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NC State will need to disrupt Virginia Tech’s run-first mentality and opportunistic passing game

The Hokies were good at grinding out games in 2019.

Virginia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

There was a point last year where Virginia Tech’s season looked like it might not amount to much—namely, after the 45-10 loss at home to Duke at the end of September. It was at that point the Hokies made a switch at quarterback to redshirt sophomore Hendon Hooker, and the team proceeded to win six of its next seven.

Virginia Tech didn’t ask Hooker to do a lot through the air, which helped—the Hokies were among the more infrequent passing teams in the country, averaging about 25 pass attempts per game in 2019. Hooker only hit 30 attempts in a game once.

That worked out better than anyone probably guessed, as Hooker averaged an impressive 9.6 yards per attempt, while throwing only two interceptions. Virginia Tech threw five interceptions in its first four games, then just three the rest of the way. After posting a negative turnover margin in three of their first four games, the Hokies did that just twice over the final nine games. That helps a lot!

Hooker’s role as a passer may be expanded a bit in his second year as a starter, especially with so much returning experience around him, but it’s likely that the Hokies will again utilize the run-first mentality that became successful for them last season.

For NC State’s defense, success may come down to how often it can put Virginia Tech into obvious passing downs and put pressure on Hooker to deliver under the circumstances. That and being disciplined on standard downs, avoiding major breakdowns on play-action. Which is easier said than done, of course—it was plain enough to opponents last year that these were keys, and that didn’t routinely make a difference.