N.C. State at Georgia Tech

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The second to last Thursday night college football game before the postseason has wound up as a battle of last place teams in the conference as N.C. State and Georgia Tech look to wrap up difficult seasons ahead of rivalry games next week. Here is a look at the two struggling teams and the Thursday night ESPN matchup.

N. C. State Wolfpack at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Venue: Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia
Time/TV: Thursday, November 21, 8:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Georgia Tech -1½, Over/Under 49
Last Meeting: 2014 Georgia Tech (-3) 56, at NC State 23

A lot has changed in a year as Georgia Tech rattled off four consecutive late season ACC wins to reach 5-3 in league play last season. It would turn out to be the final season for Paul Johnson in Atlanta and the Yellow Jackets had disappointing results in the finale vs. Georgia and in a bowl loss to Minnesota.

Georgia Tech seemed to be an attractive landing spot for head coaching candidates as this wasn’t a complete rebuild inheriting a decent team that had been competitive in most recent seasons. The ACC Coastal has also been a wide open division in recent years with Georgia Tech winning the division four times in the 14 seasons of its existence and as recently as 2014.

Johnson ran an option offense as it would mean a significant transition in most scenarios and Temple head coach Geoff Collins was chosen to take over the program. Collins was a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech to start his coaching career before bouncing around as an assistant at several different schools, notably as a SEC defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida before posting back-to-back winning seasons at Temple.

Collins drew a tough assignment in his first game with the Yellow Jackets with an August game at Clemson, but Georgia Tech won vs. South Florida in the home opener before an ugly four-game slide that included losing to The Citadel and a 24-2 loss against his former team. Georgia Tech did deliver a big upset win at Miami in October, but and played competitively in November losses to Coastal finalists Pittsburgh and Virginia before an ugly 45-0 loss hosting Virginia Tech last week to fall to 2-8. With a finale with national contender Georgia, this will likely be the team’s final opportunity for a win this season.

The offense still leans on the running game with nearly 1,500 rushing yards, but last year’s team had over 4,000 yards and the per carry average has dropped from 5.7 to 4.0. Three different quarterbacks have played significantly for the Yellow Jackets with similar marginal results. Freshman James Graham has led the team in recent games and has a 47 percent completion rate while providing a limited rushing threat, though he did play well late in the overtime win over Miami.

The Georgia Tech defense has already allowed more points in ACC play than last season with still a game to go. Allowing 4.8 yards per rush, stopping the run has been a problem with 202 yards per game allowed on the ground. The pass defense has typically been adequate most weeks for the Yellow Jackets but Collins has a lot of work to do to restore the program back to a respectable level next season.

Dave Doeren is 47-40 at N.C. State riding 9-4 seasons the past two years. Doeren was brought up as candidate other schools might consider poaching from Raleigh last winter particular given his Kansas upbringing and openings at both Big XII Kansas schools last season. Despite some rumors, he wound up signing an extension in the spring to stay at N.C. State. This season has been a disaster by the recent standards of the program though 6-6 is still possible with this winnable road game and then a finale at home with rival North Carolina.

Quarterback play has also been a problem for the Wolfpack with long time starter Ryan Finley graduating and now playing with the Bengals in the NFL. With 93 points in six games, N.C. State has been by far the lowest scoring team in the ACC, but it can’t all be pinned on the offense with the defense allowing nearly 37 points per game in league play.

Sophomore Matthew McKay won the starting quarterback job and despite a 2-1 start he turned in limited production in the first three games while appearing overmatched in the loss at West Virginia. Sophomore Bailey Hockman stepped in and wasn’t much better, though he led the win over Syracuse. Freshman Devin Leary has started the past three games with similar numbers in three double-digit defeats.

The N.C. State defense has some serious talent but the roster has been incomplete most of the season, particularly on the defensive line. Sophomore Xavier Lyas left the program a few weeks ago while captain James Smith-Williams has been in-and-out of the lineup this season. N.C. State out-rushed five of the first six foes it faced with only a slight disadvantage vs. West Virginia, but in the past four games (all losses), the Wolfpack are -455 is rushing. The N.C. State run defense does feature dramatically better numbers than Georgia Tech on the season for the main disparity in comparing the mediocre numbers for these teams.

While this game is inconsequential in the national and ACC picture, the Thursday night game offers an opportunity for a second ACC win on both sides and a chance for players to stand out in a more manageable matchup. Prospects will be brighter next season though for N.C. State there is still the allure of trying to maintain its five-year bowl streak.

Series History:

These teams haven’t met regularly since the Coastal/Atlantic split of the ACC, sitting in opposing divisions. Georgia Tech has won 17 of 27 meetings S/U since 1983 and is on a 17-8-1 ATS run but the last meeting was back in 2014, Doeren’s second season at N.C. State. The Wolfpack has won S/U & ATS as an underdog in the past two trips to Atlanta in 2005 and 2010.

N.C. State Trends:

N.C. State is 0-4 S/U & ATS on the road this season, allowing 44 or more points in three of those games. Under Doeren, the record is near-even at 15-19 S/U and 16-17-1 ATS in road games, though just 11-16 S/U in ACC road games. Since 2013, NC State is just 7-11 ATS as a road underdog and Doeren is 6-29 S/U and 13-22 ATS as an underdog in any venue at NC State, including seven straight misses going back to 2017.

Georgia Tech Trends:

The Yellow Jackets are 0-5 ATS at home this season under Collins including just one narrow four-point S/U win early in the season vs. South Florida. Georgia Tech has covered in just two of the past 12 home games going back to 2017 despite a strong home record under Johnson overall going 51-21 S/U and 35-31-2 ATS at home in his eleven seasons.

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