Virginia Football is taking on the NC State Wolfpack this weekend in Raleigh in the Cavaliers’ biggest test of the season so far. In order to get the perspective of the Wolfpack faithful, we chatted with Will Thompson (@thrillis4) from Backing the Pack.
You can check out my answers to his questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: NC State has only played three games this season thanks to Hurricane Florence. What’s your take on the team three games in regarding your pre-season expectations? Have they over-performed? Under-performed? About what you expected?
Backing the Pack: So far, I think the season has been about what was expected. There were some slow starts against JMU and Georgia State, but the Pack put their most complete game together against Marshall that should hopefully generate some momentum going into Saturday’s game against UVA. It’s definitely a bummer the West Virginia game was cancelled and there’s not going to be a way to make it up - that was going to be a really fun game between two of the best quarterbacks in the country in Will Grier and Ryan Finley.
STL: The running game is averaging just over 107 yards per game and Reggie Gallaspy has 173 and 4 TDs this season. What is your confidence level in State’s ground game?
BTP: I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t concerned the Wolfpack rushing attack. Gallaspy had his best game of the season so far against Marshall with 22 carries for 81 yards, but he’s still just averaging a shade under 3.5 yards per carry, and that’s just not going to get it done in league play. There have been times where he’s struggled to hit the gap, and he’s got to work on getting that quick first step. This is an area where the Wolfpack really misses Nyheim Hines, who declared for the NFL draft early and is now playing on the Colts. His speed makes him a dynamic player running the ball. Trent Pennix has shown flashes of being able to be a good change of pace back and a good pass catching back, but he’s still pretty raw. Ricky Person, another freshman like Pennix, has only been able to play in one game so far, and I’m not sure if he will be able to go Saturday against the Hoos, so again a heavy burden will be placed on Gallaspy and Pennix.
STL: Finley is one of the best QBs in the league (if not the best). He’s an absolute machine with over 1000 yards and 5 TD passes already this season. What does it take to slow down the Wolfpack in the air?
BTP: To slow down Finley you’ve got to find a way to force him into mistakes, and that is not an easy task. Last season, Finley was only sacked 12 times and only threw six interceptions while throwing 17 touchdown passes. Truthfully, I think the receiving corps for NC State this year is even stronger, so he’s got a plethora of options that he can get the ball to very quickly. Virginia will have to find a way to try to lock down State’s talented receivers to force Finley to have to move around in the pocket. Even then, NC State’s offensive line has played really well so far this season, only conceding two sacks so far. This will be the toughest task Virginia has, no question. If they can force Finley to make mistakes, they’ll leave Raleigh with a win.
STL: Virginia’s offense has been - dare I say - actually good with the three-headed monster of Bryce Perkins, Jordan Ellis, and Olamide Zaccheaus. How do you see NC State slowing them down and what concerns you most about the Virginia offense?
BTP: Bryce Perkins will be a handful for NC State without a doubt. The Wolfpack have historically never handled a quarterback that can run and pass very well, and Perkins will be no different. And, if he has a game where he’s not running the ball very well, the Hoos can count on Jordan Ellis to run for 171 yards, as he did against Ohio. Needless to say there’s a lot of weapons here that present some pretty challenging matchups, but what’s really concerning about this game to me is that NC State has not played UVA during the Dave Doeren era. The last time NC State played UVA was six years ago, and a lot has changed for UVA since then. They’re not going to any tape on UVA from their own experiences, so they’ll have to rely on other means to try and scout and prepare for the game. With as good as UVA’s offense has been so far this season, this really concerns me for how the Wolfpack is going to stop big plays. I’m also really concerned about stopping UVA on third down - Perkins is completing almost 73% of his passes on third down so far this season. If State can limit UVA’s third down conversions, I’ll feel a lot better about Saturday, but that’s certainly going to be easier said than done.
STL: Last week, the Hoos held Louisville to just one field goal and 214 yards of total offense. Now, the Cards are no offensive juggernaut this year, but it’s nothing to shake a stick at with two INTs and a forced fumble. How do you like the matchups in this one?
BTP: One key to this game for the Pack is how well they are going to be able to run the ball to hopefully take some pressure off of Finley. Another important player to watch if he’s able to go Saturday will be Thayer Thomas. Although only a freshman, Thayer has made an immediate impact at wideout for the Pack. Thayer got absolutely leveled in the game against Marshall and was not able to return, but from what I’ve seen so far this week, Doeren is optimistic he will be able to play. If he’s able to go, UVA will have to contend with trying to slow down him alongside Kelvin Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, Emeka Emezie, Steph Louis, and hopefully CJ Riley too (he also got brutally hit against Marshall). Every single one of these receivers is capable of having a monster game, and when you have a quarterback like Ryan Finley, that’s a dangerous combination to have to try and stop. UVA has five picks on the season and have a lot of pass breakups as well, so this should be really fun to watch.
STL: Ok, prediction time...who ya got?
BTP: It’s going to be hot, muggy and gross in Raleigh at about noon. Thankfully it appears the rain is going to stay away, which should make this a high flying game with a lot of points. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of defense at all, really. I think Finley is going to have a big day, but I think Perkins is going to be an absolute monster on Saturday for UVA. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Gallaspy breaks through and has a big game for the Pack which ends up being the difference maker. Pack wins, 38-35.
Huge thanks to Will for taking the time out to chat!