Big Game Preview: UVA football faces ACC road test at NC State
We don’t know quite as much about NC State as we thought we would at this stage. The Pack (3-0, 0-0 ACC), getting ready to face UVA on Saturday, was supposed to have played West Virginia on Sept. 15, but that game was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.
As a result, all we have in terms of a body of record are wins over JMU, Georgia State and Marshall, which won’t tell you much, unfortunately.
The ‘Hoos, meantime, have at least faced an ACC foe, though Louisville, defeated 27-3 by UVA in Week 4, isn’t the Louisville of 2017, much less the 2016 Cardinals that had Lamar Jackson winning a Heisman and contending into November for a playoff spot.
NC State Offense vs. UVA Defense
The Pack averages 34 points and 478.3 yards per game, the bulk of the production coming from the passing game. QB Ryan Finley is completing 68.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns, with one interception, and a passer rating of 153.9 in three games.
His top targets:
- Kelvin Harmon, a 6’3” junior wideout, who has 18 catches for 312 yards
- Jakobi Meyers, a 6’2” redshirt junior wideout, who has 16 catches for 190 yards
- Emeka Emezie, a 6’3” sophomore wideout, who has 15 catches for 154 yards
- Thayer Thomas, a 6’1” redshirt freshman wideout, who has 12 catches for 175 yards
- J. Riley, a 6’4” redshirt sophomore wideout, who has 10 catches for 112 yards
Odd thing I’m noticing in looking at the State statistical profile: only one pass completed to a tight end in 2018.
The ground game isn’t all that productive, gaining 107.7 yards per game and just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt.
And it’s not like State isn’t trying to run: the Pack runs on 44.1 percent of its offensive snaps, so there’s at least an effort at balance.
The UVA defense has been stout through the first third of its season, allowing opponents just 297.5 yards per game, third-best in the ACC, and it has been at its best against the pass, allowing opposing QBs to post an efficiency rating of 113.6, also third-best in the ACC.
Charles Snowden, a 6’7” sophomore linebacker, is the reigning, defending ACC Linebacker of the Week, after stuffing the stat sheet in the win over Louisville, with a team-best eight tackles, a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and two passes defensed.
UVA Offense vs. NC State Defense
UVA is averaging 32.5 points and 434.8 yards total offense per game in 2018, vast improvements over the 2017 productivity, which saw UVA at the bottom of the ACC in scoring (22.5 points per game) and total offense (342.2 yards per game).
The difference-maker is QB Bryce Perkins, who is completing 65.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 867 yards and nine touchdowns, with two interceptions, and a passer rating of 162.3 in four games.
Perkins is also 11th in the ACC in rushing, running for 79.3 yards per game on the ground, keying an attack that also features the conference’s second-leading rusher, Jordan Ellis, who is averaging 112 yards per game with a conference-best five rushing touchdowns.
Also among the conference leaders is wideout Olamide Zaccheaus, who is tied for first in receiving yards (392) and receiving TDs (4).
The NC State defense is ranked fifth in the ACC in yards per game allowed (346), fifth in rush defense (108 yards per game) and sixth in pass-defense efficiency (119.2).
One area where the Pack has been vulnerable defensively: third down. Opponents are converting 39.5 percent of their third downs, 11th best in the ACC.
State has also recorded just six sacks, tied for the second-lowest in the conference, and has forced only five turnovers.
State placekicker Chris Dunn has made six of his eight field-goal tries, with a long of 32. Kickoff specialist Kyle Bambard averages 56.8 yards per kick, with seven touchbacks on 19 kickoffs.
Punter A.J. Cole averages 39.0 yards per punt, with one punt downed inside the 20 on his eight boots.
Kick returners Maurice Trowell and C.J. Riley average 22.0 yards per kickoff return.
UVA made a change at placekicker last week, with Hunter Pearson connecting on a pair of field goals after A.J. Mejia missed a chip shot in the first quarter.
Kickoff specialist Brian Delaney averages 63.0 yards per kickoff, with 13 touchbacks on his 24 kickoffs.
Punter Lester Coleman averages 41.6 yards per punt, with five of his 16 punts downed inside the 20.
Returners Joe Reed, Tavares Kelly and P.K. Kier are averaging just 16.9 yards per kickoff return.
NC State is an eight-point favorite, so the oddsmakers have the Pack a better team at home and theoretically on the road in this matchup, when you assume the home team gets three points for hosting.
I don’t see this matchup being as favorable for the Pack as Vegas does. State is one-dimensional on offense, and that one dimension, the passing game, happens to be the strength of the UVA D, its pass defense.
The ‘Hoos can be susceptible to the run, but the Pack isn’t capable of exploiting that weakness.
State isn’t the 2017 version defensively. They will wish they’d had that game with WVU just so that they could be better prepared for the speed that UVA will bring at the skill positions.
Prediction: UVA 27, NC State 21