Depleted Hokies still have enough to rout Wolfpack

NC State running back Ricky Person Jr. scores a touchdown during Saturday’s loss at Virginia Tech (Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP)

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Everything seemed to be going NC State’s way on Saturday at Virginia Tech.

And then the game started.

On a night in which the Hokies’ starting quarterback and 23 other players, along with their defensive coordinator and three other staff members, were all held out of action because of a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the postponement of last week’s game, Tech still had plenty enough firepower to put a 45-24 pounding on the Wolfpack at Lane Stadium.

Third-string quarterback Quincy Patterson, forced into action because of an injury to substitute starter Braxton Burmeister, threw for a pair of touchdowns and the 20th-ranked Hokies piled up 314 yards on the ground to hand State its first loss of the new season.

Three thoughts

1. Bailey Hockman clearly used up all his magic in last week’s season-opening win against Wake Forest, when he completed his first 13 passes in leading the Wolfpack to 42 points. Saturday in Blacksburg, he completed just 1 for his first 7 throws with an interception before hitting on his final two passes of the half. He got off to an equally bad start in the second, including another pick that led to a Hokies field goal. Coach Dave Doeren finally decided he’d had enough at the 5:22 mark of the third quarter, replacing him with Devin Leary — the quarterback that was supposed to be the starter before missing 20 days of preseason camp while in contact tracing.

2. While Hockman’s performance was a complete 180 from his play from the previous week, it was more of the same for State’s defense. As was the case against Wake Forest when it gave up 42 points, the Wolfpack had trouble tackling and was burned for multiple big plays — mostly on the edges. It gave up 314 yards on the ground and 181 through the air to second- and third-string quarterbacks. It didn’t help that three starters — linebacker Payton Wilson, safety Tanner Ingle and cornerback Teshaun Smith — missed the game with injuries. But clearly, the Wolfpack has a lot of work to do moving forward.

3. There was a scary moment late in the third quarter when State safety Khalid Martin laid motionless on the field for several minutes after making a tackle. The redshirt freshman was put on a back board and taken from the field in an ambulance. According to a Wolfpack spokesperson, Martin never lost consciousness and is reported to have suffered a hip injury — a bad ending to a bad night.

Number to Know

75% — Leary’s completion percentage after coming into the game in relief of starter Hockman in the third quarter. The redshirt sophomore completed 12 of 16 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns while appearing to regain the starting position that was intended to be his at the start of the season.

They Said It

“(We) didn’t expect it. Obviously, we were excited about where we came out of last week. There’s a lot to work on. We just didn’t do enough to give ourselves a chance to win.”

— NC State coach Dave Doeren

Player of the Game

Sophomore running back Zonovan Knight recorded his second straight week with 90-plus rushing yards. He finished Saturday’s game with 94 yards on 14 carries for an average of 6.7 yards per attempt. He also caught a pass for a 6-yard gain.

Critical thinking

There were a lot of similarities between Saturday’s game in Blacksburg and the Wolfpack’s season-opening win at home against Wake Forest last week. The only difference is that the roles were reversed. Instead channeling the emotion of a season-opening game into a fast start, it was State that got knocked back by a team that was clearly itching to get its season going after sitting around for two weeks watching others play.

The Hokies jumped on the Wolfpack for scores on their first three possessions to build a 17-0 lead and never looked back. It wasn’t until State replaced Hockman with Leary at quarterback midway through the third quarter that it finally began to show some signs of life. But by then it was far too late.

But even though Leary finally got the passing game going and drove the team for two touchdowns, perhaps rebuilding some momentum for next week’s game at Pittsburgh, the bigger issue facing the Wolfpack is its defense — which has allowed 42 or more points in both of its games and have already begun losing key players to injury