It has been a long season for NC State head coach Dave Doeren and company. Injuries and youth have taken their toll on the team, and it has been showing in the past couple of weeks.
After a win versus Syracuse at home, the Pack suffered two brutal blowout losses on the road against Boston College and Wake Forest. Right now, NC State is at its lowest point since 2013 in Doeren’s first year when the team went 0-8 in ACC play.
Luckily, there is still time to salvage the season and make the most of it, but for that to happen the Wolfpack offense is going to have to step up.
Play-calling this year
While many fans have shifted the blame to co-offensive coordinators Desmond Kitchings and George McDonald, a lack of execution combined with inexperience and injuries have crippled the Wolfpack’s ability to move the ball.
It is very telling when the offense has to rely on redshirt sophomore Thayer Thomas to be able to throw the ball in the end zone. While calls have been creative and sometimes successful, the Pack just cannot seem to score once it is in the red zone, which is a combination of a lot of things including poor play-calling when inside the 20-yard line.
Outmatched at every level
Clemson has every advantage in this game minus kicking, and with the offense seeming to have no spark this entire year, going up against one of the best defenses in the nation seems extremely daunting.
One of the players the Pack will have the most trouble with is linebacker Isaiah Simmons. The Bednarik Award semifinalist is leading the team with 65 tackles and six sacks. If NC State wants to be successful, then the game plan should focus on running plays on the side where Simmons isn’t; he is just that good of a player.
Luckily for the Pack, the game is not in Death Valley this year, which should at least give the offense some moral support when facing Clemson’s talented defense. With the Pack down 10 plus starters, the stadium atmosphere will be essential.
There is no denying the fact that the Wolfpack has experienced one of the worst injury bugs in the country this year. The running back position has felt a massive toll, with freshman Jordan Houston possibly being the only available running back for the game.
The passing game
Some good news for the Pack is that the coaching staff is finally sticking with a quarterback. Redshirt freshman Devin Leary is going to be under the spotlight in prime time, as he is receiving his first start at home under the lights at Carter-Finley.
The offensive line will also have to step up, and despite the Clemson defensive line reloading after losing most of its starters last year, the O-line will have its hands full. One of the most impressive players Clemson added this season is freshman Tyler Davis.
The defensive tackle has impressed coaches this year, logging 272 snaps so far, the most out of any lineman on the team. Davis currently has 33 tackles and three sacks, and will certainly be looking for more on Saturday against a shaky Wolfpack offensive line.
Along with the O-line, the wide receivers are going to have to simply step up. The receiving core, excluding Thayer Thomas, has not helped the quarterbacks under center at all. Junior Emeka Emezie has been, by far, the most disappointing. While he has made some highlight catches, he has come up short time and time again with dropped passes.
This is not simply a David versus Goliath game; this is a David versus the equivalent of 10 Goliaths matchup. Composure and limiting turnovers will be the biggest keys to this game, which is something very tough to ask the second-youngest team in the country to do.