays must be executed quickly with no waiting or ‘check with me’ nonsense. This defense is good enough that it’s not going to present a clear read, pre-snap so the offense must dictate to the defense, not the other way around. Call the best play given the situation with the best audible possible and get out there and run it. Let the bright color shirted guys on the sideline dance away as a distraction. Just run the danged play and do it FAST.
- Avoid 3rd and anything. Play Canadian rules for down and distance schedule. Get your first downs by 2nd down. That means a 5-6 yard down schedule. Mix up the pass and run percentages to get closer to the modern 50/50 average. With this NC State defense, a 1st down opening at less than 5 yards is a serious problem, and even 3rd down and very short is going to be difficult. Think downfield, plan downfield, and execute quickly.
The question is begged. “Can the OC call this sort of game?” We’ll see if he can answer it.
The Defense Needs to Shut Down Brennan Armstrong on the Ground
We sound like a skipping vinyl record. The defense must be disciplined, the defensive line needs to put heavy pressure on Brennan Armstrong from a closed, controlled A-gap, and the Defensive Ends must Contain him, in disciplined rush lanes. It’s critical because Armstrong is their only real threat on the ground, and it’s going to take all four down linemen and at least one linebacker to keep him from getting dangerous. He’s linebacker big, and fast. That also means ball location awareness for both runs and passes.
Armstrong is not a great passer and can be picked off. However, the secondary must be aware of him breaking containment on long pass plays where the line is not getting home, and Armstrong has not pulled the trigger. Ultimately what this means is more man-to-man coverage than the secondary is generally used to executing. A 5th or even 6th man in the box is going to be necessary in this one.
Currently the desert says that Tech is giving the Wolfpack 2.5, which is less than the usual home field advantage by a half to a point. They are predicting an O/U of 42.5 which implies a 21-20 range game for each team. A score something like 23-20 us. That’s not an unreasonable guestimation. What it does say, out loud, is that they are anticipating a defensive rock fight.
What Do You Say?
NC State comes with a solid defense and shaky offense, how is the game going to go?
They look like Louisville on D, and Syracuse on O. Nothing much changes on their side of the ball, and unfortunately it doesn’t on ours, either. It’s a slugging match that ends with Tech winning by a field goal bet the under.
NC State comes out and returns the Hokie O to their 3-and-out days. Armstrong rips the defense, and the Hokies revert to Louisville form. No O, Struggling D. The wolves do what they do to turkeys in the wild. They beat the spread and Tech on the over.
Hokies are changed enough that they take advantage of the Wolfpack’s aggressiveness. Drones, Tuten, and Thomas all run well, and the passing game is good enough to loosen up the NCState D. It’s not a huge but a solid win for the Hokies on the over.
The Hokie defense is just not able to stop Armstrong enough in critical down and distance snaps. He passes just enough. He runs just enough. And NC State takes it by a late touchdown that can’t be answered. Bet the under for it.
That’s it for the Preview. Sorry for the lateness of it, we had some basketball to cover. It’s going to be a constant push pull until after bowl season.