Photo courtesy of NC State athletics
Now 2-0 against the ACC, the conference’s final hope to knock off Liberty lies in the hands of Dave Doeren’s squad on Saturday night.
Liberty has not had a particularly difficult schedule, but it has dominated a majority of the teams it has played. In route to an 8-0 record, the Flames have outscored opponents 324-177. However, in their most recent ACC game, they needed a last-second field goal to knock off Virginia Tech.
Meanwhile, NC State has had a pleasantly surprising 5-3 record to this point. The injury to their emerging quarterback Devin Leary was critical but under the backup Bailey Hockman, the Wolfpack were victorious over Wake Forest and Florida State.
NC State Offense vs. Liberty Defense
Hockman is a prototypical “game manager.” He will not be the reason his team wins or loses the game. It is the talent around Leary that has elevated the offense to score 36 points per game with him under center.
The match-up between NC State’s receiving corps and Liberty’s secondary will be very intriguing. The Pack have a very capable wide receiver trio in Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas, and Devin Carter, as well as a reliable tight end in Cary Angeline. On the flip side, Liberty corner Emmanuel Dabney and safety Javon Scruggs have consistently played lockdown coverage.
The key for NC State will be the run game, though. It has been inconsistent this year but that is the best possible means to attack the Liberty defense.
Liberty Offense vs. NC State Defense
The most nationally-recognized name for the Liberty offense is quarterback Malik Willis, a transfer from Auburn. While extremely explosive with his legs, Willis also accounts for 9.1 yards per pass attempt and 15 passing touchdowns compared to just one interception thrown.
The big match-up advantage for NC State, however, is its dominant nose tackle Alim McNeill against the interior of Liberty’s line. Pro Football Focus grades McNeill with a run stopping grade above 90, which is considered “elite.” On the other hand, the lowest graded players for the Flames are the two guards and center.
The Bottom Line
This game has everything in the makings to be a shootout. While both defenses are strong in certain areas, the offenses are overwhelmingly better. If the Wolfpack are able to create running lanes for their backs and play defense at a power conference level, they should win this football game.
Saturday’s contest begins at 7:30 p.m. ET and streams on ESPN3.
Prediction: NC State 42, Liberty 38
Other Games Across the ACC
Syracuse (1-7) at Louisville (2-6), Friday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
As their records show, neither team is playing great football by any means, but Louisville is notably more talented. Even without Javian Hawkins and potentially Tutu Atwell, the Cardinals should roll on offense behind quarterback Malik Cunningham.
Prediction: Louisville 35, Syracuse 20
Clemson (7-1) at Florida State (2-6), Saturday at 12 p.m. (ABC)
This one will not be fun for the Seminoles. Aside from the major talent gap between the two teams, Clemson will be angry, coming off the bye, and pumped for the return of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Prediction: Clemson 56, Florida State 10
Virginia Tech (4-4) at Pittsburgh (4-4), Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Assuming both teams lose to Clemson, the losing team in this one is guaranteed to finish below .500. This game is essentially a toss-up but the Hokies will benefit from a healthier Khalil Herbert and James Mitchell.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 27
Abilene Christian (1-4) at Virginia (3-4), Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The Hoos are looking for their third straight win and should secure it here against an FCS opponent. Look for quarterback Brennan Armstrong to perhaps get on the right track after several up-and-down games.
Prediction: Virginia 48, Abilene Christian 13