NC State, meanwhile, is off to a disappointing 3-3 start to the year. The Wolfpack had a bye week to prepare for Virginia and get a little healthier, though it seems the healthier part of that plan hasn't worked out. Let's take a look at how these two teams match up going into Saturday's contest.
Pack Offense against Virginia Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||Virginia Defense|
|Points per Game||32.0 (39)||22.2 (38)|
|Yards per Play||5.5 (68)||4.6 (14)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.5 (51)||5.6 (10)|
|Yards per Rush||3.4 (99)||3.9 (51)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||41.5% (56)||34.7% (38)|
|Turnovers per game||1.7||1.8|
|Red Zone Efficiency||86% (42)||80% (44)|
While the Pack has managed to keep up with its 2010 production on the offense side of the ball, it never faced a defense this good in the first half of the season. The Cavs are especially effective against passing game, which should not be surprising considering the presence of shutdown corner Chase Minnifield – considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the entire nation. It's safe to assume Minnifield will be shadowing T.J. Graham all afternoon, so the Pack's other receivers are going to have to step to the forefront if the team expects to establish any sort of passing attack.
Despite all the praise the Cavaliers received for holding down Georgia Tech's rushing attack last week, defending the run is still this team's biggest defensive weakness. So while the Pack has had trouble running the ball in several games this season, it needs to both establish and maintain a ground attack against the Cavaliers. This serves a dual purpose - exploiting a soft spot in the Virginia defense as well as controlling the clock to keep the Pack's defense rested.
Pack Defense against Virginia Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||Virginia Offense|
|Points per Game||30.2 (89)||26.7 (72)|
|Yards per Play||6.0 (96)||5.5 (68)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.7 (95)||6.6 (81)|
|Yards per Rush||4.6 (88)||4.7 (37)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||43.4% (83)||41.9% (53)|
|Turnovers per game||3.0||2.3|
|Red Zone Efficiency||87% (91)||84% (51)|
As Virginia demonstrated against Georgia Tech, when the Cavs run the ball effectively they are a very hard team to beat. The Cavaliers aren't going to do anything flashy on Saturday; they are going to line up and try to ram the ball straight at a depleted Pack defensive line. And while the Pack has been fairly awful against the run this season, they have to find a way to stop Virginia on the ground or its going to be a very long afternoon for Pack fans.
The problem for the Cavs comes when they have to throw the ball. London has been using a two-quarterback rotation, with Michael Rocco getting a majority of the snaps but David Watford coming in on occasion. Between the two of them, they've combined for five touchdowns and nine picks. And while the Pack defense hasn't been good at stopping the pass, they have been good at capitalizing on poor throws and making interceptions. If the Pack can force Virginia to pass a lot, it's going to see a fair share of poor throws.
The Road To Victory
On paper, and in the Vegas sports books, this is a game that NC State is supposed to lose. If the Pack wants to pull off an upset, the biggest key is going to be winning the turnover battle.
Specifically, forcing Virginia's rotating carousel of quarterbacks to make plays and subsequently make mistakes. The Pack can't allow the Cavs to run the ball all day and never have to make plays in the passing game. But the Pack will need to get its own running game going, and it will need secondary receivers like Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood to make plays in the passing game.
With two weeks to prepare, this is both a winnable game for the Pack and a must-win game if it wants to turn the season around.