Here are my thoughts on tonight’s ACC matchup between Virginia Tech and NC State.
In their last time out, Virginia Tech battled back against the Hurricanes but came up short in a 20-14 loss on Homecoming, marking the fourth consecutive loss for the Hokies. Head Coach Brent Pry and the team head to Raleigh after a long break in hopes of keeping their chances at bowl eligibility alive. Likewise, the Wolfpack also enter tonight on a 12-day hiatus after falling to Syracuse on the road 24-9. Jack Chambers failed to get the offense going in his first start for NC State, recording only 255 yards of total offense, a season-low and the lowest since 2016. The only points scored by Dave Doren’s squad were by kicker Christopher Dunn on three field goals.
The Hokies have won five straight contests against the Wolfpack, including a 45-24 victory in 2020, where they scored on five of their eight possessions in the first half. They have been abysmal on the road as of late, holding a record of 2-6 going back to last season and losing all three matchups away from Blacksburg this year. The Wolfpack have won 14 consecutive games inside of Carter-Finley Stadium, the sixth-longest active streak, and have outscored opponents 472-211. This is certainly a storyline to monitor.
Personally, I don’t see this being an offensive shootout by any means, and the 39.5 over/under certainly reinforces that. I could see this being a 20-14 game won by whoever scores last. Anyway, here are my thoughts.
Note: I’m not going to sugarcoat it; as it stands now, there aren’t too many players in this matchup that are household names from a devy standpoint. I’m not going to sit here and convince you that Grant Wells is a “round one sleeper” to watch or force you into thinking Jordan Houston has “legitimate day three upside.” Rather, these are simply my general thoughts on the skill position players and some opinions on how this game might play out.
Okay, let’s get into it.
- I don’t care if you like it or not; Grant Wells has actually been solid this year… on passes less than nine yards down the field. The 6’2” 208-pounder has completed over 72 percent of his attempts in this range, and when you account for the 15 drops, that percentage bumps up to almost 88 percent. Now, where things get sticky is when Wells is asked to push the ball downfield. Half of his turnover-worthy plays have come on passes between 10-19 yards, and on deep attempts of at least 20 yards, he has only completed ten of his 36 attempts with only one drop by his receivers. Funny enough, eight of his Big Time Throws have come in this range. My translation? When Wells lets it fly, it is either one hell of a throw or not even remotely close; there’s no in-between. Facing a Wolfpack defense that is top five among Power Five teams in forced interceptions (11) and defensive passing efficiency (106.45)? I’m not sure if he can make too many risky throws, which might make this a rather boring game from a passing standpoint.
- With the season-ending torn pectoral injury for Devin Leary, Jack Chambers, a graduate transfer from Charleston Southern, made his debut as a starter for the Wolfpack. The 5’11” 180-pounder completed 60 percent of his passes and led the team with 71 yards on the ground. However, being pressured on over 35 percent of his dropbacks resulted in the Lilburn, Georgia native being sacked three times and resorting to check-downs for the majority of the afternoon, averaging less than 5.5 yards per attempt. The 5’10” 180-pounder is more of a runner than a passer, which might actually work out for the 25-year-old this week. The Hokies haven’t faced a quarterback with the mobility of Chambers, the closest one being North Carolina’s Drake Maye, who ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns in their week five matchup. The unknown of the Wolfpack’s offense may be an advantage, and if they win this game, Chambers will likely have played a key role with his feet.
- I talked about Chambers being a threat on the ground, but will either team have success from their running backs? According to stats compiled by Football Outsiders, NC State and Virginia Tech’s defenses are #2 and #3 in Stuff Rate respectively, which is defined as the “percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.” Both offensive lines haven’t been great in terms of Stuff Rate, but the Hokies have been dreadful, with opposing defenses “stuffing” Virginia Tech backs on over 22 percent of their carries, the ninth-worst mark in the entire country. With a banged-up KeShawn King and Malachi Thomas coming off a game where he averaged just over three yards per carry, this is concerning.
- On the flip side, Jordan Houston and Demarcus Jones II have not been very impressive over the last few weeks, but it appears that Demie Sumo-Karngbaye will return after suffering a shoulder injury against Florida State. The 6’0” 210-pounder from New Jersey has averaged nearly six yards per carry, and almost 20 percent of his carries have gone for at least ten yards. I’m personally a huge fan of his game, but will he single-handedly be able to provide a spark in the run game for the Wolfpack? We shall see.
- Who will prove to be Chambers’ go-to guy? Thayer Thomas has caught a ton of passes but after seeing 23 targets in the Wolfpack’s two-game stretch against UConn and Clemson, the Heritage High School (NC) product has seen a total of eight targets over the last two weeks, reeling in only three of them for 18 yards. Devin Carter also saw six targets per game during that previously noted two-game stretch but only saw three in the Florida State game before leaving with an injury. He appears to be healthy enough to play tonight but considering he thrives in the deep game with an average depth of target of 15-plus yards over the last three years, do we see Chambers being able to capitalize on that consistently? I don’t. Looking at the numbers as of late, it appears Keyon Lesane might fall into that range. The fourth-year receiver from Lumberton, North Carolina is a veteran in Raleigh, playing in over 30 games entering the year but hasn’t been a consistent option in the passing game until this season. The 5’11” 190-pounder has received six targets in three of the last four games, including seven against Syracuse.
- On the other side of the field, Virginia Tech is filled with a ton of veteran receivers who have been contributors in Blacksburg since the Hendon Hooker era. In the last four games, Kaleb Smith has been a focal point, averaging just under eight targets per game and acting as the deep threat option for Wells’ deep passes. The 6’2” 222-pounder isn’t much of a YAC threat but wins as an outside receiver with length, reeling in 70 percent of his contested targets on the season. Da’Wain Lofton, a fringe top-100 receiver in our devy rankings, has seen almost six targets per game over the last three games but has yet to record more than three receptions in 11 career games. Wells has also checked it down to his running backs a ton, as three backs have at least ten targets.
- NC State hasn’t really seen an offense with a featured tight end all season, so it will be interesting to see how Nick Gallo performs. The 6’4” 240-pounder from Council Rock South High School (PA) has recorded five or more targets in all but two games, but given he’s recorded less than one yard per route run on 196 total routes and his average depth of target of 4.6 yards, he’s nothing more than a check-down option. It should be noted that the only team the Wolfpack have faced with potential NFL talent at the tight end position has been Clemson, and the duo of Jake Briningstool and Davis Allen combined for eight receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown. Here’s a semi-bold prediction: Dae’Quan Wright, a true freshman tight end from Perry High School (GA) who has been targeted at least five times in each of the last three games, will be a factor and be a Freshmen of the Week candidate next week.