Three-List Game Preview: Virginia Meets NC State For First Time In Six Years

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit

 

Junior cornerback Bryce Hall and the rest of the Virginia football secondary will have their hands full against quarterback Ryan Finley and the NC State passing attack. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

The University of Virginia football program looks to start Atlantic Coast Conference play with two straight wins when it takes on NC State on Saturday, September 29, at 12:20 p.m. The Hoos boast a 3-1 record and are winners of two straight after last weekend’s dominating ACC opening victory Louisville.

Saturday’s matchup with UVA will be the first conference game of 2018 for the Wolfpack, who have defeated James Madison, Georgia State and Marshall to start the year. A September 15 contest with Top 25-ranked West Virginia was postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s squad enters Raleigh boasting the nation’s No. 14 defense in total yards allowed (297.5) and No. 22 in scoring allowed (16.8 points per game), but the Louisville win proved costly as the Cavaliers lost star starting inside linebacker Jordan Mack for six weeks with what appeared to be an upper extremity injury. Mendenhall also announced on Monday (September 24) that starting defensive end Richard Burney is out for the season, so the depth of this Virginia defense is certainly being put to the test.

The good news for the Hoos is that the offense is looking very good with junior quarterback Bryce Perkins at the helm. After completing only 52.1% of his passes in the first two games, Perkins has completed 78% of his throws the past two games. The dual-threat standout has accounted for 12 touchdowns (9 passing, 3 rushing) in the Hoos’ four games. He led the Cavalier offense to 38 points in Week 3 versus Ohio and 27 in the win over Louisville.

Led by Perkins and senior running back Jordan Ellis, the Hoos boast the nation’s No. 33 rushing offense (216.5 yards per game). Meanwhile, NC State is No. 22 in the nation against the run, allowing 108 yards per game and yielding 3.56 yards per carry. The Wolfpack defense, which lost eight starters including NFL first round draft pick Bradley Chubb from last year’s squad, is No. 46 in total defense, allowing 346 yards per game in its first three contests.

The strength of NC State is its passing game led by senior quarterback Ryan Finley, who has already eclipsed 1,000 yards passing this season. Led by Kelvin Harmon, the Wolfpack boasts talented playmakers at wide receiver, a unit that figures to test a talented Cavalier secondary. NC State has not run the ball well this season, averaging only 107.7 yards on the ground (No. 117 in the nation), but senior Reggie Gallaspy Jr. had 22 carries for 81 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Marshall, so the Hoos can’t forget about stopping the run.

NC State has allowed only two sacks all season long, so Virginia, which is averaging 2.25 sacks per game (tied for No. 55 in the nation), will have to find a way to get pressure on Finley. Virginia’s pass defense versus the Wolfpack pass offense and the Virginia rush offense versus the Wolfpack rush defense will be the big matchups to watch on Saturday.

Virginia Football Essentials

Three Big Questions

1. How will the Cavalier defense react to the losses of Mack, Burney?

UVA played without Burney against Louisville and fared well. True freshmen Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond seem to be getting better each week, sophomore Mandy Alonso is healthy, and junior Eli Hanback continues to do what he has always done – play reliable, productive football. The depth could be tested if the defense has to stay on the field for an extended period of time, but if the Louisville game is any indication, Virginia should be in good hands on the D-line.

Mack’s loss will be one to watch. He has started 25 games in his three years, including 16 at inside linebacker, where he has been making the calls and adjustments in the front seven. His experience will be sorely missed. So will his versatility and production. The Georgia native is good against the run and rushing the passer, but he also excels in coverage because of his speed. Virginia turns to sophomore Rob Snyder to replace the junior leader. You can bet NC State will test the inexperienced Snyder early and often.

2. How good is Virginia’s secondary?

Virginia’s secondary was viewed as possibly the strength of the team heading into the season. The group is certainly talented and one of the better units of this year’s team, but they have been burned on some big-plays in the passing game this season. NC State features an accurate, highly productive quarterback and some talented receivers who have made big plays. The Cavalier secondary did what they were supposed to do last week, which is shut down a suspect Louisville passing game, but its greatest test of the 2018 campaign awaits on Saturday in Raleigh.

