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Meet VMI, which is just here so it won’t get fined

NCAA Football: Virginia Military at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The VMI-NC State football series is back, and more happening now than ever. Millions have clamored for the resumption of this matchup between once-SoCon-foes, a series that dates to 1895 and ended in 1946. Not terribly surprisingly given the time frame, VMI holds the advantage here, with an 11-7-1 record against the Pack all-time.

The lone tie came in 1921, a 7-7 thriller at Riddick Field. Let’s go to the video tape, er, recap from Technician:

NC State punter Tom Park was an elite player from what I gather, though unfortunately it was a VMI punt return to State’s one yard line that allowed for the tying score in the fourth quarter.

Transitioning now to the future, all the way to the year 2023, we have the Keydets coming off a 1-10 season that led to a coaching change. New VMI head man Danny Rocco is familiar with the confines of Carter-Finley, having visited as the head coach of Liberty in 2011 and the head coach of Richmond in 2013. He’s got his work cut out this time around, what with the Keydets’ roster featuring an astounding 45 true freshmen.

VMI returned 11 starters in total, though its first string is comprised largely of upperclassmen. That includes quarterback Collin Ironside, who had taken the starting job last year before he got hurt. (VMI, like State, went through four QBs in 2022.) Ironside, who with a name like that can no doubt look forward to being cast in a Paul Verhoeven film one day, has been solid early this season: 37-57 (64.9%) for 459 yards (8.1 per attempt), three TDs, and one INT.

But producing points has been a problem, just as it was a year ago. The Keydets managed to fend off Davidson, 12-7, in their opener, but fell 21-13 to Bucknell last weekend. They didn’t score more than 24 points in a single game last season.

More consistency at quarterback will help there, but VMI couldn’t run the ball for diddly last season and that appears unlikely to change much. Last season was really unfortunate: 77 rushing yards per game on 2.4 per carry.

Rashad Raymond was a bright spot, averaging 4.3 yards on 51 carries, and he’s back to take on a larger role—24 carries for 105 yards so far—but VMI is putting up just 2.9 YPC through two games. Starting a center who is listed at 240 pounds probably isn’t especially advantageous here.

At receiver, senior Chance Knox is the guy to watch—he led VMI with 535 yards and two scores on 58 catches in 2022.

On the defensive side, VMI’s 3-4 unit has a pair of outside linebackers who had strong seasons in 2022: Evan Eller was second on the team with 99 tackles, while Christian Oliver was third with 74, including a team-best 6.5 TFL. Corner Alex Oliver was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2022 after collecting three interceptions and 10 PBUs, in addition to 74 tackles. Opposite Oliver is Alex Innocent, a man who is Innocent on every snap. Not a lot of DBs you can say that about.

Let’s hope both teams have fun out there this weekend, and nobody gets hurt. Can’t imagine this one’s in doubt after halftime.