It has not been the best start for head coach Dave Doeren and the rest of the NC State football team. With early losses to West Virginia and Florida State, this year’s 3-2 record matches Doeren’s worst start through five games since his first year in Raleigh in 2013. For reference, the 2013 squad finished the year with an abysmal 3-9 record, going winless in ACC play.
While there have not been many positives for this team, there are some takeaways this team has given us through five weeks, so here are three things we know about NC State football so far this season.
The secondary is still a huge weakness
Say what you want about defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, but statistically, the pass defense has regressed dramatically during his tenure at NC State. Since 2013 (Huxtable’s first year in Raleigh), the total passing yardage allowed has increased almost every year. From 2013 to 2018, the secondary has ranked 27th, 39th, 44th, 95th, 107th and 115th in passing yards allowed. While Huxtable primarily works with the linebackers, he has still been the constant leader for the Wolfpack over the past few years. While blame can also fall on defensive coaches George Barlow and Tony Gibson, Huxtable’s secondaries have not performed at the same level as other areas of the team.
After losing previous head coach Tom O’Brien’s recruits out of the secondary, the pass defense has been atrocious. Even more damaging, Huxtable has not produced a defensive back draft pick in the NFL since 2017 with Josh Jones and Jack Tocho. Interestingly enough, Tocho was an O’Brien recruit, making Jones the only defensive back that Huxtable exclusively recruited and developed into an NFL draft pick.
Clearly something has not been working with the secondary in the last few years. Whether that is due to defensive scheming, the types of players Huxtable is targeting when recruiting, poor player development or just a mix of all three cannot be said for sure. Like it or not, the secondary has held the team back, especially during the Ryan Finley era. With the secondary already ranked 104th through five games in yards allowed, something is going to have to change.
Matthew McKay is not the QB solution
This one is obvious, but starting Matthew McKay at quarterback could not have gone more wrong. McKay had his best game week one against ECU but has played poorly since. He has looked extremely uncomfortable in the pocket, especially throwing the ball downfield, and he has not been able to run the ball well enough to make up for his poor passing either. It looks like Doeren will be moving on with starting Bailey Hockman or Devin Leary at quarterback.
Either way, the instability at the quarterback position is only going to hurt the team. While Leary definitely looks to have the most upside, there has to be a good reason that Doeren had him at third string to start the year.
Who will start against Syracuse next week is anyone’s guess, but the more quickly a starter can come in and stay as the QB1, the better it will be for the team. In other words, hope Leary is starting next Thursday night.
This team won't quit
No matter how bad things will get this year, you can still count on this team to give its all week in and week out. One of the best things that Doeren does as a coach is getting his team up to play no matter the situation.
This team is young and inexperienced. It is going to take some time for it all to come together. While the Pack is looking at a 3-2 record right now and dealing with some significant injuries, everyone in that locker room still believes that they can win each and every game left on the schedule.
The season is not over and the team knows it. A quarterback change can completely shift the trajectory of a season and that seems to be what is coming. At the end of the day, the media and the fans really do not know much about this team. One thing is for sure: The Pack still has the potential to make something out of this season.