The NC State Wolfpack and Virginia Tech Hokies were supposed to open their seasons by facing each other in Blacksburg, but COVID-19 issues at NC State postponed the game. Last week, a similar situation in Blacksburg forced the rescheduling of the Hokies contest against Virginia.
This Saturday, the Hokies hope to finally get started when the Wolfpack comes to town. NC State did get a game in last weekend, winning a shootout over Wake Forest 45-42.
The two teams were not originally scheduled to meet this season until the COVID-19 schedule reshuffling occurred. Virginia Tech is 24-18-4 all-time versus NC State but has lost the last four matchups, including the most recent one in 2015.
NC State at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -7
When NC State Has the Ball
In 2019, the Wolfpack ranked 88th in total offense and 107th in scoring offense. Explosiveness was a huge problem, as only Colorado had fewer than NC State's six plays of 40+ yards. As a result, head coach Dave Doeren made a change at offensive coordinator, bringing in former Texas and Ohio State OC Tim Beck.
Beck's first game in Raleigh was an unquestioned success. The Wolfpack put up 45 points and 463 total yards on Wake Forest. Bailey Hockman won the starting quarterback job in camp and was solid against the Demon Deacons, completing 16-of-23 for 191 yards with a touchdown pass. But it was the rushing offense that led the way, with Ricky Person Jr., Zonovan Knight, and Jordan Houston combining for 250 of the team's 270 rushing yards.
The big boys up front did their job opening holes and keeping Hockman pretty clean against a Wake Forest front that was expected to be fairly formidable. But to be successful this Saturday, they will need the same type of effort. New defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton — in his first game in Bud Foster's old role — will roll out one of the best linebacking groups in the league. Rayshard Ashby will contend for All-American honors, and Dax Hollifield is an emerging star. Three Hokie starters return up front and Youngstown State transfer Justus Reed could make an impact at end.
There are some questions in the secondary as star corner Caleb Farley opted out and projected safety starter Devon Hunter was suspended due to legal issues. The Wolfpack will need balance once again and Hockman may be a more central figure this week.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Hokies head coach Justin Fuente had stated that the quarterback position was an open competition coming fall practice, but in reality everyone knew Hendon Hooker would be the starter. Last year, Hooker gave the offense a spark when he was inserted midway through the season and there was no reason to make a change this year.
Hooker has some nice receivers, especially Tre Turner, who has the skills needed to be an all-league candidate. But the most intriguing part of the 2020 Hokie offense may be the two transfer running backs. Khalil Herbert came in from Kansas, where he rushed for over 1,700 yards in his career. Joining him in the backfield is Rutgers transfer Raheem Blackshear, a versatile weapon that can both run and catch.
As good as the NC State offense was against Wake Forest, the game was still in doubt at the end because of deficiencies on the Wolfpack defense. Deacs quarterback Sam Hartman was effective throwing the ball and Kenneth Walker III had 131 yards on the ground.
But NC State's defense did generate a bunch of negative plays. Sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson was the headliner with a sack and three other tackles for lost yardage. On the day, the team had six sacks and 12 tackles that resulted in 45 lost yards. A talented Virginia Tech offensive line will be challenged by this aggressive front.
No one has any idea what to expect from Virginia Tech. Defensively, it will be different without Foster on the staff and the new running backs give the offense a completely different look. Plus, without a game under their belts and so many starts and stops to their preseason workouts, consistency could be a question. Not that we know much more about the Wolfpack, but they put up more points on Wake than Clemson did the week before. The Wolfpack disruptions were earlier than the Hokies' and they may have had more time to develop some cohesion. Plus, Lane Stadium won't be its usual, raucous self. Due to those factors, I'm taking NC State in an upset.
Prediction: NC State 34, Virginia Tech 31
Podcast: The SEC is Back Too & Week 4 Preview
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.