NC State dominated Western Carolina on Saturday, holding the Catamounts scoreless in a 41-0 rout. While the passing game needs work, the defense and rushing attack impressed as younger players led the way. Here are some takeaways from the game:
Defense establishes itself as one of Doeren’s best
Beating teams that aren’t good means little, but you can draw conclusions from just how dominant the performance is. For the first time in head coach Dave Doeren’s tenure at NC State, the Wolfpack has allowed zero touchdowns through two games, with ECU coming the closest to paydirt before sophomore safety Tanner Ingle got his hat on the ball. With the addition of Tony Gibson, the defense has taken its “bend, don’t break” mentality to a new level. Through two games, NC State has allowed an average of 24.5 rushing yards a game, forcing a combined 56.9% completion percentage from opposing quarterbacks on 4.52 yards per attempt.
In the past, the Wolfpack has looked to its offense to keep it in games, but this year, the defense is holding the team down. Last year, the starters needed to play for the majority of the game. Against Western, sophomore safety De’Von Graves, sophomore nickel Tyler Baker-Williams, and redshirt sophomore defensive end Ibrahim Kante all saw extended action and performed well. Giving key reserves so much time early in the season will only help the team when their numbers are called later on.
Run game dominates as McKay’s growing pains hamper the offense
Western Carolina held NC State’s offense to a field goal in the first quarter before it exploded for 21 more in the second. Like most young quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Matthew McKay was uncertain when his first read wasn’t available, twice missing his open third option to extend the drive. In response, co-OCs Des Kitchings and George McDonald dialed up more runs in the second quarter, with freshman Zonovan Knight and sophomore Ricky Person combining for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
“Today, I was disappointed, I didn’t think Matt [McKay] was very sharp in the first quarter,” Doeren said. “Didn’t really give our run game an opportunity with two incompletions in the first drive, but then he just kind of settled in.”
McKay finished the game 18-28 for 200 yards and a touchdown, a solid line. His longest pass went 28 yards, a catch-and-run by redshirt junior tight end Cary Angeline. The loss of C.J. Riley was apparent on Saturday as NC State lacks a vertical threat without the redshirt junior receiver. The Wolfpack needs to find someone who can fill that gap.
“It has to get a lot better,” Doeren said. “You won’t run the ball for 300 yards against these ACC teams if you can’t throw the ball down the field. It’s not going to happen. It’s an area we have to get better at for sure.”
Third down continues to be a struggle
Against Western Carolina, NC State routinely left points on the board by failing to convert third downs. The Wolfpack went 6-14 in such occasions, including a couple of three-and-outs in the first quarter. For the season, NC State ranks 80th in the nation for third-down conversion percentage. Going into the team’s first Power Five matchup of the year, that won’t get the job done. If only to keep the defense rested, the offense needs to be able to regularly sustain long drives against teams far better than what NC State has faced so far.