3. Is Hunter Pearson the answer at placekicker?

Mendenhall said A.J. Mejia earned the starting placekicker role against Louisville in a competition against Pearson during practice last week. After Mejia’s bad miss against the Cardinals, Mendenhall turned to Pearson, who connected on two short field goals and made all three extra points. I question where Mejia is mentally at this point, as he has made only one of his last six field goal attempts dating back to the final two games of 2017. Pearson is the listed starter on UVA’s depth chart heading into NC State, so it appears he’s getting his chance to take hold of the position. This game has the chance to be close, and field goals could be the difference.

Three Big Foes

1. Quarterback Ryan Finley.

Finley, a 6’4”, 212-pound senior, has been outstanding in three Wolfpack wins to open 2018. The former Boise State signal caller has completed 68% of his passes and has thrown for over 300 yards in all three games with five touchdowns and only one interception. Finley spreads the ball around, as five Wolfpack receivers have double-digit catches. No question, this is a big test for the Virginia pass defense. The good news is that Finley is not much of a runner (he has rushed only eight times all season), so the Hoos won’t have to defend much of a dual-threat option this week. The bad news is that Finley is terrific at what he does.

2. Wide Receiver Kelvin Harmon.

NC State has a variety of receiving weapons to choose from, but Harmon is the headliner. The 6’3”, 204-pound junior is coming off a sophomore season in which he became the first Wolfpack receiver since 2003 to haul in over 1,000 yards receiving. Through three games this year, Harmon leads the team in receptions (18) and yards (312). He has a long of 46 yards this year.

3. Linebacker Germaine Pratt

Pratt, who was fourth on the defense in tackles last season despite not starting a game, has accepted the responsibility of becoming a defensive leader after NC State lost eight starters from last year’s team. The redshirt senior leads the Wolfpack in tackles with 30 – eight clear of the next player – and four quarterback pressures. Pratt has two tackles-for-loss and one sack.

Three Hoos To Watch

Virginia football junior quarterback Bryce Perkins looks to continue his outstanding play on the road at NC State this Saturday. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

1. Quarterback Bryce Perkins

This pick goes without saying, as Perkins is obviously a major part of Virginia’s success. He has played extremely well the past two weeks, showing off precision passing to go along with his dynamic rushing ability. Perkins is looking like the real deal. The major question heading into this week will be the injury to the pinky finger on his right hand. Clearly it didn’t impact him last Saturday as he finished off the Louisville game with three second-half touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush). The injury doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s at least worth monitoring on Saturday.

2. Inside linebacker Rob Snyder

The four games Snyder has played in this season is the only major college experience he has. The Georgia native redshirted in 2016 and missed the entire 2017 campaign while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. He performed well during 2018 spring practice but was slowed some in fall camp by a leg injury. Virginia needs him to play well and stay healthy at a position that has been hit hard by injuries this season (Mack, Malcolm Cook, Dominic Sheppard).

3. Placekicker Hunter Pearson

Virginia needs a consistent, productive field goal kicker. Pearson, a true freshman who was brought in on scholarship, is a highly regarded prospect. Is he the answer to Virginia’s field goal kicking woes?

Hey, Remember When …

Whenever I think of Virginia versus NC State in Raleigh, I think of the shootout between the Matt Schaub-led Hoos and the Philip Rivers-led Wolfpack in 2003. This was an extremely fun game to watch despite the Cavalier loss, as NC State scored twice late in the fourth quarter to notch a 51-37 win. The game was tied at 37 with under seven minutes to play, so it could have gone either way.

Virginia’s most recent experience at Carter-Finley Stadium was in 2012, and it was a great game for the Hoos only. Virginia quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco combined for two touchdown passes, Kevin Parks rushed for 115 yards and one score, and the Cavalier defense sacked quarterback Mike Glennon six times in a 33-6 upset win. Here’s hoping for more of the same this Saturday when the Hoos meet the Wolfpack for the first time since that dominating win.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit