NC State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Wolfpack, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the NC State Offense
Eli Drinkwitz is the vehicle through whom Dave Doeren hopes to drive a new offensive attitude. The 32-year-old Drinkwitz, whose philosophies have been influenced by Gus Malzahn, was hired as the new coordinator after Matt Canada was unexpectedly fired in January. The new offensive boss wants to push the ball and attack defenses, but his inherited mix of personnel is still geared toward a conservative ground-and-pound running game.
The Pack boasts one of the ACC’s deepest backfields, spearheaded by star RB Matt Dayes and hybrid FB/TE Jaylen Samuels. Plus, the passing attack will be a protracted work in progress. The three key components to an aerial game—the quarterback, the receivers and pass protection—are uncertainties.
Unproven Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers, as well as recent import Ryan Finley, are auditioning to be Jacoby Brissett’s successor behind center. The receiving corps is still looking for a true No. 1 out of Jumichael Ramos, Bra’Lon Cherry and Stephen Louis.
All-league tackle Joe Thuney is out of eligibility, though the line caught a huge break in April, when All-Sun Belt C Joseph Scelfo elected to transfer from South Alabama. How much Drinkwitz can install hinges on how quickly the young hurlers development this summer.
Biggest Key To The NC State Offense
New-look Pack. New coordinator, up-and-coming Eli Drinkwitz. New quarterback, either sophomore Jalan McClendon, redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers or graduate transfer Ryan Finley, a Drinkwitz pupil at Boise State. New attack plan. Dave Doeren unexpectedly fired Matt Canada—and hired Drinkwitz—to bring more pop and tempo to the attack. It’s now up to the reconfigured staff to coach up and anoint the signal-caller best suited to supercharge an offense whose numbers have been inflated by a tissue-soft non-conference schedule. McClendon is the favorite, but Finley bears a close watch because of his knowledge of the system and the coordinator.
What You Need to Know About the NC State Defense
Under coordinator Dave Huxtable, the defense has improved incrementally the past two seasons. Expect the trend to continue in 2016. The D is one of the hidden gems in Raleigh, especially with so many starters back from a year ago.
It’s in the front seven that State will be particularly salty this fall. The line is not just talented but also deep, sporting a thick rotation of playmaking ends and tackles. DE Bradley Chubb and NT B.J. Hill are the headliners, but they’ll get plenty of help and breathers from the supporting cast.
The Pack linebackers are scrappy, including leading returning tackler Airius Moore and a trimmer Jerod Fernandez. However, for this defense to take the next step, the secondary must do a better job of keeping the ball in front it.
That’ll require corners Jack Tocho, Mike Stevens and converted wide receiver Johnathan Alston to step up their coverage game.
Biggest Key To The NC State Defense
Owning the line of scrimmage. The Wolfpack has the personnel to be unusually good up front this fall. Like just-a-rung-below-Clemson-and-FSU-good. True, State lost its best lineman, DE Mike Rose, to graduation. But everyone else is back. And the program has recruited the position very well in recent years. DE Bradley Chubb and NT B.J. Hill are ready to fill the honor roll void left by Rose. And DE Darian Roseboro and DT Kentavius Street are former blue-chippers itching to bust loose. The Pack is loaded in the trenches, the bedrock of a D that’ll spearhead the team in the early going.
NC State Will Be Much Better If …
the offensive line fills holes on the fly. The identity of the Pack O-line in recent years is that it excels in run blocking and struggles in pass pro. If that blueprint continues in 2016, the offense will have issues breaking in a new starting quarterback and effectively installing Eli Drinkwitz’s revamped playbook. Making matters more challenging, three starters must be replaced and projected RT Will Richardson missed the spring to serve a suspension.
Best Offensive Player
Senior RB Matt Dayes. Running back is easily the Pack’s deepest offensive position, with Dayes about to lead the charge for one final year. He’s a skilled all-around playmaker who’ll lend support to a young quarterback with his north-south running style and soft hands. If not for the presence of Jaylen Samuels, Reggie Gallaspy, Nyheim Hines and rookie Johnny Frasier, each of which deserves some touches, Dayes would have a shot at leading the ACC in rushing in 2016.
Best Defensive Player
Junior DE Bradley Chubb. Mike Rose is gone. Chubb is about to fill the opening outside, while dramatically raising awareness about his penchant for making stops in all areas. Chubb, who became bigger and strong since the end of last season, is the coveted defensive end that can stuff the run and collapse the pocket with equal effectiveness. He’s especially impactful for a Wolfpack defensive backfield that lacks a true lockdown corner.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Sophomore QB Jalan McClendon. No, McClendon is not a lock to supplant Jacoby Brissett behind center, especially now that Boise State transfer Ryan Finley was added in May. But he was last season’s No. 2, and he has an extra year of experience over holdover Jakobi Meyers. McClendon also possesses the size—6-5 and 212 pounds—and the arm strength to spread opposing defenses in all directions. He’s attempted 14 career passes, so no one is expecting the second coming of Philip Rivers in 2016. For State to climb a rung on the ACC ladder, though, it must enjoy competency from whoever fills the QB opening.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Wolfpack wins eight games to improve upon last year. It’ll be a tale of two seasons for NC State, which should again roll early against the likes of William & Mary, East Carolina, Old Dominion and Wake Forest. But the balance of the slate is thorny, to say the least. The Pack might be favored in just two of the final eight games, a visit to Boston College and a trip to the Carrier Dome. Besides the annual tilts with Clemson and Florida State, State will also face Notre Dame, Miami and Carolina.
Oct. 8 vs. Notre Dame. By the time the Irish get to Raleigh for the 50th anniversary celebration of Carter-Finley Stadium, the Wolfpack should be 4-0. But the team was 4-0 the past two years, too, before getting exposed by the onset of ACC play. A win over Notre Dame would be a transformational signature moment of the Dave Doeren era. And a harbinger that this could be the squad that finally breaks through to be more than just a product of a paper-thin non-conference slate.
2015 Fun Stats
– Rushing yards per game: NC State 202.1 – Opponents 147.5
– Time of possession: NC State 33:03 – Opponents 26:57
– Sacks: NC State 32 – Opponents 39