Virginia Tech has undoubtedly turned things around since their 1-3 start but many wondered if part of the turnaround was due to a schedule that featured four of the bottom half teams in the ACC. Today's game against NC State provided a chance for the Hokies to prove that they had improved to the point of being able to compete and defeat quality opposition.
Tech proved unready for the challenge with a surprising defensive struggle on their way to defeat.
Virginia Tech lost to NC State 35-28 to fall to 5-6 on the season including 4-3 in the ACC while the Wolfpack improve to 8-3 including 5-2 in ACC play. With the loss, the Hokies are now in a must win next week at Virginia to reach a bowl game with their APR likely not high enough to get them into a bowl should they finish 5-7.
This game was defined by a disappointing defensive performance for Virginia Tech against a NC State offense that had started to show some signs of life recently, but has also been below average throughout this season. After a couple of good drives to start for VT's defense, they struggled mightily in the middle section of this game with the Wolfpack opening it up.
The Wolfpack had five-straight touchdown drives in this game starting in the late first quarter through the middle of the third quarter. All five of those drives were at least 60 yards with four of the five being at least seven plays as the Hokies were picked apart at will by the Wolfpack. This wasn't just a few big plays for NC State but a methodical breaking apart of the Tech defense by a NC State offense that hadn't shown a whole lot prior to this game.
Tech did pick things up in the final 20ish minutes of this game, but the Wolfpack also went more conservative down the stretch looking to minimize turnover risk and focusing on running out clock.
The Wolfpack averaged 4.0 yards per carry officially but the 21 rushing yards lost in pursuit of running out the clock at the end lowers what was a day where the Wolfpack got what they wanted on the ground. Brennan Armstrong finished with 89 rushing yards officially, but had 110 with an average of over six yards per carry prior to the -21 yards at the end when NC State was running out the clock.
He also was 18-26 for 206 yards and two touchdowns as Tech's pass defense had a disappointing day against the Wolfpack attack. Brent Pry credited Armstrong's passing success as keeping the Hokies "off balance" defensively in this game.
Kevin Concepcion also was a nightmare for the Hokies with seven catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns, nine carries for 44 yards, and a 17-yard passing touchdown doing it all for the Wolfpack.
Offensively, the Hokies struggled in the first half before finding a spark with their passing attack. Tech did have a couple good moments on the ground highlighted by the Xayvion Turner-Bradshaw 47-yard touchdown run on a reverse but the rushing attack was pretty non-existent in this game otherwise outside of a nice Malachi Thomas carry and a couple good Kyron Drones runs.
What is worse is the fact that Bhayshul Tuten had only two carries for -3 yards in this game, his only offensive touches. That's borderline offensive malpractice in this game for the Hokies.
Payton Wilson played a big role in slowing down the Hokie offense as the star NC State had 11 tackles including 3.5 for loss with one sack, showing why he's one of the best defensive players in America.
Tech's passing attack did show some life as Kyron Drones went 17-30 for 225 yards and three touchdowns with one interceptions. What sticks out more is the fact that Drones was 12-23 in the second half with 209 yards and two of those touchdowns though there were also some ill-advised throws in there. Some of that was due to a Wolfpack defense focused on preventing the big play, but this success started in the third quarter and came with NC State having all their starters out there including standout cornerbacks Shyheim Battle and Aydan White.
Da'Quan Felton had a big day with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns making big plays throughout this game. Jaylin Lane also played well with four catches for 66 yards plus two carries for 14 yards while Dae'Quan Wright added four catches for 42 yards. Stephen Gosnell also had a 13-yard touchdown and Tucker Holloway had a 17-yard reception plus two punt returns for 19 yards. Tuten had a 50-yard kick return in what was his only notable play in this game.
Keonta Jenkins led Tech's defense with eight tackles including two for loss plus one QB hurry while Mansoor Delane added eight tackles including 1.5 for loss. Jalen Stroman had seven tackles including one for loss while Norell Pollard had three tackles including two for loss with one sack. Jayden McDonald also had six tackles including one for loss.
This was a disappointing performance Tech on a night where they had a chance to prove that they've taken further strides beyond climbing out of the ACC's basement into the middle class of sorts.
Defensively, this was a frustrating night against an opponent that hadn't shown much this season. Yes, they've shown growth as they leaned more on a legit future NFL-caliber slot WR in Kevin Concepcion and the running ability of Brennan Armstrong, but what else does NC State have at a high level that Tech hasn't similarly faced.
To not just give up 35 points and 406 yards to a team outside the top 80 in total offense and scoring offense is vastly unacceptable given how Tech has played and the talent that they have.
Meanwhile, the offense showed some light in the passing game, but a rushing attack that didn't do much in the first half to keep the Hokies on schedule and made the weird choice to not feature Bhayshul Tuten more than two carries in this game is head-scratching and frustrating.
There's no denying that Virginia Tech has improved from the ACC's cellar to being in the middle of the middle class in the conference. However, this is a missed opportunity to take the next jump in the rebuild, one that they won't have the opportunity to take till 2024.