Date: September 14th, 2019
Time: 12:00pm ET
Venue: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, WV
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Streaming: FoxSports app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMGon TuneIn Radio. We will also include the stream in our game thread, which will go live at 10AM ET.
Spread: WVU +6.5
Fun fact: West Virginia has never been a 6.5-point underdog to a Tony Gibson-coached team at home.
West Virginia: Gold domes, gold shirts, blue britches
It's not my favorite combo, but not unexpected considering the Gold Rush.
NC State: All white
Super frosty. Not gonna lie, I kinda dig them.
KNOW THE ENEMY
Series History: (5-5). The series is knotted up at 5 after Russell Wilson and Co. dusted us 23-7 in the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl.
2019 Record: (2-0). The Wolfpack started the year with an impressive 34-6 win over in-state "rival" East Carolina before heading to the other side of North Carolina to stomp on Western. Say what you want about the level of competition - they've handled their business the way a good football team should.
Head Coach: Dave Doeren. Doeren is now in his 7th year at NC State after previous successful stints at Northern Illinois and Wisconsin. You don't hit that 7 year milestone without some level of success and back-to-back 9-win seasons show that the program is undoubtedly heading in the right direction.
Offensive Coordinators: Des Kitchings/George McDonald.
Both Kitchings and McDonald have been at NC State for at least 5 years now, but it's just their second year running the show as co-coordinators. The first yielded impressive results, including a 1000-yard rusher, a pair of 1000-yard receivers that were both named as 1st team All-ACC performers, and Top 30 national rankings in scoring, passing, and total offense.
Defensive Coordinator: Dave Huxtable. Huxtable has been with Doeren in Raleigh since the beginning and has engineered almost exclusively strong units over that time.
BY THE NUMBERS
Gang I have bad news. Gibby and Hux might be about to light us up Saturday. I understand competition and sample size, but through 2 games:
Scoring D: 3.0 papg (2nd nationally)
Rushing D: 24.5 ypg (4th)
Pass D: 163.0 ypg (30th), 92.2 eff (14th)
Total D: 187.5 ypg (5th)
Exp Runs Allowed Per Game: 1.5 (5th)
Exp Pass Allowed Per Game: 1.0 (3rd)
Havoc Rate: 27% (12 TFL + 6 sacks + 3 FF + 11 PD) = 32 havoc plays /120 plays (small sample but would’ve easily led country in 2018)
WVU Havoc Allowed: 26% (128th)
Not a great look for us no matter how you slice it. Take their opponents for what you will, but the Wolfpack have been well above average across the board offensively and obviously considerably better than that on the other side of the ball.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: QB Austin Kendall, RB Alec Sinkfield, WR Sam James, WR Winston Wright
NCSU players to watch: DE James Smith-Williams, NT Alim McNeill, LB Isaiah Moore, NB Stephen Griffin
The Wolfpack defense, under the Daves Doeren and Huxtable, has built a reputation as an aggressive, opportunistic unit that's particularly good along the line. They've put a number of guys into the NFL in the Doeren era, culminating in the Bradley Chubb-led 2018 class that saw the entire defensive front go in the first 4 rounds. That kind of attrition obviously made it tough on them last year, but with most of last year's group running it back they seem poised for a big 2019.
The big story where we're concerned is obviously the addition of Tony Gibson, who Huxtable brought on to marshall the transition to a 3-down front after he was overlooked for the WVU head coaching job. You can already see Gibby's fingerprints on just about everything they do defensively - lots of 3-3 stack with a mix of press man outside and zone underneath, blitzes from everywhere, and straight cover 3, especially on 3rd and passing - and so far things have gone swimmingly. Say what you want about the directional Carolina schools, but the fact of the matter is that the Wolfpack haven't messed around with either of them and through 2 weeks rank in the top 5 nationally in just about any defensive metric you would care about. The 27% havoc rate (% of total plays that generate a TFL, PD, or FF) is of particular concern considering that we're in the bottom 5 nationally with 26% havoc allowed.
Their defensive line appears to live up to the Wolfpack reputation, creating multiple negative plays in the run game and generating consistent pressure by themselves against ECU. Defensive end Justin Smith-Williams is the headliner, but Joseph Boletepeli is solid on the other side, as well. I was also impressed by Alim McNeill in the middle, though it seems like they have two or three guys who do a good job there.
The linebackers clearly benefit from the play of the group in front of them and flow to the ball really well as a group. Isaiah Moore and Louis Acceus return as starters at the middle and weak-side spots, respectively, but freshman Payton Wilson and Brock Miller have both been good at the newly christened Buc backer.
The secondary is a physical, experienced bunch with all five starters back and performing excpetionally well. Safeties Tanner Ingle and Stephen Griffin are as active as our were and are currently leading the team in tackles. Nick McCloud and Chris Ingram both have good size at corner, and Jarius Morehead is a big, physical box safety who was 2nd on the team in tackles a year ago.
