NC State needs to give star quarterback Jacoby Brissett time to make plays in the pocket and find receivers open downfield. If he has time, it should allow the Wolfpack's wide receivers, tight ends, and tailbacks to break free against an inexperienced Virginia Tech secondary.
Virginia Tech's front four consists of three redshirt seniors and a redshirt junior, and all four are talented players. Arguably, it's the top defensive line in the ACC on paper, given three are All-ACC players. However, they've got off to a slow start, as the Hokies have just ten total sacks and ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem have yet to record a sack.
Regardless, NC State has to protect Brissett. Last week he was unable to really get comfortable in the pocket and he had his worst game of the season. Friday night in Virginia Tech isn't easy, and you can bet the Hokies will be looking to get to Brissett and disrupt him early and often.
It is vital for NC State that they win the turnover battle against Virginia Tech. That is priority #1 for the offense.
Virginia Tech is No. 18 in the nation in turnover margin at +1.0. The Hokies have already forced 12 turnovers, six interceptions and six fumbles, which leads the ACC.
The Hokie defense is fast, physical, and athletic. They play an aggressive style and blitz the passer but will also drop a lot of defenders into coverage hoping a quarterback will try to force a pass and make a mistake. They also do a great job of rallying to the football while looking to strip ball-carriers... a trademark of Bud Foster's defenses.
NC State has done a fairly good job of protecting the football in 2015, and they must continue to do so. The Wolfpack had two costly turnovers last week against Louisville, and they believe it's a major reason why the Cardinals won the game.
Whoever wins the turnover battle tonight will likely leave the field victorious.
WIN THE BIG PLAY BATTLE
The formula for NC State's offense is simple: sustain drives, control the clock, stay balanced, limit turnovers, and be efficient in the passing game. The Wolfpack also has to be opportunistic.
When NC State has a chance to make a big play, they must make it. If a wide receiver is open, Brissett has to find him and the wideout has to catch it. If there's one man to miss for a big run to happen, Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels have to shake him. In a game that should be close and come down to the wire, capitalizing on potential scoring opportunities will go a long way to determining the winner.
Virginia Tech's defenders have great ball skills. They win a lot of jumpballs and do a terrific job of adjusting to tipped balls and batted passes while turning them into interceptions. NC State has to be strong with the football and when the ball is in the air they must come up with the catch.
Capitalizing on those plays is essential to the Wolfpack's offense. They must start generating more explosive, big SCORING plays.
KEEP SAMUELS INVOLVED
Jacoby Brissett and Matt Dayes are critical to NC State's offense, but sophomore tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels has to remain involved for four quarters. Last week he had his final touch of the game midway through the third quarter, a 21-yard touchdown reception on third-and-7. There's no reason he should go the final 20+ minutes of the game without touching the football.
Samuels is having a breakout season. He is currently No. 1 in the ACC in the receiving touchdowns. He's second in total touchdowns, third in receptions, and fourth in receiving yards. On a per-touch basis, there hasn't been a more productive player in the ACC. Will his efficiency decrease with more touches? Sure, but he still needs as many as possible.
He totaled five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against Louisville. Look for Samuels to be around 10-15 touches against Virginia Tech, a defense that plays a lot of man coverage that could set Samuels up with some big-play opportunities.
Virginia Tech's not going to be easy to run on, but Samuels has the potential to be a difference maker tonight.