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FSU football opponent Q&A: North Carolina State Wolfpack

Does Doeren make you want to get in a DeLorean? Get it? We asked this and worse, below.

North Carolina State v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re chatting with Steven Muma, a staff editor over at Backing the Pack, SBN’s blog for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. We covered farmers, good dogs, and a Doeren.

TN: Quarterback Devin Leary broke his leg against Duke and the Wolfpack promptly dropped two in a row. We wish Leary a speedy recovery, but last week former FSU QB Bailey Hockman gave the Hurricanes all they could handle putting up 250 yards and two touchdowns. What do you think of Hockman’s ability as a passer, and do you think he’s capable of leading NC State in the future even after Leary is healthy?

BTP (Backing the Pack): Bailey Hockman deserves a lot of credit for the way he played against Miami, because that was his best performance in an NC State uniform and it came against a good team. That said, I think there’s a substantial difference between Devin Leary and Hockman, who clearly has the lower ceiling and is more mistake-prone as a passer.

I like Hockman’s arm talent and he is pretty accurate when he’s decisive, which is a key for him. The longer he holds the ball, the more likely he is to do something unfortunate with it. And I don’t think there’s anything he can do the rest of the way to change the fact that Leary is the quarterback of the future here.

TN: You recently wrote on Backing the Pack that the loss to Miami, though painful, made you feel more optimistic about your team. As an FSU fan, I would like to live vicariously through that experience. Can you describe to us in more detail the silver linings you found for NC State in that game and what they might mean for the program?

BTP: The main thing was just seeing the offense play well in Leary’s absence, which is just not something we’ve seen much of this season. If they can keep that sort of effort up, the schedule sets up well for a strong finish, beginning with this weekend. I think this is at least a seven-win team if Leary never gets hurt, but it can still get there if Hockman is playing well consistently (which is a big question mark).

I feel like getting to seven wins would be a big psychological win for the program after what happened in 2019, to help in recruiting and other areas to reinforce that ‘19 was a hiccup and not the beginning of a trend.

TN: Head coach Dave Doeren is somehow already in his eighth season in Raleigh. He’s put together two nine-win seasons, two eight-win seasons, and a seven-win one all sandwiched in-between two subpar seasons including 4-8 last year. He’s only finished a season in Raleigh ranked in the top 25 once. What are your thoughts on Doeren to this point, and do you think his future with the Wolfpack is secure?

BTP: There are a lot of people who grew impatient with the results last year, given that it was year seven, and I understand those feelings completely. I was actually done with Doeren myself toward the end of the 2016 season, which was right before his program reeled off it two best seasons, and I’ve changed my perspective since then.

For one, I feel like he earned a mulligan for last year. I also don’t factor in his first season into any calculus about his status at all—he had nothing to work with and nobody was going to win a league game with that barren roster.

What we’ve seen this year after he overhauled the coaching staff was significant improvement in important areas, and his recruiting has continued to be consistently solid. If the latter were not the case, I’d probably have a different take, since a drop-off in recruiting is a pretty clear tell that the end should be near.

He’s certainly not getting fired this year, but how the team finishes will set the pressure level for 2021, no doubt. There’s some simmering heat on that chair that I’m not meaning to ignore—I’m just not ready to contribute to it at this point. I like what he’s done this year.

TN: If you were named the NC State head coach on Monday, what changes would you implement in the program?

BTP: I don’t think it really changes the performance on that side of the ball, but I hate the 3-3-5 defensive scheme that State runs. My objection is primarily on aesthetic grounds, which I’ll readily admit is not rational, but I dislike odd-man fronts.

The results have been ugly anyway, so I’d revamp there, and go find a new defensive coordinator, one from outside the program. Doeren opted to promote from within last year, and that felt at the time like a weak decision. A fresh, outside perspective has made a huge difference for this program’s offense, and I’d at least make an attempt at finding that same result for the defense.

TN: Who is honestly tougher - Tuffy, the Wolfpack mascot, or my 10-week old puppy Autumn?

Look at this terrorist

BTP: I will reluctantly give the edge to Autumn, given that Tuffy died earlier this year and thus has no strength to speak of.

TN: Oh no, I actually meant Tuffy as in the guy who puts on the suit and does pushups and stuff. I’m sorry to hear about the good boy Tuffy II. Um, can you give us one other impact player on offense and two on defense that FSU fans should be familiar with? Anyone that stands out with surefire NFL talent?

BTP: NC State’s wide receivers have been much better this season, led by Emeka Emezie, who hasn’t dropped a pass all year. If Hockman is throwing the ball well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Emezie have another strong showing.

Defensively, Tanner Ingle is the team’s most important player; the problem is that he’s been banged up a lot. If he plays on Saturday, you’ll likely see him all over the place out of the secondary. Up front, Alim McNeill is a definite pro at defensive tackle, and he is critical to State’s ability to make plays at the point of attack, even if most of the time he isn’t freed up to make those plays himself.

TN: What’s your favorite tradition at NC State? If someone were to visit Raleigh in the future for a game experience with all that Raleigh and the school have to offer, what/where would you recommend to them?

BTP: The tailgating is good here, so first and foremost I’d recommend getting out as early as you can to the lots and enjoying the atmosphere. We’re nice most of the time! And there’s lots of room to spread out.

For in-game traditions, nothing beats the band playing a rendition of Old MacDonald after a State win, which is a little self-aware jab at opponents pointing out that they just got beat by our merry band of farmers. State is an ag school, see, and our rivals like to look down on us.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 NC State at Georgia Tech
See, this guy. Tailgate with him and see how it goes.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TN: I have indeed heard the tailgating is good. The Wolfpack are seven point favorites against the ‘Noles and have won three of five in Raleigh going back to 2010. How do you see this one going down? Give us a score prediction.

BTP: I hate playing teams that are clearly lesser than the sum of their parts, rather than just completely bereft of talent, when NC State is a favorite like this. I’m not comfortable with the line, and probably wouldn’t be even if Leary were healthy. I would feel a lot more confident about winning the game, though.

The hope is that Hockman plays well again, and I’m sure he feels like he has something to prove to his former team after last year’s game. We’d also ideally see the Pack’s defense play with more of an edge to it after some rough moments last week. If NC State can build an early lead, maybe that heads off any positive vibes the ‘Noles built up in the pregame, and it snowballs from there.

But I really have no idea because I just never have any idea how Hockman is going to play. Let’s go with, oh, say, NC State 28, FSU 24.

A big thank you to Steven for taking the time to chat with us! Click here to read our answers to Steven’s questions. Don’t forget to check out Backing the Pack for your Wolfpack coverage needs.

In memoriam, Tuffy II. A true hero and a 15/10 good boy.
Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images