Note: Expected starters courtesy of insidepacksports.com.
Today we continue our series of previewing Wake Forest football’s 2020 opponents based on the new schedule released last week by the ACC due to the COVID-19 pandemic (assuming they even end up playing, which I have my doubts about).
NC State is coming off of an abysmal season in which they finished just 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the conference. Part of the reason for this was inconsistent play at quarterback, which will have to be corrected if the Wolfpack want to be contenders this season. Head Coach Dave Doeren has his work cut out for him assuming there is football played this fall.
Coach Doeren returns almost his entire offense from last season, and gets a couple of guys back from injury on that side of the ball. The only major departures on offense are receiver Tabari Hines (the former Deacon and Oregon Duck who finally exhausted his eligibility) and offensive lineman Emanuel McGirt Jr. (graduated) and Joshua Fedd-Jackson (transferred).
On defense the Wolfpack will have to replace a lot more work to do. They must replace defensive ends James Smith-Williams (graduated and drafted) and Deonte Holden (graduated), defensive tackle Larrell Murchison (graduated and drafted), linebacker Brock Miller (graduated and transferred), nickel Stephen Griffin (graduated), safeties Jarius Morehead (graduated) and Isaiah Stallings (graduated and transferred), and corners De’Von Graves (transferred) and Kishawn Miller (graduated).
The quarterback battle is likely to be won by sophomore Devin Leary, though junior Bailey Hockman will give him a competition. Leary played in the final five games of the season last year and completed 101 of 210 passes for 1219 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He had a 48.1% completion rate and a 104.1 QB rating. In five games last season, Hockman completed 54 of 97 passes for 546 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. He had 55.7% completion rate and a 98.1 QB rating. If things go really poorly, freshman Ben Finley—younger brother of former NC State QB Ryan Finley—could see time as well.
The running back starting job is likely to come down to a competition between junior Ricky Person Jr. and sophomore Zonovan Knight. Person was somewhat limited last season due to injury. In seven games, he rushed for 229 yards on 61 attempts and 3 touchdowns with an average of 3.2 yards per carry. He also had 8 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. In twelve games, Knight rushed for 745 yards on 136 attempts and 5 touchdowns with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. He also had 7 receptions for 45 yards. Sophomores Jordan Houston and Trent Pennix will also see time in the backfield.
The Wolfpack return all three starting wide receivers in senior Emeka Emezie (who had the infamous fumble at the goal line where State fans complained about the lack of a pylon cam in 2017), junior Thayer Thomas, and sophomore Devin Carter. They also get redshirt senior C.J. Riley back from injury and have senior tight end Cary Angeline. Last season, Emezie had 56 receptions for 576 yards and 2 touchdowns, Thomas had 31 receptions for 334 yards and 3 touchdowns in 10 games, Carter had 32 receptions for 456 yards, and Angeline had 25 receptions for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns in 9 games.
The offensive line returns four starters from last season. Sophomore left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, redshirt senior left guard Joe Sculthrope, redshirt junior center Grant Gibson, and redshirt junior right tackle Bryson Speas are all back. Redshirt freshman Timothy McKay is likely to start at right guard after serving as the backup last season.
First year offensive coordinator Tim Beck will have a highly experienced group to work with, and will look to turn around last season’s at times woeful performance.
For all the experience on the offensive side of the ball, State will have a lot of youth on the defensive side.
Junior Alim McNeill will almost certainly start in the middle at defensive tackle, and could be joined by redshirt senior Val Martin or sophomore Joshua Harris. All three are likely to see significant time.
Redshirt junior Ibrahim Kante will likely start at one end, with sophomore Savion Jackson also likely to see time.
Redshirt sophomore Payton Wilson, senior Louis Acceus, and redshirt junior Isaiah Moore are likely the starting linebackers. Redshirt sophomore Calvin Hart and redshirt junior Vi Jones are also likely to see time in the rotation.
The Wolfpack lost a fair amount in the secondary. In attempting to replace that production, junior Tanner Ingle will start at one safety. The other safety position and corner positions could be filled by a combination of redshirt sophomore Malik Dunlap, senior Chris Ingram (if he is fully healthy from the injured knee he suffered last season), junior Teshaun Smith, sophomore Cecil Powell, sophomore Jakeen Harris, and junior Tyler Baker-Williams.
New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will have his work cut out for him getting this group to compete with the likes of Clemson. Perhaps the extra preparation time with a delayed season and the practices against a veteran offense will pay off for this group.
After several seasons of really bad place kicking, State seems to have finally found a really good kicker in junior Christoper Dunn. Dunn converted on 21 of 24 field goals last season with a long from 46 yards.
Redshirt junior Trenton Gill returns at punter, and will also serve as the backup kicker and holder.
Sophomore Joe Shimko is back as the long snapper.
Thayer Thomas will likely be the punt returner once again, and sophomores Keyon Lesane and Trent Pennix could serve as the kick returners.
The Deacs are currently scheduled to travel to Raleigh to take on the Wolfpack on September 19th. Here’s hoping the season actually happens (which again I highly doubt) and this in-state rivalry continues to go Wake’s way as it has in recent years. Go Deacs!