NC State looks to spoil No. 24 Pitt’s perfect start

NCAA Football

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi often finds himself defending the amount of team speed on his roster.

But there’s no doubt so far this season that the Panthers have been on the fast track.

No. 24 Pitt will try to keep that going Saturday afternoon against visiting North Carolina State in an Atlantic Coast Conference clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t think we’re slow,” Narduzzi said. “We recruit, too. We try to get fast guys, too. Obviously, our guys were faster than their guys (from Louisville) last week.”

Playing their fourth straight home game, the Panthers (3-0, 2-0 ACC) are gunning for their first 4-0 start since 2000.

NC State (1-1, 1-1) is in the middle contest of a three-game stretch of road outings after tumbling Saturday night at Virginia Tech.

Narduzzi said he likes the speed available on his offense, and it’s clear that Pittsburgh’s defenders have been pursuing the ball at a high rate.

“No one is going to question our effort,” he said.

While Pittsburgh would like to keep things mostly the same, there could be changes for the Wolfpack.

NC State already has created conversation because of its quarterbacks. Bailey Hockman was the surprise starter in the first game after Devin Leary missed significant preseason practice time due to coronavirus quarantine.

Hockman and Leary are both listed as potential starters for the Pittsburgh game, though it’s highly anticipated that Leary will get the nod as he was the projected starter at the outset of the summer work.

“We need them both,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “They’re both going to get reps this week, and we’ll see who is the most ready to lead our team.”

Hockman’s hot first-half start from the opener against Wake Forest has fizzled since then. Leary was summoned in the third quarter of the second game, completing 12 of 16 passes and doubling the passing yardage (165 to 82) that Hockman produced against the Hokies.

The rushing attack that sparked NC State in the first game didn’t find traction against Virginia Tech, though running back Zonovan Knight has gained more than 90 yards on the ground in both games.

NC State’s defense has been a trouble spot through two games. The Wolfpack survived the glitches in a 45-42 win over the Demon Deacons, but Virginia Tech had too much to overcome in a 45-24 loss.

“It’s a long season and it’s a lot of opportunities in front of us,” Doeren said.

The Wolfpack were not at full strength on defense, with linebacker Payton Wilson, who led the team in tackles a year ago, missing the Virginia Tech game along with defensive backs Teshaun Smith and Tanner Ingle. Wilson could be back for the Pittsburgh game, though Smith is lost for the season after shoulder surgery. Malik Dunlap will draw a starting role at one of NC State’s cornerback spots.

Pittsburgh’s defense has provided highlights. Among those supplying some of the big plays is end Patrick Jones II, who posted three of the team’s seven sacks in Saturday’s 23-20 win against Louisville.

“North Carolina State is going to come out and gap protect. Probably they’re going to sprint out to get away from our pressure,” Narduzzi said. “Defending on whether they have Hockman or Leary in there, we don’t know which quarterback we’re going to face. I expect to see both of those guys looking at that offense.”

NC State’s defense had success pressuring the quarterback in the Wake Forest game, registering six sacks in that outing.

This is only the second NC State-Pittsburgh meeting since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2013. NC State won 35-17 in 2017 in a game also contested in Pittsburgh.

“I haven’t forgotten that game,” Narduzzi said.

–Field Level Media

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