Virginia Tech is looking to reach their first bowl game of the Brent Pry era and secure their first undefeated home record against ACC opponents since 2010 today while NC State is ready to provide a tough test as the Wolfpack pursue their sixth 8+ win season in the past seven years. Both teams have momentum coming into this game, but which team will come out on top?
Here's our picks for the Hokies vs the Wolfpack.
After feeling confident in the Hokies last week, this game is much more of a toss-up. NC State is the best team that the Hokies have faced this season not named Florida State and Louisville, with the Wolfpack having a defense on that level paired with a struggling offense.
Tech has clearly made steps routing some of the weaker teams in the ACC the caliber of which they lost to earlier in the season when they slipped up against Purdue and Marshall. However, the Hokies have a chance to take another big step forward today against a good NC State team.
Kyron Drones has played better and better as this season has progressed, but this game will prove a much stiffer challenge for him. Drones doesn't have to be Superman in this game given NC State's offensive struggles but he does need to be effective and prevent turnovers. If Tech can lean on Drones up the middle off the misdirection and consistently get Bhayshul Tuten to the edge, they should have a good chance at victory.
Drones will have to keep an eye on NC State's star LB Payton Wilson throughout this game and try to guide this offense away from him if possible given the type of game-changning player he can be. The Wolfpack are more than just Wilson defensively with Shyheim Battle being one of the best corners in the league and a quality 3-man defensive line with Davin Vann, Savion Jackson, and Red Hibbler each having at least five tackles for loss this season.
One thing to monitor is the fact that NC State runs a unique 3-3-5 defense which Tech has already had to prepare for once against Syracuse. This is a much better defense than what the Orange had, but the Hokies shouldn't be uncomfortable from a base scheme standpoint, though NC State also has tape to see how the Hokies previously attacked a 3-3-5 defense just a few weeks ago.
One thing that Tech has done well at defensively is contain mobile quarterbacks. Both Syracuse's Garrett Shrader and Boston College's Thomas Castellanos were at least contained if not shut down. NC State doesn't have a lot of options offensively and will need Brennan Armstrong to be effective with their legs. If Tech contains Armstrong, they have a great chance at winning.
In the end, this is a Virginia Tech team that has played its best football at home this year and will be able to lean on the Lane Stadium crowd to drive them forward to victory and a bowl game in this one.
Pick: Virginia Tech 20, NC State 17
Earlier in the week, I was pretty confident that I’d end up picking the Wolfpack in this ballgame. But, as the days have gone by, I’ve felt more and more comfortable with picking the Hokies for a couple of reasons.
The first is that Tech has been a completely different team at home this season. They’re 4-1 and out-scoring opponents by an average of nearly 15 points per game inside Lane Stadium, with the one slip-up being interrupted by the longest weather delay in college football history. In front of another sellout crowd for Senior Day, I expect the Hokies to be as T’d up as they have been all year long at home.
The second is that State’s offense is even worse than it might seem. They have a distinct lack of playmakers and a completely invisible rushing attack. They are simply too reliant on their quarterback – former UVa signal-caller Brennan Armstrong – in the run game to put any faith in them in that regard. On top of that, Tech’s rushing defense has been extremely stout in its last three home games, punctuated by not allowing a single yard to Syracuse the last time Lane hosted a contest.
So, Armstrong will be forced to throw, which has not boded well for the Wolfpack offense in 2023 as he has the third-worst passer rating among qualified passers in the league. Considering the Hokies secondary has been arguably one of the best in the conference this year, that plays right into the hands of the home team.
The concern obviously lies with NC State’s defense, which has been absolutely stellar this season and might just be the best in the ACC, ranking 21st nationally. It helps when the unit is anchored by linebacker Payton Wilson – one of the best defensive players in the country. Tech is going to have its hands full at every level with State’s front seven being a tough test for its continually-developing offensive line and the Wolfpack corners hounding the Hokies playmakers.
But, this was also a concern against the likes of Pitt, Wake Forest and Syracuse, each of whom Kyron Drones and the Tech offense dismantled. I’m not saying it’ll look that easy; after all, this is their toughest defensive test at home all year. But, I have confidence in this unit to prove itself once again, especially considering how dominant they looked a week ago up in Chestnut Hill.
Tech’s offense should be able to do its usual thing and put up a requisite number of points to let its defense handle the rest against a pitiful NC State offense that doesn’t pose much of a threat. And by the end of the night on Saturday, the Hokies will be going bowling – a reality that seemed damn near impossible two months ago.