The Syracuse University and North Carolina State football teams answered their respective quarterback questions during their shared bye week, but the time off did little to resolve other injury issues on each side of today’s critical Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.
Tommy DeVito will start at quarterback for the undermanned Orange (3-2 overall, 0-1 ACC) when it faces the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1) at 8 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., for a nationally-televised conference clash on ESPN. DeVito went to the locker room with an apparent upper-body injury during the fourth quarter of SU’s most recent outing, a 41-3 victory over FCS Holy Cross on Sept. 28, but returned to practice this week and will be under center when SU takes the field.
N.C. State will turn to redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman to replace classmate Matthew McKay as starting quarterback, which was announced by Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren earlier this week, in an attempt to spark a stagnant passing game.
Each team is aiming to overcome injuries to at least four starters for the key matchup within the ACC Atlantic Division. N.C. State was favored by 4 1/2 points as of Wednesday and is 3-0 at home thus far.
“We’re in a better situation maybe with our quarterbacks than they are but when you add up their defense, they’ve got some high-quality defensive players, they’ve got some running backs that can make plays, they’re playing at home and they’re a hard team to beat at home,” SU coach Dino Babers said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “I think that this is a really pivotal swing game for both programs and I think it’s going to be a highly-contested football game.”
Babers confirmed DeVito’s status on Monday and while he declined to address other specific players, stated that he “wouldn’t bet on,” SU getting back any of its other injured starters for the beginning of a seven-game stretch against ACC teams.
The Orange has been without starting center Sam Heckel for four straight games due to an upper-body injury while star safety Andre Cisco and cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu each missed the last two with unspecified lower-body ailments. Prior to the bye week, Babers had expressed optimism toward getting all or some of those players back for Thursday, along with defensive tackle McKinley Williams, who has yet to suit up this season due to a lower-body injury.
The Wolfpack is in a similar position after Doeren ruled out starting running back Ricky Person Jr. and right tackle Justin Witt, each of whom were injured in their last game, which adds to multiple injuries in their receiving corps.
“They’re a football team that is kind of in the same state as ours, a good football team going through some changes that needed the bye week as much as we did for injuries,” Babers said. “No change in our injuries at all, we’re still waiting to see if we’re going to get some guys back. Hopefully we can get some of those guys back because they’re good players, but that happens in football and we need to play with the guys who are capable and the next man up attitude is the attitude we’re going to have.”
DeVito will look to keep improving on SU’s offensive pace and has thrown for eight touchdowns over the last two games while leading the Orange on 15 scoring drives, 11 of which finished in two minutes or less to match the tempo that Babers is seeking.
He will be challenged by a strong N.C. State pass rush that ranks 13th nationally with 3.6 sacks per game, and a stout run-stopping unit that has held opponents to 71.8 rushing yards per game for the sixth-best mark in the nation.
“I think the past two or three weeks as far as tempo, it’s gotten a lot faster, and rhythm with the receivers in the passing game has gotten a lot better as well, and that will only get better moving forward,” DeVito told the SU athletics site this week.
Hockman has replaced McKay under center in each of the last two games and came on during the Wolfpack’s most recent outing — a 31-13 loss to Florida State on Sept. 28 — to complete 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. The former Seminoles transfer will be tasked with lifting a pass offense that ranks last in the ACC with six yards per attempt and has recorded just one pass play of more than 45 yards through its first five games.