Virginia Tech Presents New Challenge for Wolfpack Offense

Kenton Gibbs

In its week 1 matchup against Wake Forest, the NC State football team went up against a consensus in All-American Boogie Basham and was undaunted.

His abilities were on display when he got a tackle for loss on the very first snap, the 20th straight game he’s recorded one. But the Wolfpack’s tempo offense, combined with the Deacons’ rotation, helped it rip off big chunks of yardage while Basham was on the sideline.

This week, State will face another of the nation’s top defensive players.

Virginia Tech’s Rayshard Ashby is a linebacker who plays downhill from sideline to sideline. He has totaled 225 career tackles and will be leaned upon as the heart and soul of a depleted Hokies defense.

Ashby will be counted even more heavily by coach Justin Fuente’s team with All American corner and future first round NFL pick Caleb Farley having opted out of the season for health concerns and returning starter at safety, Devon Hunter, suspended while facing a felony charge stemming from a dispute with a family member.

The absence of Farley and Hunter leaves a massive hole in Tech’s secondary, one that senior offensive guard Joe Sculthorpe said his team is well-equipped to exploit.

Even though State unleashed a powerful running attack that rolled up 270 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s win against Wake, Sculthorpe said that’s not necessarily the identity of his team’s offense.

“Obviously every lineman loves to run the football,” Sculthorpe said. “A running game is important but I want our identity to be a team who puts points on the board and win games. Whether it happened with the run or pass doesn’t matter to me and I’m sure everyone else feels the same way.”

The offense moved the ball well through the air for three quarters last week with backup Bailey Hockman pulling the trigger, but it will need to improve as the season goes along.

Presumed starter Devin Leary getting fully reclamated after spending 20 days of the preseason in quarantine will help the process along the way, but whoever is playing quarterback must still show and prove when the rubber meets the road.

In addition to its losses on the field, the Hokies defense will also be without a living legend in Bud Foster, who retired last year after 33 years as the defensive coordinator in Blacksburg. Long-time defensive line coach Charley Wiles is also gone, having moved over to become a member of coach Dave Doeren’s staff.

The changes could make a run defense that was top five in the ACC in yards per game and touchdowns allowed last season a little less formidable. But even with all the pieces it had, last year’s pass defense was still only average at best.

Kenton’s take

It remains the Hokies’ Achilles heel and State would be best served by going at it with everything it has. A win against a top 20 team would be a huge boost for a program looking to regain some momentum.

While I love State’s o-line and stable of backs, they’re going to need to throw the ball more effectively and more often to pull off this upset on the road. Another 250-plus yard rushing performance wouldn’t hurt. But that’s less likely to happen against a more talented and disciplined front seven that includes the ACC’s leading tackler from last year.

That is, of course, if the game is played at all considering that Tech has had more trouble than most ACC schools at COVID-19 containment and contact tracing.

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