Liberty Flames vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Saturday, November 21, 2020 – 7:30 PM ET at Carter-Finley Stadium
NC State vs Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
With your college football picks, note that NC State is building a resume against mobile quarterbacks and it’s a consistently bad one.
Three weeks ago, it faced Miami and allowed quarterback D’Eriq King to have his best game of the year. King had his season-best passing yardage, touchdowns, completion percentage, and rushing yardage. He accrued 430 passing yards on 31 of 41 passing plus 105 rushing yards.
Then, the Wolfpack faced Florida State and its freshman mobile quarterback, who was making his third career appearance. Chubba Purdy had his season-best performance, going 15-of-23 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and adding 54 rushing yards.
No Power 5 school wants to lose to Liberty, which only recently made its transition from the FCS into the FBS. But to be fair, there are players and coaches on Liberty who have prior experience at Power 5 schools.
One of those players is quarterback Malik Willis, whose NFL draft stock is rising. He’s completing 67.8 percent of his passes, has thrown for 15 touchdowns and just 1 interception, and he consistently runs for over 80 yards in a game. He is hard for any defense to stop because he is an effective dual-threat quarterback. If a defense tries to blitz him, he will find an open target. If a defense drops into coverage, he will find an open running lane.
Willis is elusive, which makes him hard to bring down in the backfield. He keeps his eyes downfield while maintaining strong pocket presence. He also has good arm talent, which makes the deep ball a constant possibility.
Other ACC schools — Virginia Tech and Syracuse, specifically — have failed to stop him. I can’t imagine NC State stopping him given the consistent troubles that the Wolfpack have displayed against other dual-threat quarterbacks.
Willis enjoys support from three different running backs who average over 5 YPC and four different wide receivers who have accrued at least 15 receptions and 200 yards. Hugh Freeze also deserves credit for installing his RPO offense where Willis comfortably decides whether to run or pass depending on what the defense shows on a given play.
NC State Offense vs. Liberty Defense
For the first time this season, the Flames will face an able ACC quarterback who is pro-style.
When it faced Virginia Tech, it faced a quarterback in Hendon Hooker who is a dual-threat and loves to run the ball. While Hooker still had a superb game, NC State gets to show something new, stylistically, with quarterback Bailey Hockman. Hockman is completing 63.6 percent of his passes on 7.9 YPA.
In Liberty’s contest with Virginia Tech, Hokie wide receiver Tre Turner led his team in receptions and accrued almost half of Hooker’s passing yards. Wolfpack top wide receiver Emeka Emezie resembles Turner in that he is well-sized. At 6'3'', Emezie is an easier target for Hockman to find. He’s strong at the point of attack where he flashes strong hands and benefits from positive route-running.
The over is 6-2 in Liberty games thus far. Liberty's unders came against Northern Alabama and FIU, teams that can’t throw the ball as neither offense approached 200 yards passing. So with Hockman and the likes of Emezie, NC State poses a threat that has always led to an over in Liberty’s games. Keep that in mind when looking at scores and odds.
When Liberty defeated Virginia Tech 38-35, it benefitted from not having to face the Hokies’ starting running back. But Zonovan Knight is averaging 5.5 YPC for NC State and promises to thrive against a Liberty run defense that ranks 87th in allowing 4.7 YPC despite facing softer competition.
Knight will identify and explode through holes in between the tackles where his mixture of size and speed makes him hard for defenders to bring down. With Knight, the Wolfpack offense will keep Liberty’s defense honest.
The total posted by online sportsbooks has consistently been too low for both teams.
Liberty will contribute to a high scouring output with Willis, who will perpetuate NC State’s struggles with mobile quarterbacks. NC State, too, will bring able quarterback play to maximize its match-up edges at wide receiver and running back.