On Thursday night, both the Virginia Tech Hokies and N.C. State Wolfpack will return from a restful bye week to face off in Carter-Finley Stadium from Raleigh, NC.
For the home Wolfpack, they look to come back from a brutal 24-9 road loss to Syracuse. State has lost two of their last three with the road loss to Clemson and win over Florida State coming prior to their last bout against the Orange. N.C. State has had a good season despite the rough patch.
They came in still ranked at No. 24 in the country and started the season 4-0. However, after the Clemson loss, the season took a sour turn when star quarterback Devin Leary was hurt in the win over the Seminoles and missed the ranked matchup against the Cuse. It’s now been determined that Leary will miss the season and State will rely on backup grad student Jack Chambers to carry the load.
On the other side of the coin, Virginia Tech continues to reel loss after loss. They’ve lost four straight games going back to the Black Diamond defeat at the hands of West Virginia followed by ACC losses to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Miami. It’s been a struggle of a season for the Hokies who have been littered with penalty mishaps, lackluster offensive production and the coaching staff still getting their legs under them in Blacksburg.
Now after a bye week, Virginia Tech hopes to avoid losing their fifth straight game and their final October contest. The Hokies haven’t lost all of their October games and five straight at large since 1952. Back then, Virginia Tech didn’t play at Lane Stadium or even have the Hokie Bird as the primary mascot. Those truly were the dark times. So to avoid falling on the wrong side of the history books, Virginia Tech will need to rely on three key players if they want to upset the Wolfpack in Raleigh.
CB Mansoor Delane
Perhaps the most notable high impact underclassmen of late for Tech is Mansoor Delane. The freshman defensive back burst onto the scene in the midst of the thrashing that was the 41-10 loss to UNC. In a game where many Hokies didn’t rise to the occasion, Delane did and proved he deserved legit snaps out wide.
Delane finished with three solo tackles in the UNC game, one of them for a loss. In the following week Delane ended up with three assisted tackles with a half tackle for loss. Delane was consistently reading short routes from receivers and making great plays on the ball.
He displayed the speed and agility to get to the ball quickly as well as the high football feel to diagnose plays and react appropriately. Finally, Delane showed those skills in pure man coverage against Miami as he logged two pass deflections to go along with his four tackles.
Delane now is at the top of the cornerback depth chart after his strong performance against Miami with his career start expected given the likely absence of Dorian Strong due to injury. It'll be interesting to see if he continue his high level of play now that he's a starter and a known commodity.
DT Norell Pollard
All year, Virginia Tech’s defensive line has been asked to carry a heavy burden. They haven’t been able to answer the call enough times and it’s resulted in a less than impressive total of 13 sacks on the year. That mark ranks 12th in the ACC.
However, if there’s one week for the Tech defensive line to break out, it must be this one. Jack Chambers is still green and forcing pressure on the QB is the best way to cause game-changing turnovers. Limiting the Wolfpack run game is also a must for the Hokies if they want to compete.
While everyone on the defensive line could be targeted as an impact player Thursday, Norell Pollard is one especially primed to rise to the challenge. Pollard has nine tackles on the season with seven assists and two solo. He’s delivered 1.5 of those tackles for loss. In the sack department, Pollard has just a mere half sack but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Pollard is one of the few lineman next to Garbutt that can actually move opposing guards out of the way with his strength. Garbutt has been a star on this Hokies d-line but he must have a co-star step up like Pollard for this defense to make a difference.
WR Stephen Gosnell
Touted as an impact transfer for the wideout room, Stephen Gosnell has yet to get himself going in the Virginia Tech offense. Some of this is due to the fact that Tech’s offense is a mess as it’s been all year and struggles to create opportunities for guys like Gosnell to make plays.
The other aspect is Gosnell’s injury that he suffered in the UNC game. The concussion sidelined him for the last two games, but now Gosnell looks ready to return for the Hokies.
So far, Gosnell has only caught nine passes for 124 yards and 13.8 yards per reception. Although the numbers aren’t anything to boast about, the flashes of something greater for Gosnell were there in certain games.
Against Wofford and Boston College, Gosnell showcased his route running and ability to generate space from his defenders at the top of routes. If these skills can come together and be utilized properly by the coaching staff, Tech will have a playmaker to rely on in the middle of the field from now on.