Going into last weekend, one of Virginia’s primary objectives was to avoid having Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence drop long pass play after long pass play over the Cavaliers' defense like he did in December’s ACC championship game.
Though the defensive effort was far from perfect in Virginia’s 41-23 loss to No. 1 Clemson, the Cavaliers did manage to limit the Tigers’ downfield looks - an achievement that bodes well with a North Carolina State (2-1, 2-1 ACC) passing offense on tap for Saturday capable of raining a few of its own aerial haymakers on opposing defenses.
“That was our first priority,” Mendenhall said Monday regarding his team’s efforts to slow down Clemson’s deep passing game. “You know, Clemson is so good at shock and awe, where you show up and balls just go over your head and points are on the board so fast, and there are these giant plays.”
U.Va. (1-1, 1-1) surrendered just one pass play of 30 or more yards Saturday - a 46-yard completion to running back Travis Etienne. That’s a marked improvement from U.Va.'s 62-17 loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, when the Cavaliers were bombarded by five passing plays of 30-plus yards - all of which came on Clemson scoring drives.
Despite the lack of deep routes open for him Saturday, Lawrence was still sharp, completing 25 of 38 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
Since redshirt sophomore Devin Leary moved into the No. 1 quarterback role for N.C. State in its 45-24 loss at Virginia Tech, and then got his first start last weekend in N.C. State’s 30-29 upset win at then-No. 24 Pittsburgh, the Wolfpack’s passing game has had a massive shot in the arm. He replaced Bailey Hockman, who opened up against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and threw just one touchdown pass to go along with three interceptions in the games, as N.C. State’s starting quarterback.
N.C. State’s six passing plays of 30-plus yards - four of which Leary has completed - match Clemson. Only three ACC programs - Pitt, Duke and Wake Forest - have more passing gains of 30-plus yards this season.
“Our ability to keep the ball from going down the field was huge,” U.Va. cornerback De’Vante Cross said Monday of the Cavaliers' defense at Clemson. “As our coach says all the time, the secondary controls the points. In the secondary, if you get beat, those are touchdowns. That’s what you need throughout the season to play extremely good defense - you can’t allow the ball going down the field. We did that against a great team, a great quarterback, a great receiving corps, and from there, we can just build upon it and continue to do that throughout the season.”
Norm Wood, 757-247-4644, firstname.lastname@example.org
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