Armstrong led N.C. State (2-1) by completing 27-of-32 passes (84%) for 264 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 39 yards on six carries. His completion percentage was a career-high mark for the sixth-year quarterback when attempting at least 11 passes in a game.
“It feels good. This game was kind of our bounce-back game after coming off a loss against Notre Dame, not playing really well, especially offensively,” Armstrong said. “This was a great game for us, to just get back on track and play efficient.”
After forcing the Keydets (1-2) to a three-and-out to start, N.C. State got on the scoreboard with a 12-play, 58-yard drive that ended with the first of two rushing touchdowns from Delbert Mimms. About a minute later, the Wolfpack scored again when fifth-year defensive back Robert Kennedy picked off an errant VMI pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
Those scores led to a 31-point Wolfpack scoring run before VMI responded in the third quarter, with Collin Shannon finding Egypt Nelson for a 22-yard touchdown pass. Nelson proved to be a thorn in the Wolfpack’s defense with 107 yards receiving on three receptions.
N.C. State countered as sophomore Julian Gray ran back the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
“(N.C. State) kind of put us in a place early that we were just having to play catch-up, and it was uphill the whole stinking game,” first-year VMI coach Danny Rocco said. “So, that was difficult, and certainly not the way we wanted this thing to play out.”
Rocco didn’t play quarterback Collin Ironside, who had started VMI’s previous two games. Rocco said he practiced “minimally” this past week and it was “in his best interest to not play” against N.C. State.
VMI: Since beating Virginia Tech in 1981, VMI is 0-40 against FBS opponents. It was apparent throughout the game that the Keydets were facing a team that was bigger, faster and stronger. VMI had just 15 rushing yards on 21 carries and was 1 of 10 on third downs. The Keydets aim to fare better against opponents on their level in the Southern Conference.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack used this game to correct mistakes that surfaced in its loss to Notre Dame last week. This time, the offense didn’t turn the ball over and the wide receivers played well – Gray even hauled in a 64-yard catch, the longest of his career. What remained a concern was the Wolfpack defense’s inability to stop big plays, as it allowed VMI to notch three plays that gained 20 yards or more.
“That’s something that we really go to work on and really got to harp on,” Kennedy said. “Explosive plays, I mean, that’s really killing us on our defense.”
FRESHMEN STEP UP
N.C. State’s offense was boosted by strong performances from a pair of first-year players.
Kendrick Raphael – who had just four offensive touches entering the game – paced N.C. State’s rushing attack with 85 yards on 16 carries. And wideout Kevin Concepcion proved to be Armstrong’s favorite target, pulling in a game-high seven catches for 62 yards.
“It’s one of the beauties of youth, you know, these kids are very quick to respond and bounce back more so than the adults, I think,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “Every play that a guy makes builds confidence. Like that run Kendrick had, jumped over a guy, that’s going to build confidence for him.”
VMI had just 191 yards of total offense, making it the second time in the last two seasons that N.C. State has held an opponent under 200 yards. The other instance was N.C. State’s 2022 home win over UConn. … This was the first meeting between N.C. State and VMI since 1946. VMI still holds the advantage in the all-time series with an 11-8-1 record.
VMI: Returning to FCS play, the Keydets host Wofford on Saturday.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack begin ACC play Friday at Virginia.
____ AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll