We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week, we’ve got thrillis4, resident #goacc correspondent at Backing The Pack, SBN’s NC State site. We talk Clemson, wrecker of worlds, Ryan Finley, and how the ‘Noles can give themselves a chance for a road upset.
TN: After a hot start, the Wolfpack enters Saturday’s contest at 5-2 (2-2). What were your expectations for the team entering the season, and how have the last couple of weeks impacted what you expect for the rest of the year?
BTP: Before the season started, many of us thought eight wins would be a really successful season. As the beginning of the season played out, and the ACC appeared to not be nearly as good as predicted, a double digit win season seemed really probable. Even after the Clemson game, which was as bad an ass kicking I’ve seen against State in a long time, the potential for a special season was still there. We knew Syracuse would be a really difficult game, and the timing of that game proved unfortunate. Now, sitting at 5-2, a double digit win season is still possible and a trip to a higher tier bowl is available, but the defense is going to have to figure out a way to not give up a bazillion points like it has the last two games. How the Pack responds against FSU will tell us a lot as to how this will play out. Fortunately after FSU, States competition gets considerably easier.
TN: Ryan Finley is certainly one of, if not the best quarterback in the league. How has he fared this season, and what will the ‘Noles have to do if they hope to keep him in check?
BTP: Finley has had a good season so far, and continues to be the steady hand of the offense for the Pack. His greatest strength is that he very rarely makes mistakes, and is extremely adept at keeping the Pack’s offense on the field. FSU will have to find a way to force him out of the pocket and to make passes under pressure, which hasn’t been easy for opposing teams.
TN: Kelvin Harmon had himself a day against Syracuse last week. What do he and the other NC State pass catchers bring to the table? How has the offensive line fared in pass protection to date?
BTP: Harmon and the rest of the receiving corps are without a doubt the strength of the offense. Between Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas and even tight end Cary Angeline, Finley has multiple targets he can throw the ball to on any play. This group unfortunately is now without Steph Louis, who is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. But even without him, this is a supremely talented group, and they are able to get open thanks to the pass protection the offensive line gives Finley. In seven games, Finley has only been sacked four times.
TN: Which match-ups against FSU’s defense do you like, and which concern you?
BTP: I’ve talked about the Pack’s receivers already, and I really think they can win the matchups against FSU’s corners and DBs. Of the 169 first downs the Noles defense has allowed, 93 came through the air, and that definitely plays to the Pack’s strength. I’m more concerned about the run game, which has been streaky this season. If Ricky Person is still unable to play as he was last week, a lot of pressure will be on Reggie Gallaspy, and that hasn’t worked out too well for the Pack when that’s happened.
TN: The State defense sits at 49th by S&P+. How would you evaluate Dave Huxtable’s group relative to expectations so far?
BTP: The defensive line and linebackers have played pretty well this season. In particular, Germaine Pratt is having a solid year and is really making a name for himself with his play. The secondary however has been a mess, particularly the last three games. Hug and his squad have got to find a way to limit the big plays, which has really bitten the Pack badly lately.
TN: In which match-ups with Florida State’s offense are you confident? If the ‘Noles are going to move the ball, how will they do it?
BTP: It’s really going to depend on how much pressure is able to put on Francois (or James Blackman). If N.C. State can force Francois into pressure, I really like their chances to win. If either QB can stand in the pocket and drop dimes against this rather porous secondary, well that’s not gonna go the Wolfpack’s way. But that will be what FSU needs to do - force the Pack into situations where they’re one on one on defense and exploit what’s been a rather soft secondary.
TN: It appears we may have finally found a team with special teams as poor as FSU’s! Why has the ‘Pack struggled in this area so far in 2018?
BTP: Kyle Bambard has really struggled with kickoffs. With 39 kickoffs so far this year, only 13 have been touchbacks. That is terrible. Because of these short kickoffs, a lot of times opposing teams have found ways to get better field position, which puts more pressure on the defense.
One area that has been MUCH better is at place kicking - Chris Dunn has been far more consistent here than Bambard ever was when he held this role.
TN: Finally, let’s get a prediction. State opened as a 6.5-point home favorite. How do you see this one unfolding?
BTP: FSU in Raleigh is always a wild game. I’m really curious how the Pack is going to respond from the Syracuse game. If N.C. State comes out slow, and FSU grabs an early lead, I don’t like the Pack’s chances. This needs to be one of those games where Finley and co puts their foot on the gas and not let up. But because this matchup is historically weird, this is gonna be another close one where I think the Pack pulls away late. NC State wins, 28-21.