MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The only offense in the country yet to break a run longer than 10 yards through the first two games of the season will try to get things in motion against one of two defenses that has yet to allow a touchdown this season when North Carolina State visits West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.
The Mountaineers (1-1) are the team on the statistically challenged end of that equation, entering the game averaging a meager 1.1 yards per carry.
“If you watched the film and that doesn’t spark you to get better, then you obviously shouldn’t be here,” offensive lineman Josh Sills said in the wake of WVU’s 38-7 loss at Missouri. “It was pitiful. We need the drive and hunger every day to get better.”
Coach Neal Brown indicated there would be tweaks to the starting lineup this week.
“I foresee there being some changes in the lineup,” Brown said. “If you put stuff on video that’s not good enough, changes have to be made.”
Sophomore Alec Sinkfield may end up with the brunt of this week’s carries, and fellow sophomore Leddie Brown is back in the mix after missing the first two games as he recovered from a training camp ankle injury.
The Mountaineers may end up using their third starting center in as many weeks after giving sophomore Briason Mays reps with the first-stringers in practice this week. Josh Sills was moved to center midway through training camp, then back to right guard against Mizzou while Chase Behrndt started at center.
True freshmen wide receivers Winston Wright and Ali Jennings will also take the field for the first time, though not necessarily as starters.
If the changes go well, the Mountaineers will look to be the first team to provide the Wolfpack (2-0) with any form of challenge this season. N.C. State rolled over in-state schools East Carolina (34-5) and Western Carolina (41-0) with complete ease.
Though the lightweight schedule has puffed up the Wolfpack’s numbers, former WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson seems to be making his presence felt as N.C. State’s co-DC. The Wolfpack have allowed 49 rushing yards in their first two games. West Virginia has gained only 64 rushing yards.
The matchup is a daunting one given the respective strengths and weaknesses of each team, but Brown expects the Mountaineers to be much more competitive than they were last weekend.
“Here’s the non-negotiables: we’re going to play hard, we’re going to do what we’re coached to do, we’re going to be a tougher football team and we’re going to be invested in what we’re doing,” Brown said. “We’re going to be prepared for N.C. State, put the focal point is those four items.”
Turnovers: N.C. State has yet to turn the ball over this season. If it happens again, the Wolfpack will almost certainly be 3-0. West Virginia’s offense needs a short field whenever it can get it, if not points scored directly by the defense itself. Look for some aggressive calls from Vic Koenning.
Pass protection: Austin Kendall was hit 20 times last week. It’s become evident West Virginia needs to hit some deep passes for the running game to thrive, and in order for that to happen Kendall needs time to complete them.
Tempo: N.C. State ran 70 offensive plays against East Carolina and 86 against Western Carolina. After losing end Taijh Alston for the season, the Mountaineers won’t want to get involved with an offense running 80-plus plays. Look for WVU to extend drives any way it can – maybe even with some bold moves on fourth down.