It’s the battle of ‘Wagon Wheel’ vs. ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, Old Tuffy beer vs. Moonshine and Cheerwine vs. Mountain Dew. It’s N.C. State vs. West Virginia in Morgantown at high noon this Saturday. This matchup has been a long time coming since the two were scheduled to meet last season in Raleigh but was canceled due to Hurricane Florence hovering over much of the east coast. The makeup of both teams has changed quite a bit since last season but each team needs a win Saturday for very different reasons.
N.C. State comes into this game at 2-0, as expected, but the Mountaineers will be the Wolfpack’s first real test in 2019. There were many question marks about how sophomore quarterback Matt McKay would handle being given the reins to the program and having to follow in the footsteps of Ryan Finely, who is now in the NFL, but thus far McKay has been up to challenge. Through his first two contests at the helm, McKay has completed 66% of passes and thrown for just over 500 yards with 2 passing and 2 rushing touchdowns. Also, McKay’s ability to use his feet to extend or make a play, is a new wrinkle in the N.C. State offense and another threat to opposing defenses. He is a different type of quarterback when compared to Ryan Finley but every bit as effective. McKay’s ability to be a dual threat may cause problems for the West Virginia defense.
Last season, N.C. State’s offense was the vaunted unit of the team, but most of those players have moved onto the NFL or graduated. In 2019, the defense has been the unit to shoulder most of the praise and expectations. The defensive side of the ball is packed full of young and talented underclassmen getting the opportunity to start and have made the most of those opportunities. So far, the Wolfpack have only allowed 6 points to be scored and have a top 5 defense in both rushing yards allowed per game and total yards allowed per game. If the N.C. State defense stays in this rare form then it is going to be a long day for Matt Moore’s offensive game plan.
N.C. State has started out 2-0 multiple times under Dave Doeren, but this is year seven of the Doeren era and if the Wolfpack are ever going to rise to the next level then the time is now. All of the pieces of a next level program are in place and are performing well but Doeren needs to lead his team into a hostile Milan Puskar stadium as the favorite and win as the favorite to keep the momentum going. If he and the Wolfpack can do that, then you may faintly hear ‘Wagon Wheel’ being sung in the cathedral of John Denver.
West Virginia starts out this season at 1-1 which has caused for some mixed reviews about the Mountaineers. A hard fought seven point victory over James Madison left some wanting more but a win over a good FCS program by any margin is still a win. That was followed up by a lack luster performance against a Missouri on the road and showcased some of the West Virginia weaknesses. The Mountaineers will have to correct some of those mistakes to compete with the Wolfpack but this team should not be overlooked.
Much like N.C. State, West Virginia is also breaking in a new quarterback who has some big shoes to fill. Austin Kendall steps into the starting role this year in Morgantown and will try to follow in the footsteps of Will Grier. Kendall got off on the right foot in the season opener but was held in check in the game against Missouri. However, not all of it was his fault. He was sacked 3 times in the Missouri game and rushed for -15 yards. The offensive line will need to protect Kendall better in order for him to be as his best. If the O-line can give Kendall enough time to read through his progressions then the young N.C. State defense may be exposed for some big yardage plays.
The Mountaineers starting defensive unit being primarily made up of juniors and seniors has already bode well them. WVU already has 6 sacks in just two games which is almost a quarter of the sacks that the team in all of 2018. That’s a pretty good start if you ask me. To be honest the defense as a whole has not looked bad this year but lacking an explosive offense in the first two games has forced the D into short field situations and to play without a lot of rest. Being able to get a little help from their offense should allow the defense be well rested and eager to get after the opposing quarterback. If the WVU defense can get to McKay make him a one dimensional quarterback then they have done their job and should set the Mountaineers up nicely for a win.
Being 1-1 is not the start that WVU thought they would be off to this season but is the position they are in. A win against N.C. State might reset the trajectory of their season and change the minds of many fans about new head coach Neal Brown and the current state of the WVU football program. If West Virginia pulls out the victory Saturday, there is no doubt that the 60,000 packed in Milan Puskar stadium will sing ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ at the top of their lungs while arm in arm with their fellow fan.
‘I hear my baby callin’ my name and I know that she's the only one, and if I die in Raleigh at least I will die free’…Oh! You caught me singing. Sorry about that, but I know which song I think will be being sung at the end of this one but I’m pretty sure that if you scroll over and read @MattArchie10’s article about this game that he will be singing a different tune.