Shoutout to Steven over at Backing the Pack for sitting down with me. You can check out my answers to his questions here
Let’s get into it, shall we?
BSD: With State’s first game getting moved, how do you think that will affect the team coming into this week?
BTP: I worry mostly about a ragged start—which is probably what everybody’s worried about in week one, especially this year. I feel like there could be a little extra advantage to having a game already under your belt, having been through that initial bit of rust, while your opponent hasn’t. I would not be surprised if Wake Forest is the sharper team early on.
BSD: Wake for the last 3 years has been an absolute thrown in the Wolfpack’s side, besides the obvious external factors, what makes this State team different than last year?
BTP: Ultimately the degree to which this team is different will depend on Devin Leary, but that large question mark aside, NC State has two new coordinators who will hopefully revamp the team in a good way. The most noticeable difference should be on offense, where State has an experienced play-caller in Tim Beck taking over for the Des Kitchings/George McDonald mess.
The personnel problems made the play calls probably look a little worse than they were at times, but those guys didn’t have much collective experience calling plays. (Kitchings had none.) That showed. It was also terrible timing with the team breaking in a new quarterback.
BSD: Obligatory, “is Dave Doeren on the hot seat”, question?
BTP: There’s a subset of the fan base that’s already given up on Doeren, I think, but I am okay with giving him a mulligan after the run he had in the years prior to 2019. The drop off we saw last year was worrying, granted, but I don’t think the program is incapable of a quick bounce back.
I also kinda feel like 2020 shouldn’t be treated/evaluated the way we might a normal season. If I had to guess, I think the administration will err on the side of patience. (There is also the matter of having to spend lots more money to change coaches and we’re in an era of significant budget shortfalls.)
BSD: Who should Wake fans be on the lookout on both sides of the ball?
BTP: On offense, I would expect NC State to lean on its deep group of running backs—Bam Knight and Ricky Person both are capable of making some big plays; Person has spent two injury-riddled years on campus but was a blue-chip recruit and finally seems healthy again.
Defensively, Alim McNeill should be the latest in a string of standout defensive linemen and he’s the critical anchor at nose tackle in this 3-3-5 system. Safety Tanner Ingle also should be heavily involved.
BSD: After going through multiple QBs, it seems as if State has landed firmly on Devin Leary, last year’s game doesn’t tell us a lot but what makes him, “the guy?”
BTP: His was a rough introduction to college football, but last year he showed that he had the best combination of arm talent and decision-making on the roster. Bailey Hockman was too much of a loose cannon, and it’s telling that he never seriously challenged for the starting job during the offseason. Matt McKay transferred, removing him from the equation, and NC State didn’t pursue any graduate transfer QBs.
I like Leary’s ceiling, and he was given more reps than anyone else last year with an eye toward this one. The staff is banking on that paying off, along with the work he put in during the offseason. He still has to prove that he can hack it.
BSD: How do you see this one playing out?
BTP: I honestly have no clue. But I’m going to assume that Wake Forest wins, because that’s just the way it’s gone lately. This is absolutely not intended to be a jinx of any kind whatsoever.