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Wake Forest Football Preview: NC State Wolfpack

A potentially huge game in Raleigh

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Wake Forest William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Week 10 has potential to be the biggest game of the season for Wake Forest, as they travel to Raleigh to take on the NC State Wolfpack—a team that is currently ranked 13th in the nation. There is a lot of football to be played between now and then, but there is a chance that this game could have significant impact on the Atlantic Division standings for the second straight season. Since 2017, the Wake-State rivalry has produced some of the most exciting games in college football, and I’m not just saying that because Wake is 4-1 in that span. Other than Wake’s 2019 blowout win, the previous 5 matchups between the two teams were decided by one score, and the teams are dead even in the last two games, which both ended 45-42. A potential clash of two of the top quarterbacks in the nation should make this a pretty high-profile game.


  • Opponent: NC State
  • Date: Saturday, November 5th, 2022
  • Location: Carter-Finely Stadium | Raleigh, NC
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 8.5
  • 2021 Record: 9-3 (6-2)
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 45—NCSU 42 (2021)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 67-42-6

I’m just going to go ahead and throw this out there—and I may look really dumb in a couple of months—but I kind of don’t understand the media hype behind the Wolfpack. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ll be pretty good this season, but #13 in the nation seems a little optimistic to me. They remind me a little bit of UNC last year: a team with a really good QB that had a great season the year before but lost a lot of their weapons on offense. I guess time will tell, but if they happen to run the table and somehow make the playoffs, feel free to call me a moron.

I think everyone is probably aware by now that NC State has one of the best passers in the nation with QB Devin Leary. The preseason choice for ACC Player of the Year finished last season completing 65% of his passes for 3,400 yards, 35 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions. He completed over 70% of his passes twice in ACC play and threw for 4 touchdowns in 5 ACC games. While Leary is not incredibly mobile, his quick decision making allows him to get rid of the ball before the pass rush has time to get anywhere near him. He is the main reason that, despite being one of the slower paced teams in the NCAA last season with just 68 plays per game (72nd in the nation), the Pack were 19th in FBS with 288 passing yards per game and 8th in the nation with almost 3 passing touchdowns per game.

Alongside Leary, the Pack do get back 2 very good receivers in Thayer Thomas (51 rec, 600 yards, 8 TD) and Devin Carter (31 rec, 556 yards, 6 TD). Outside of those two, however, State doesn’t return a single receiver who caught more than 25 passes last season. They also lost their clear #1 threat Emeka Emezie to the NFL, which means that Thomas and Carter are going to have to step up big time to replace his production. Emezie finished his Wolfpack career with over 200 catches for almost 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, so filling his shoes is definitely easier said than done.

The ground game for the Pack is kind of a question mark at this point. NC State lost both leading rushers from last season in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr., who combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. State was not a great running team last season, picking up just 127 yards per game (98th) and 4.1 yards per carry (83rd), but those numbers could dip even lower this year as Jordan Houston is really the only back on the team with any game experience. Some veterans on the offensive line should definitely help, though State will have to deal with replacing AP 1st Team All-American and 6th overall pick of the 2022 draft Ikem Ekwonu.

The defense is where NC State could really prove themselves as a top 10 team. The Pack are getting back a ton of talent from a defense that ranked 14th in the nation with 19.7 points allowed per game and 19th in the nation with 332 yards allowed per game last season. The linebacking corps in Raleigh could be the best in the nation, especially with Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore both healthy after missing substantial time due to injuries last season. Between Wilson, Moore, and Drake Thomas (1st team All-ACC in 2021), the Wolfpack linebackers have a combined 632 tackles, 24.5 sacks, and 73.5 tackles for loss in their collegiate careers. They also bring back 1st team All-ACC safety Tanner Ingle, who finished last season with 82 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1 interception. While Wake Forest did score 45 points on the Wolfpack last season, the NC State defense held Wake to just 400 total yards, a season low 42% completion percentage, and 2.6 yards per carry on the ground. If they can stay healthy, the Wolfpack defense could be one of the best in the nation.


NC State should be a very good team this year, but I’m not really sold on them being a top 15 team in college football, yet. That being said, they have one of the best pocket passers in the nation and a defense that should strike fear into opposing offenses. In a hostile environment with a very aggressive defense, having a veteran leader at quarterback is super important. Without Sam Hartman, I think NC State probably runs away with this one. If Hartman is back, it’s still going to be a pretty tough game, but the home field advantage might tip the scale in the favor of the Wolfpack. Time will tell if the media hype was warranted for the Wolfpack this offseason.