On a night usually reserved for high school football, the Hokies will square off against NC State under the lights at Lane Stadium. Led by former Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett and Swiss Army Knife Jaylen Samuels, the Wolfpack come to Blacksburg fresh off a tough 13-20 loss to Louisville. In an effort to learn a bit more about the Pack and what to expect on Friday night, I had the pleasure of exchanging questions and answers with Will Thompson of Backing the Pack. Will's answers to my questions are below, and you can find my answers at Backing the Pack.
The Wolfpack got off to a fast start in 2015, bullying four non-Power Five schools before dropping their ACC opener to enigmatic Louisville. Is this team closer to the one that lost to Louisville, the one that boat raced their first four opponents, or somewhere in between?
Honestly, probably somewhere closer to in between. There have been a lot of takes (some a lot hotter than others) about State's schedule, and it was definitely one of the easiest openings to the season of any Division I team. But, a lot of that is set years in advance, so there's not much they can do about it (particularly when LSU bought out the game they were supposed to have with State).
The game against Louisville, at least for me, proved that while State didn't play well at all, that they still were in a position to win that game and really only have themselves to blame for the loss. They'll need to be better protecting the ball going forward, and not get too conservative with the play calling either if they're going to have success against the Hokies Friday night. They also need to be better on first down, as half of their first down plays against Louisville went for zero or negative yards.
Pack quarterback Jacoby Brissett looks to have picked up where he left off a season ago. What has your assessment of Brissett been thus far, and would it be fair to say that the Pack goes as Jacoby goes?
That's a pretty fair statement. Brissett hasn't had to do a whole lot on his own so far this season in terms of passing, particularly because the running game was so dominant the first four games of the season. He hasn't tossed an interception in what feels like forever, so he's been extremely great protecting the ball .
On the flip side, he didn't play particularly great against Louisville, and seemed really flustered by their defense, especially on State's final drive of the game, where he shorted two really easy throws.
Overall I'd say he's been pretty great, but there is definitely some room for improvement in the passing game.
Matt Dayes leads a talented NC State backfield that recently lost senior Shadrach Thornton following his dismissal from the program. After struggling on Saturday against Louisville, how do you see the Wolfpack running game faring against a talented (but arguably underperforming) Virginia Tech front four?
Certainly the loss of Thornton hurts the Pack depth-wise, but they also played the first two games this season without him (he was suspended for two games to start the season). The run game was great in both of those games, so I'm not terribly worried about his permanent absence from the team. Dayes has been wonderful this season, save for the Louisville game (you may be sensing a pattern here), and he'll need to rebound Friday in Blacksburg if the Pack is able to head back to Raleigh with a victory. I'm looking for him to have a better performance, but I suspect the VT front four will be fired up under the lights Friday night, and they definitely won't make it easy.
The Pack defense struggled to contain Louisville's freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson last week, leading me to think that both quarterbacks are going to run wild on Friday night (I kid...sort of). Given the Hokies' well-known struggle to contain mobile quarterbacks, do you expect to see more designed runs from Brissett come Friday? Also, should Virginia Tech fans expect to see a similar approach with QB Brenden Motley?
Absolutely, I expect to see a pretty heavy dose of designed runs from Brissett that lead into option plays, as well as more plays for Jaylen Samuels, who can essentially line up anywhere on the field. While Dayes has scored the most touchdowns for State, Samuels has had some of the most explosive plays this season, and if he can get to an edge with speed he's incredibly difficult to bring down. I expect Samuels to have a major impact on this game.
I have no doubt that Beamer and his staff watched how well Lamar Jackson's designed runs worked against State, so if Motley is the starter, I suspect we'll see a lot of that again. I did see Michael Brewer is practicing this week, so I am curious to know if he's going to play this Friday.
Though the level of competition could be questioned, the NC State defense has been quite stout through five games. What would you say is their biggest weakness, and what is their greatest strength?
Defensively, State's biggest strength has certainly been on the defensive line, and the linebackers have played pretty well so far this season too. While the secondary is the most experienced unit, they have the tendency to give up some big plays now and then, so they're always my biggest concern in a game.
If the Hokies decide to go with Motley as the starter, I hope that Lamar Jackson's performance against the Pack will help the defense be more prepared for designed runs and option plays.
Alright, time to put you on the spot. How do you see the Blacksburg edition of Friday Night Lights playing out, and who comes away with the win?
First, I absolutely wish I was going to be there — seeing a team play the Hokies in Blacksburg under the lights is always a fun atmosphere. I would be absolutely surprised if the winner's margin of victory is more than three points Friday night. I'm thinking it will be a low scoring game, and it's a massively important game for both of these teams that could determine what direction their season is going to go. I'll take the Pack in a close one, 20-17. Best of luck to the Hokies, and looking forward to the game!