As a whole it's the kind of unit that makes sense when reading the heights and weights on the depth chart, and when you watch them play and consider that they've been growing together for two years, it's easy to understand why they're performing the way that they are.
Defining success: is 100 yards too much to ask?
You guys ready for some hashtag analysis? As excited as I am for Winston Wright and Ali Jennings, our offense is going to continue to be shitty until we can run the ball. It's as simple as that. The nation's 4th-ranked run defense isn't exactly the ideal group to try to get it going against, but we simply aren't going to win games if we can't average more than 1 yard per carry. In years past 100 yards would've been an afterthought, but this year it'd be cause for celebration. If we hit that I'll be happy, if only because it would show signs of progress.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: NT Darius Stills, DT Dante Stills, LB Josh Chandler, LB Dylan Tonkery
NCSU players to watch: QB Matt McKay, RB Ricky Person, RB Zonovan Knight, WR Thayer Thomas, WR Tabari Hinds
State comes into this game sporting the same balanced attack that they've had over the last few years - 84 runs/72 passes through two games this year, 483/496 last year, 496/485 in 2017. They run almost exclusively 11 personnel on normal downs out of a variety of different formations - doubles, trips, and doubles motion to trips out of both shotgun and pistol. It seems like their M.O. is to wear you down with a nice package of inside zones, zone reads, and RPOs before picking spots to attack downfield through the air.
The quarterback is sophomore Matt McKay, who's hit the ground running in his first year as the starter with 508 yards and 2 touchdowns on 66% completions. He can be a bit erratic at times, but the arm is unquestionably live. Even worse, he's every bit the athlete that Kelly Bryant is, chipping in another 2 touchdowns on the ground.
They rotate four running backs and all of them have been pretty effective, but the two main guys are Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person. Person ran for 471 yards and 2 touchdowns last year as a freshman and is the bigger of the two, but I think that the current freshman Knight is more effective. He just seems to have a bit more burst than Person but still finishes runs with the type of authority that Neal Brown was pining for from his own backs on Tuesday.
Out wide they have a trio of receivers whose skill sets fit together about as well as you'd want. Emeka Emezie is the physical presence on the outside, Thayer Thomas is your stereotypical slot guy and operates really well underneath, and Tabarie Hinds is the home run threat who they'll run the gadget plays for, and through two games they're combining to average 12 catches and 154 yards. They also have a pair of tight ends who are capable of making plays.
Up front, they lost 2019 first round pick Garrett Bradbury, but they still have a big, veteran group that executes well together.
Defining success: I suppose it would be good for us to tackle a quarterback sometime this year..
The Wolfpack are going to look a lot like Mizzou did last weekend, and I expect them to attack us similarly. Through two games they're averaging nearly 6 yards per carry as a team on a steady diet of inside zones, zone reads, and jet sweeps, and I'm sure they haven't seen anything on tape from us to make them think they can't do that this week.
Like last weekend, finishing drives is going to again be critical. We got Missouri behind the sticks several times in the first half, but we missed about 5 sacks on Bryant and let him extend drives with his legs and it just broke our backs. McKay probably isn't quite as slippery as Bryant in the pocket, but he's every bit as big and strong and fast once he gets moving, so we really have to focus and make sure we get him on the ground when we get the chance. If we can do that, we have a shot at slowing them down.
The return guys are the aforementioned Thomas and Hinds and both are plenty dangerous. Their punter is averaging 45 yards per kick through 2 games. I'd like to think that we'll at least break even here based on the first two games, but if we're being honest special teams are the least of our worries.
So look, gang. The narrative on Sunday is going to be one of two things. We're either going to:
1) Get cut to pieces again and have to deal with the very real possibility of 2-10 or even 1-11, or..
2) We're going to come out, show some signs of life, even in a loss, and head into conference play with a little bit of 'mo.
I'm expecting signs of life.
I watched and rewatched NC State's game against ECU, and it was legitimately 10-3 with 2 minutes to go in 1st half, and very easily could've been tied or even 13-10 ECU if not for a fumble into State's endzone and a missed field goal. The Wolfpack broke the game open with two big plays right before and after halftime and never looked back, but for two quarters it was no sure thing. I think we can look at that and take some hope, for my impression was that neither are the Pirates as good as Wyoming nor the Wolfpack as good as Missouri. It will take a much cleaner performance from pretty much our entire team, but when you literally have no where to go but up, that's what you have to hope for. Even a marginally better performance up front would make a vast difference for our entire offense - more room for our running backs inevitably means more room for our passing game and more time for our quarterback.
Call me a homer or whatever - at home, I think they're getable. I’ve watched the same 8 quarters of absolutely dire football that you have, and I wrote the 2000 words that you just read praising NC State and lamenting our own beleaguered Mountaineers, but God help me, I think they’re getable.
See you in the Blue Lot.
West Virginia 24-21 NC State