NC State’s long-awaited football matchup against Virginia Tech, originally scheduled as a season opener on Sept. 12 but postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Wolfpack, is finally set to be played on Saturday.
While coach Dave Doeren’s team has recovered enough from its coronavirus trouble to have already played a game, outlasting Wake Forest 45-42 in a high-scoring shootout at Carter-Finley Stadium last week, the Hokies are still in the midst of a cluster of their own.
“We will not have a full roster,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said ominously during a Zoom conference with the media on Monday. “I hope we are able to play.”
Fuente’s concern isn’t hyperbole.
The Hokies had so many players in quarantine either because of positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing that their game against Virginia had to be postponed three days before it was supposed to be played.
Tech has still yet to play a game in 2020.
Its ability to answer the bell against the Wolfpack in Blacksburg on Saturday won’t be known until midweek when the results of the ACC’s mandatory coronavirus testing determines who and how many players will be available.
“I think we’re all living in a test-by-test world right now,” Fuente said. “So we’ll see as they come and hopefully everything works out fine.
“I’m not trying to raise alarm. … I’m just being honest with the situation we’re in. We’re trying to make it each day to see where it’s at and, hopefully, we’re on the right side of where this thing’s trending. I’m not positive one way or the other where we’re at. I’ll know a little bit more as the week goes on.”
State’s Doeren knows all too well what Fuente is going through. Last month, his team was forced to halt all football activities for eight days because of an excessive number of affected players.
Nearly a month later, with one game in the books, State still hasn’t completely recovered from the disruption.
But even though he commiserates with his Hokies counterpart and understands the uncertainties that surround Saturday’s game, Doeren and his staff are going under the assumption that it will be played as scheduled and are plowing full-steam ahead with their preparations this week.
“I think that’s just how life is right now with this,” Doeren said during his weekly video meeting with the media. “We’re going to plan like we are playing a game every week. As you’ve already seen from us, we had to move our original game with them back because of our situation.
“We all know what the realities are of it, but you just go with what you have. Right now, we have a game that is on the schedule. Nobody has said that we are not playing it. We’re preparing to practice like we are. If things change, then we’ll change what we are doing.”
State has already had to make its share of changes.
Saturday against Wake Forest, junior Bailey Hockman was a surprise starter at quarterback after Doeren had spent the entire offseason hyping up his expected QB1, Devin Leary. The change was made because Leary wasn’t ready to play after being quarantined for 20 days during the preseason.
The redshirt sophomore never actually caught the virus but because of ACC protocols had to be separated from his teammates because of contact tracing.
Hockman performed well despite the trying circumstances. He completed his first 13 passes and, complemented by a ground game that churned out 270 yards, led the Wolfpack to a victory that broke its six-game losing streak dating back to last year.
Doeren said that if the Virginia Tech game were to be played today, Hockman would be the starter again.
But it’s scheduled for Saturday, leaving plenty of wiggle room in case Doeren decides to make a change now that Leary is back at practice working off the rust he gathered.
“We’re going to get into the week and see how things go,” the Wolfpack coach said. “I think Devin deserves that opportunity to get better at practice and he will. We’ve got two good quarterbacks and we’ve got to keep getting them better. They both need to be ready to be our guy. I’m super happy with what Bailey did with his opportunity, and I’m looking forward to helping both of them this week to prepare.
“We’re one injury/COVID test away from having a different player at every position. We need our quarterbacks to be elite, whether it’s Devin or whether it’s Bailey.”