NC State football snapped a two-week losing streak as it took care of business Saturday with a 38-22 defeat of Florida State. The Wolfpack (5-3, 5-3 ACC) is now fifth in the ACC’s standings with just two conference games remaining in the season. Here’s some takeaways from the win:
Thayer Thomas shines
No NC State receiver has looked nearly as dominant this year as redshirt junior wide receiver Thayer Thomas did against Florida State. Prior to Saturday, the best performance we saw from the receiving corps was senior receiver Emeka Emezie’s seven receptions, 101-yard, and two-touchdown day against Pitt.
Thomas topped that with 11 catches on 12 targets with 135 yards and two touchdowns, and it could’ve been much more. Any time redshirt junior quarterback Bailey Hockman took a shot downfield, it seemed Thomas was the intended target, and something tells me that will continue to be the case going forward.
Offense at its best passing
With Hockman playing better than he ever has, NC State’s offense is surprisingly at its best when it’s utilizing the pass game. While sophomore running back Zonovan Knight put up 94 yards and a touchdown, those yards came in the second half with the Wolfpack riding on the coattails of a lead with the passing game built.
In the first half, NC State had 193 passing yards to just 47 rushing yards and averaged over 11 yards per pass to just 2.2 per rush, and was up 21-3. While at the beginning of the year it looked like Hockman might work best playing off the run, in practice, he’s at his best when he’s able to attack downfield with some quick hitters mixed in.
With Florida State’s starting quarterback and a starting lineman out, the expectation was that NC State would heat up freshman quarterback Chubba Purdy, who made the start. Against a weak offensive line, which surrendered over 3.5 sacks a game coming into the contest, the Wolfpack could only muster three sacks, two of which came from the second level. While NC State’s defensive line has been strong against the rush, outside of graduate end Daniel Joseph, it hasn’t filled the stat sheet when it comes to the pass rush, disappointing for a program whose identity under Doeren has largely been built by its defensive line pedigree.
Hockman hasn’t been perfect at limiting turnovers, throwing one in the past two contests. The difference is, against Miami, the defense never took the ball away from the opposing side, while on Saturday, the team got to break out the takeaway bone on two occasions, one a muffed punt and the other an interception by junior nickel Tyler Baker-Williams, the first of his career. When NC State wins the turnover margin, it wins.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but NC State has an opportunity to get it's best win of the season as No. 21 Liberty comes to Carter-Finley Stadium. It’s also an opportunity for the Wolfpack to bring itself to 2-3 against ranked opponents this season. Liberty will be a tough opponent for a squad that’s struggled against the run as well as dual-threat quarterbacks. The player to watch on Saturday will be Malik Willis, Liberty’s leading passer and rusher. He’s completing over 60% of his passes and takes care of the ball, 15 touchdown passes to just one interception.