Over the next few weeks, Tomahawk Nation is previewing Florida State football’s currently scheduled 2020 season. While questions still surround how exactly the football season will look when it’s played out, we’re proceeding with the status quo. Up next, Florida State’s ACC opener against North Carolina State.
After five years of a being a pretty consistent program under Dave Doeren, the North Carolina State Wolfpack took a step back in 2019 and landed at 4-8. The ‘Pack struggled to do much of anything well but returns a lot from 2019 so, hey, maybe things are looking up?
North Carolina State Offense
The offensively minded Dave Doeren has produced some pretty good offenses in his time at North Carolina State and has hired some big name talent to do so. Most fans will know names such as Matt Canada and Eliah Drinkwitz but many less will recognize the 2019 co-offensive coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald. Neither was retained in that role in 2020 (McDonald will now coach receivers and Kitchings is now at South Carolina) so in comes Tim Beck, most recently of University of Texas fame.
No matter who the coach was the Wolfpack was going to struggle in 2019. Per Football Outsiders NC State ranked 114 with 2.25 line yards, which was the same as FSU in 2019 and as FSU fans know it’s very difficult to get an offense going behind a line of that quality. The ‘Pack offensive line was elite in pass protection but the Wolfpack struggled to find a decent signal caller. The positive is that the line returns seven players with at least one start on the season so they’re at least experienced.
NC State has gotten very good quarterback play throughout the years but 2019 was an aberration. The musical chair behind center saw three quarterbacks struggle throughout the year. Matt McKay has moved on to Montana State so Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman will compete for the starting job with Leary being named the starter going into spring. Neither QB was solid and both struggled with turnovers so there’s likely nowhere to go but up.
The backfield is certainly the deepest part of the ‘Pack offense but it lacks star power. Zonovan Knight and Jordan Houston return as the starting running backs for NC State and they were fine last year but nothing to write home about. Maybe with better line play they can showcase themselves a bit more in the open field.
Emeka Emezie returns as North Carolina State’s top receiver but they’ll need to find a solid second behind them. Like the running back group the receivers are deep but not spectacular. Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas will round out the starting lineup and return quite a bit of experience.
North Carolina State Defense
The Wolfpack defense was better than the offense but not by much and it’s difficult to say what the 2020 defense will look like. There isn’t a ton of returning experience but there are some nice pieces. Usually defenses see a rise in play in the second year of a new coordinator and this is Tony Gibson’s second year on the job. How much might that be mitigated by the amount of starts that were lost in 2019 remains to be seen.
The biggest concern on the defensive line was the number of players that left the program with playing time available. Alim McNeill anchors the defensive line from the middle and had a pretty good 2019 but NC State is going to need more out of him. There is talent here in Penn State transfer Daniel Joseph and Ibrahim Kante but they need to grow up in a hurry.
This defense will be built around it’s linebacking corps as most of the proven talent returns there. RS sophomore Payton Wilson leads this group after tying for the team lead in tackles in 2019 while players like Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas provide quite the supporting cast. Will offenses be able to mitigate this group by going with a more spread out look?
The 2019 Wolfpack secondary was injury riddled and, as you’d expect, struggled quite a bit. Just like everywhere though there is a lot of returning experience, if not production. Safety Tanner Ingle is the most reliable player back there but he’ll be surrounded by a lot of youth.
Final word on the Wolfpack
Dave Doeren picked the wrong time to have a bad season. While it wasn’t completely his fault (injuries killed the Wolfpack in 2019), a 4-8 season combined with the success Mack Brown is having at North Carolina has some people thinking Doeren might be on the hot seat. That seems silly considering he just had back to back nine win seasons but college football is weird and comparisons matter.
The Wolfpack look to be a solid, if not great, team in 2020 and will likely be back bowling but with Clemson leading the division and the expected improvement at places like Louisville and Florida State it’s hard to imagine a higher ceiling in Raleigh.