It’s that time of the week again, as we take a look and attempt to briefly breakdown the opposing team offense. Unfortunately, for the 2nd week in a row, the opponent is yet to play a game, which makes looking at their offense kind of difficult. So, hopefully for the last time this season, the preview is going to be mostly a look at how the NC State offense fared in 2019 and the offseason roster turnover.
The Pack definitely had a down year on the offensive side of things in 2019. The NC State offense gained just 380 yards per game and only managed to put up 22.1 points per game last season. That was good for 88th and 107th in FBS respectively. While I am not expert on NC State’s football team, I feel confident saying that QB was a big problem for State last season. Matthew McKay (86-150, 910 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int) started the season at QB1, but was replaced after 5 games for FSU transfer Bailey Hockman (54-97, 546 yards, 1 TD, 4 Int). Hockman lasted 2 games as the starter and was then replaced by Devin Leary (101-210, 1219, 8 TD, 5 Int) for the Wake Forest game—and eventually the rest of the season. Combined, the trio finished the season completing just 53% of their passes for 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Leary has been named the starter for the 2020 season, so his development in just his 2nd year will likely determine how the season goes for the Pack on offense. Having not played a game yet, it’s tough to say how that is going to turn out.
While the passing game is a pretty big question mark going into Saturday night’s game against the Deacs, the offensive line and the ground game will likely be the linchpin for the Wolfpack offense this season. NC State returns all 5 starters on the O-line from a season ago, including LG Joe Sculthorpe (1st team preseason All-ACC by PFF), LT Ikem Ekwonu (2nd team preseason All-ACC by PFF), and C Grant Gibson (Honorable mention preseason All-ACC by PFF). Based on that, I would expect plenty of runs over the left side on Saturday. It is also worth mentioning that the State O-line gave up just 18 sacks over 12 games last season, making them 25th best in FBS in sacks allowed per game. So while the passing game as a whole is an unknown, it is likely that Leary will have plenty of time in the pocket.
On the rushing front, NC State returns both of their leading rushers from the 2019 season; Zonovan Knight finished the 2019 season with 745 yards and 5 touchdowns, while Jordan Houston finished 2019 with 526 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both backs averaged over 5 yards per carry, and both were true freshman last season. Personally, I think Zonovan Knight has the potential to have a breakout year this season, so he is the player I think could be the x-factor against Wake.
The Deacs struggled on defense last week against Clemson—but that’s Clemson. Saturday night provides the Deacon defense a chance to show what they can do against a far younger team that isn’t the favorite to win the national championship. If they can shut down the run early and force the Pack to beat them through the air, they should have a good chance of shutting down the NC State offense for most of the night.