N.C. State football earned its first win at Carter-Finley Stadium in 2023 Saturday.
The Wolfpack (2-1) defeated Virginia Military Institute (1-2), 45-7, in the first game between the two teams since 1946. VMI, however, still leads the series 11-8-1.
The Wolfpack took a 31-0 lead into halftime. It scored 21 points in the first quarter alone, including one touchdown from nickelback Robert Kennedy. The nickelback intercepted a pass from Keydet quarterback Collin Shannon and returned it for a 30-yard TD, jumping over a defender en route to the end zone. It was his first pick six for the Pack.
Quarterback Brennan Armstrong also contributed multiple explosive plays. His most notable were a 64-yard pass to Julian Gray and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Rozner on the same drive.
It was the commanding performance — with all three phases of the ball working in sync — N.C. State had been looking for.
Here are three takeaways from the Wolfpack’s big victory:
Brennan Armstrong finds his receivers
Armstrong came to N.C. State after his prolific career at Virginia, topping the record books in 15 statistical categories. He recorded 9,034 career passing yards — 4,449 in 2021. Many expected him to put up big numbers for the Wolfpack, but he only had 415 yards and completed 39-of-73 passes through two games.
The early struggles were attributed to a combination of youth among the receiving corps and Armstrong still settling into his new role. N.C. State’s offense quelled concerns for at least another week, looking in sync against VMI.
Armstrong found different seven receivers for double digit yardage. He finished 27-of-32 for 264 yards and a touchdown. His most impressive drive came in the first half, when he connected with redshirt sophomore Julian Gray for a 64-yard pass and followed that up with a 16-yard touchdown pass to graduate student Bradley Rozner.
Gray led all receivers in yardage, with freshman Kevin “K.C.” Concepcion following behind. Concepcion has quickly become a regular target in Armstrong’s rotation, but he hadn’t been consistent in the first two contests. That wasn’t the case this weekend. He recorded 62 yards on seven catches, and aside from senior Keyon Lesane, grabbed all of the passes from Armstrong.
Giving up explosive plays
There have been questions about the defense’s ability to stop opposing teams from picking up explosive plays, and that still remains a concern. An explosive play in this instance is defined as a pass of 15-plus yards or a rush of 10-plus yards.
The Wolfpack gave up five big plays to the Keydets. Two passes were good for more than 40 yards each. N.C. State’s defense also allowed a VMI rusher to advance 24 yards.
The Keydets added passing plays of 16 and 22 yards. The 22-yard pass, despite pressure on quarterback Collin Shannon, led directly to VMI’s lone touchdown.
State responded well, forcing punts on all but the one drive. The team, however, can’t continue to give up explosives when it gets into ACC play. N.C. State saw against Notre Dame what those positive gains can turn into when facing a more consistent offense.
Special teams doesn’t get enough credit
The Pack showed impressive growth on offense and defense, but special teams continued to shine.
Redshirt sophomore Julian Gray finished with 181 all purpose yards, including 94 on kickoff returns. One of his returns was for 82 yards and a touchdown, a first of his career. He is up to 233 return yards on the season after his stellar performance.
Fellow returner Jalen Coit contributed 68 yards on punt returns. His longest return was for 33 yards, a career high. Plus, he now has 109 yards on the punt return duties.
Graduate student Brayden Narveson was perfect on PATs and made his one field goal attempt.
Overall, the special teams squad helped the Pack immensely and showed more of what it’s capable of.
The following were live updates from the game:
Wolfpack adds on
Demarcus Jones scored on a 2-yard run and the Wolfpack tacked on another score in the fourth quarter.
VMI scores but the Pack responds
The Keydets scored a 22-yard touchdown on a 68-yard drive, shaving 3:21 off the clock. N.C. State responded quickly, though, with redshirt sophomore Julian Gray scoring an 82-yard kickoff return touchdown.
NC State goes up four TDs at halftime
Delbert Mimms, III, scored his second 1-yard rushing touchdown on the Wolfpack’s final drive of the first half. His run put the Pack up 31-0. N.C. State recorded 313 yards compared to VMI’s 79 yards. Brennan Armstrong finished with 179 passing yards and 44 rushing through the first two quarters.
Armstrong finds receivers for big plays, extends lead
Wolfpack quarterback Brennan Armstrong connected with Bradley Rozner for a 16-yard touchdown, taking a three score advantage. That came immediately after a 64-yard pass to Julian Gray, putting State inside the VMI 20. Armstrong’s pass to Gray is his longest of the season.
Wolfpack capitalizes on interception
Nickelback Robert Kennedy intercepted VMI quarterback Collin Shannon’s pass and returned the ball for a 30-yard touchdown.
NC State strikes first
Redshirt junior Delbert Mimms, III, ran the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown. His score ended a 12-play, 58-yard drive. The Wolfpack put together four first downs and went 2-of-2 on third down.
Safety Rakeim Ashford is unexpected to play against the Keydets. He suffered an injury during the UConn game and has not played since Week 1. N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said on Thursday that Ashford is “really close to playing,” but he is day-to-day. Doeren was unsure if Ashford would be cleared for the VMI game. Devan Boykin is expected to start in his place.
Sophomore Lyndon Cooper returned to the lineup last week against Notre Dame, but it is unclear if he will start again. He and Anthony Carter are both listed as possible starters at left guard.
Junior cornerback Aydan White was not dressed with the rest of the team. He was listed on the depth chart as the starter at right corner.