KENTON'S KEYS: Virginia Tech
Editor's note: SI All Wolfpack deputy editor Kenton Gibbs was part of coach Dave Doeren's first recruiting class at NC State in 2013. He played two seasons for the Wolfpack, recovering a fumble that set up the winning touchdown against Syracuse in 2014, before an injury forced him from the field to the press box. Each Friday during the football season, he'll provide his expert analysis in identifying keys that could lead to a potential State victory.
Kenton's Keys to an NC State victory against Virginia Tech on Saturday:
- Establish the run: The Wolfpack has the horses in its backfield and must continue to ride them, just as it did in last week's win against Wake Forest when Ricky Person Jr., Zonovan Knight and Jordan Houston combined to lead a ground attack that accounted for 270 yards.
- Quarterback play must improve: Bailey Hockman did an admirable job on short notice against the Deacons, especially early in the game. But he also threw a pick six that severaly altered the way offensive coordinator Tim Beck called the rest of the game. Hockman (or Devin Leary) need to be better this week, especially against a Hokies secondary that will be missing at least two starters.
- Wide receivers have to win one-on-ones in coverage: Even with the absence of All-ACC cornerback Caleb Farley and starting safety Devin Hunter, Tech's defensive backs are significant upgrade from what the Wolfpack saw against Wake. They're long and they're aggressive. State's receiving corps is going to have to work harder to get open and make catches this week.
- Get off the field: Wake Forest made good on nearly 50% of its third down opportunities (7 of 15) and converted two fourth downs against the Wolfpack last week. Tony Gibson's defense will be asking for even more if allows Tech to have the same kind of success.
- Get to Hendon Hooker: The Hokies' quarterback doesn't get the same kind of attention as the Trevor Lawrences, Sam Howells and D'Eriq Kings of the ACC, but that's what makes him all the more dangerous. He's a dual-threat quarterback with the potential to take it to the house every time he pulls the ball down and takes off running. He'll shread the Wolfpack apart if it gives him time to make decisions.
- Defend and cover the other guys: As much attention as State must pay toward Hooker, it can't ignore his supporting cast -- especially those coming out of the backfield. In 2019, he completed 81% of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions when throwing to running backs and tight ends.
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