We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team-specific sites with which to work during game weeks. This week's edition of the opponent Q&A features Will Thompson (handle: thrillis4) of Backing The Pack, SBN's NC State blog. We discuss injuries at running back, Jacoby Brissett, and the 'Pack's chances to deal the 'Noles their second consecutive loss on Saturday.
TN: The Wolfpack sit at 6-3 (2-3) in Dave Doeren's third season. How has this season gone relative to your expectations for it, and how are you feeling about the state of the program?
BTP: I talked about this some with our friends over at BC Interruption last week, but it's hard for me to say it hasn't been a little bit disappointing. As I mentioned then, the losses to VT and Louisville still get me worked up, as those were definitely winnable games. But on the flip side, the Pack did play well against Clemson for a majority of the game, so that was definitely encouraging. I think heading into the season the target was 8 or more wins and a bowl bid, and that's still attainable, but they'll need at least one of those wins to come against a really tough opponent in either FSU or UNC (sorry Syracuse). If that happens, I think Pack fans will be satisfied the program is still headed in the right direction.
TN: The NC State offense has now lost its top two running backs for the season after Matt Dayes went down with a foot injury and Shad Thornton was dismissed earlier in the season. How do you see this impacting a ‘Pack offense that currently sits at #1 by rushing S&P+? Are there any other key injuries we should know about?
BTP: Losing Dayes was absolutely brutal. He had been sensational this season, and would've been a huge part of the offense this weekend. What it means for the offense now is you'll see a lot of Jaylan Samuels, the Pack's jack of all trades. He can line up in just about any offensive position, and I suspect we'll see more of what we saw against Boston College with Samuels lining up in the backfield. It also means Jacoby Brissett may have some more designed runs, as well as more downfield throws. I've harped on Brissett some this year that he hasn't been all that great with throws longer than 20 yards, but he looked really well against Boston College with the deep ball. I imagine State will try to continue that trend as well.
There is some good news on the injury front for the Pack. Corner Jack Tocho has been cleared to play this week, so that should help the secondary a lot. Tocho is one of the more experienced players in the secondary, so that's a bigtime relief to have him back.
TN: What has Jacoby Brissett brought to Matt Canada's offense and who are his favorite targets?
BTP: Kind of piggybacking off of the above, Brissett's biggest asset is that he doesn't turn the ball over hardly at all. So far this season, he's only thrown 2 interceptions, and has been a steady hand in running the Pack's offense. Whether he's asked to run the read option, or a play action pass, Brissett has been consistently good all season. As the season has progressed, he's continued to get better, too.
As for his favorite targets, it's hard for me not to mention Samuels again, but Brissett spreads the ball around pretty evenly. David Grinnage and Bra'Lon Cherry have both played well lately too, so I'd expect both to get several targets on Saturday.
TN: How do you see the ‘Pack attacking the Florida State defense and how much success do you think they'll have?
BTP: NC State's going to try to keep their offense as balanced as possible against FSU, particularly with Dayes out for the year. Relying on the run as much just isn't in the cards anymore. The biggest key for State will be to keep the offense on the field by converting 3rd downs. On the season right now, the Pack is converting almost 40% of their 3rd down attempts, and FSU is giving up a first down on roughly 35% on the 3rd down attempts they have faced. As far as to how much success I think they'll have, that's hard to say - I will say that if State can convert that high of a percentage on their third downs against FSU, that will certainly help.
TN: What does Dave Huxtable like to do schematically with his Wolfpack defense and who are his key players?
State likes to put a lot of pressure on offenses with their front seven - that's definitely the strongest part of the defense. Lately, both Mike Rose and Darian Roseboro have been studs on the defensive line. Between the two of them, they're currently averaging 1.5 sacks per game, and they both excel in tackles for loss.
TN: Which match-ups do you like for the NC State defense against the FSU offense, and which concern you?
BTP: I think the Pack's defensive line will be able to put some pressure on Golson, but I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't petrified by Dalvin Cook. If he can get running into space consistently, it's going to be a long day for NC State, particularly since that will open up the passing game and put pressure on the Wolfpack secondary, which is definitely the weakest part of their defense.
TN: The Seminoles are currently a 9.5-point favorite over the ‘Pack. How do you see this one unfolding on Saturday afternoon?
BTP: This game is always one of my favorites every year. NC State and FSU have had some tremendous games over the years, and I think this one will be another one. Last season, a much younger NC State team played well early against the 'Noles before eventually getting run over in the second half. I don't think it'll be quite as high scoring this go 'round, but I do think NC State will keep it closer. That being said, Dalvin Cook is the difference maker for me, and I see FSU winning by ten, 31-21.