We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. Our long awaited return features a chat with thrillis4, resident #goacc correspondent at Backing The Pack, SBN’s North Carolina State site. We talk slow starts, front-seven expectations, and the general evilness of special teams.
TN: The ’Pack got off to a bit of a slow start in 2017, outplaying but somehow managing to lose to South Carolina and then giving up more points than I'm sure you'd like against Marshall. How are you feeling about the team heading into Week Four, and what do you expect from them for the balance of the season?
BTP: It's honestly a bit of a TBD at this point. The South Carolina game disappointed all of us, mainly because that was a winnable game that just got away from the Pack due to a lot of self-inflicted mistakes (most notably giving up a kickoff return for TD to open up the game - not exactly a recipe for success). The Marshall game was certainly frustrating as well, particularly at the beginning of the game. They did put together a much better performance against Furman, which was encouraging despite the fact that it was against Furman.
Prior to the start of the season, this upcoming game against FSU was one we had talked about being a very important game for NC State to take the step forward that they so far have been unable to do so under Doeren's leadership. We all obviously knew it was going to be a very difficult game to win, and it still is going to be, even with the Noles bringing in a new quarterback to start this week. FSU's defense is straight up terrifying, and we'll get a real sense of just how good NC State's o-line is on Saturday. Even if the Pack comes up short in Tallahassee, just keeping it close will give me some confidence that State can finally break through and get a big win under Doeren that has eluded him thus far.
TN: Ryan Finley has been a bright spot for the Wolfpack for this season and is an experienced leader of the offense. What does he bring to the table in Eli Drinkwitz's system?
BTP: He's been the steady hand at quarterback - he's not going to wow you with any sort of flashy plays, but he hardly ever makes mistakes. Having him come in last season directly with Drinkwitz, who he had been with at Boise State before graduating from there certainly helps the rest of the team understand the offense as well. He's completing 75% of his passes this season, averaging nearly 330 yards per game passing and 7.7 yards per pass. Despite the loss to South Carolina, Finley put up huge numbers in that game, with 415 yards and two touchdowns on 45 completions. He will need to have a similar performance Saturday if NC State has any chance.
TN: How do you expect the NC State offense to attack a loaded FSU defense? Which match-ups do you like, and which concern you?
BTP: Can all of it concern me? Because it does. One stat that stands out to me from the Alabama game was the fact that FSU held them to just 4 of 13 on third down conversions. That is absolutely incredible. They also held Jalan Hurts to under 100 yards passing (the majority of which came on one play), and just 10/18 in pass attempts. So how does the Pack attack that? They MUST keep the o-line upright and protect Finley. If FSU is able to get pressure on Finley, it's going to be a long afternoon for the Pack.
NC State also has to get some semblance of a running game going this Saturday if they're going to be successful. The Wolfpack were able to move the ball on the ground much better against Furman, but we'll see just how much better they really are this Saturday. Gone is Matt Dayes, one of the best running backs to suite up for NC State, and they certainly miss him. Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines are capable of having big games, but so far they have not.
TN: The NC State defense features a very talented front, but the results haven't lived up to expectations so far this year. Where has the 'Pack defense struggled, and what adjustments do you expect to see on Saturday?
BTP: They really haven't made any big plays yet. With all of the hype the front seven received prior to the season, I think they'd all tell you they haven't done enough to warrant that yet. I certainly think Saturday provides a tremendous opportunity for that group to justify the amount of preseason buzz sent their way. With FSU bringing in a brand new quarterback, and the fact that the Noles haven't played football in three weeks due to the Hurricane, I definitely think they'll look to get some pressure on the new quarterback early and often.
TN: Florida State will be trotting out a true freshman quarterback on Saturday. How do you expect Dave Huxtable's defense to attack him? Do you trust your defensive backs against FSU's receivers if he decides to leave them on islands?
BTP: Kind of piggybacking off of above, but I think Hux will certainly look to crank up the pressure on the new QB. Do I trust the secondary? Well in short....no. They are getting some help back this weekend though with the return of Mike Stevens, who missed the first two games due to injury and sat last week against Furman as a precaution. But truthfully, if FSU's receivers are on an island against the Pack's secondary, I'm going to be worried as hell.
TN: I think both of our fanbases can agree that special teams are overrated and should be abolished. Give us an argument as to why yours are worse than ours.
BTP: NC State had a woefully bad placekicking game last season (the worst example being the missed FG against Clemson last year which would've won the game), and this season is really no different. Carson Wise had one of the easiest kicks he'll ever get in the game against Furman, where at that point the game was out of hand already and there was literally no pressure, and he still missed it. I'm sure it's horribly frustrating for Carson, who per Doeren has been kicking much better in practice.
If this game comes down to a FG attempt for NC State to win, I know exactly how that's going to go. I've seen that movie so many times. Just have a beer handy because I will need it.
TN: Finally, let's get a prediction. How do you see this nooner unfolding in Tallahassee?
BTP: My colleagues at BTP and I all feel like this is going to be a really weird game. NC State and FSU generally have fun games anyway, but add in the element that FSU has a new QB and that they haven't played football at all in three weeks, plus the dreaded noon time slot...this just has all the makings of a strange game.
That being said, I think it's still going to be a lot for NC State to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory. FSU still has a world-class defense, and that's such a tough place to win for a road team. Currently the line I saw had FSU around a 12 point favorite - I think State gets within that, but I think the Noles will hold on for the victory. FSU 28, NC State 21.
Many thanks to thrillis4 for his time and insight! Be sure to head over to Backing The Pack for all things NC State. You can find our answers to their questions here or linked in the comment section below.