NC State football: Wolfpack preps for unfamiliar Va. Tech

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As of now, Dave Doeren and N.C. State are preparing for its Saturday game at No. 20 Virginia Tech.

With the way things are going, especially for the Hokies, those plans could come to a halt at any time.

On Monday, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente told the media “We will not have a full roster. I hope we’re able to play.”

So far this season, Virginia Tech has had two games rescheduled (including one against the Wolfpack) due to the coronavirus pandemic and has yet to play in a game.

The Hokies’ game against N.C. State, originally scheduled for Sept. 12, was postponed after the Wolfpack shut down sports for a week because of a coronavirus cluster within its athletics department.

The Hokies were then supposed to open their season this past weekend against Virginia, but those plans got nixed — this time because of coronavirus cases at Virginia Tech. That game will now scheduled for Dec. 12.

Prior to their scheduled game against the Cavaliers, Virginia Tech had to stop practice for four days. Shortly after, the ACC announced that the Sept. 19 game between the two schools was postponed due to “positive test and subsequent quarantining of student-athletes within the Virginia Tech football team.”

The Hokies then shifted all their focus to N.C. State (1-0), which opened its season with a 45-42 win over Wake Forest this past Saturday.

Scouting Virginia Tech?

In preparing for Virginia Tech, Doeren and his staff don’t have game film to watch. The Wolfpack hasn’t played the Hokies since 2015 and Fuente hasn’t announced who will start the game. So how does Doeren prepare for the unusual week?

“It’s kind of like playing an opening game,” Doeren said. “They don’t have film that we can watch on anything they are doing differently. Even when you don’t have staff changes you’re going to have things that you change in the offseason and personnel that makes you different.”

Virginia Tech has a new defensive coordinator, Justin Hamilton, and transfers at running back (Raheem Blackshear) and quarterback (Braxton Burmeister) that Doeren expects to see, but he’s not sure how they will be used.

Hamilton played for the Hokies from 2002-2005 under longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, so Doeren expects to see some of the same concepts that Virginia Tech is known for. But there are still more unknowns. The key is, according to Doeren, adjusting on the fly and using the “rules of your system.”

“There are going to be things we don’t prepare for,” Doeren said. “You just have to adjust.”

Virginia Tech as of Monday was a 10-point favorite over N.C. State. Since joining the ACC in 2004 the Hokies and Wolfpack have played five times, with Virginia Tech winning four of those. N.C. State’s lone win was in 2004, when they escaped Blacksburg with a 17-16 victory.

On paper, the Hokies are experienced. They have nine starters back on offense, eight on defense and all three specialists. Two former Virginia Tech coaches are currently on the Wolfpack staff, which could give Doeren a slight edge. N.C. State cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell held the same position for the Hokies from 2016-19. Wolfpack defensive line coach Charley Wiles was at Virginia Tech for 24 seasons.

N.C. State defensive line coach Charlie Wiles yells instructions during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Wake Forest at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Ethan Hyman

“We know their personnel,” Doeren said. “We just don’t know who’s going to play with what they’ve been dealing with. We’re just going to have to feel that out once we get into the game.”

Preparing for a game that might not happen

Virginia Tech has not released information throughout camp on coronavirus testing, but Fuente told reporters on Monday that they will not have a full roster this week. He added the team will have three more testing days this week.

“Ultimately, I don’t know if I’ve ever been this close to a game and felt as uneasy about who we would actually have in the game as I do feel right now,” Fuente said. “And I think that’s probably the biggest part of not knowing how it’s going to look.”

Doeren can relate to what Fuente is going through, having gone through parts of camp without a full roster. Doeren knows it’s too early in the week to even ponder another game being postponed.

“I think that’s just how life is right now with this,” Doeren said. “We’re going to plan like we’re playing a game every week. We all know what the realities are of it. Right now we have a game that’s on the schedule, nobody said we’re not playing it and we are preparing to practice like we are. If things change then we will change what we are doing.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV has covered college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central, NC State and the ACC for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.

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