Wolfpack go on the road for the first time this season to take on a struggling Mountaineers offense
The Wolfpack have barely been challenged the first two weeks of the season, outscoring their first two opponents 75-6, including last week’s 41-0 shutout over Western Carolina. Despite losing all of the offensive firepower from last season, including starting quarterback Ryan Finley and star receiver Kelvin Harmon, NC State hasn’t missed a beat on that side of the ball, averaging 522 yards per contest through two games. Defensively, the Wolfpack have been just as impressive, allowing just 375 total yards combined in two games, best in the ACC.
For West Virginia, it has been two dreadful performances. After narrowly defeating James Madison in Week 1, the Mountaineers were shellacked last week at Missouri 38-7. Nothing has worked well from an offensive standpoint. The quarterback play has been sub-par, and the Mountaineers now rank 129th out of 130 teams in rushing thus far, averaging just 32 yards per game through two weeks. Saturday presents WV’s last opportunity to right the ship before heading into Big 12 play next week.
NC State at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: NC State -7
When NC State Has the Ball
The newcomers on offense have been impressive to start the season for the Wolfpack. There were major question marks heading into 2019 regarding the offense, and understandably so given the losses in personnel, including their starting QB, last year’s leading rusher and top two receivers. Through two games, many of those concerns have been alleviated with the play of quarterback Matt McKay and true freshman Zonovan 'Bam' Knight.
The deep ball hasn’t been on point just yet for McKay, but the sophomore QB has been exceptional in every other facet thus far, completing 66 percent of his throws for 508 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, McKay has zero interceptions and zero sacks taken through two weeks. We’ll see if that continues in his first-ever road start. As for Knight, the much-ballyhooed freshman has continued to build on the hype from this offseason with three rushing scores in two games and his first-ever 100-yard performance a week ago. Both will need to play well if the Wolfpack are to secure their first road victory of the season.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
The Mountaineers have to find some semblance of balance this week to sustain offensive drives, and that means running the football, which has been a struggle through two games — and that is putting it mildly. The line is the primary source of the struggles, as West Virginia was forced to replace over 60 starts along the offensive line from a year ago, including a pair of multi-year starters. The stats are jarring through two games: The Mountaineers have rushed for 64 yards on 56 carries (1.14 YPC average) and have already surrendered 21 tackles for a loss on the year — fourth most in the country. Growing pains were expected in the first year of a new system under head coach Neal Brown, but these are issues that need to get corrected quickly as conference play nears.
Heading on the road with first-year starters at quarterback and running back to play a Power 5 opponent can lead to unexpected results, but NC State is facing this West Virginia squad at the right time of the season. The Wolfpack have been one of the best run defenses in the country through two games, and they should have no problem forcing the Mountaineers to be one-dimensional with their anemic ground attack. That doesn’t bode well for West Virginia despite being at home and motivated after last week’s performance. Take the road favorite and the points here.
Prediction: NC State 28, West Virginia 16
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.