Knight Touchdown

Freshman running back Zonovan Knight celebrates after scoring a touchdown at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Knight rushed 119 yards and scored two touchdowns leading The Wolfpack in victory against WCU, 41-0.

The last time NC State football faced off against Wake Forest, the offense failed to get any momentum going en route to a 44-10 beatdown in Winston-Salem. In order to get the first win of the season and snap a three-game skid against the Demon Deacons, it’s paramount that the Pack improve upon its offensive performance from last year and remain competitive throughout the game. Fortunately for head coach Dave Doeren and crew, there’s some potential for the offense to put points on the board and start the year off with a bang.

Wolfpack RBs vs. Demon Deacon LBs

Sophomore tailback Zonovan Knight looked to have a tough matchup against junior Ryan Smenda Jr., Wake Forest’s tackling machine and the most promising player in the Deacs’ linebacker corps. But if Wake Forest’s game against Clemson last Saturday is anything to go by, then perhaps Knight will have an easier go of it than previously expected. Wake Forest gave up 180 rushing yards to Clemson running backs, including 102 to bellcow Travis Etienne. Meanwhile, Smedna, the man tasked with stopping the run for the Tigers, finished the game with only four tackles. 

Even though it’s hard for anyone to stop Etienne, Wake Forest’s play against Clemson highlighted their weakness in tackling, and going to Knight early and often may be the key to victory for NC State. When you add in the fact that Wake Forest has only recently started full-contact practices, then it becomes easier to see the Demon Deacon linebackers having a tough time getting their hands around the Wolfpack platoon of running backs.  

Wolfpack OL vs. Demon Deacon DL

The Pack has its work cut out for it in trying to stop redshirt senior Carlos Basham Jr., a preseason All-American who’s on many analysts’ shortlists for postseason accolades, like the Bednarik and the Nagurski awards. On a day when Wake Forest couldn’t get much going defensively, Basham managed to get two tackles, including a 16-yard sack after slipping by the Clemson offensive line. The Wolfpack offensive line will have its hands full trying to game plan against Basham.

Sophomore tackle Ikem Ekwonu and redshirt senior tackle Justin Witt will have to face the majority of their snaps against Basham, and depending on where their assignment is lined up, they may need help from their guards, like redshirt seniors Joe Sculthorpe and Bryson Speas. While double-teaming Basham creates single coverage for the rest of the Demon Deacon defensive line, Wake Forest has few names that can offer a lot in the pass-rushing department without some blitzing and creating holes in their defense. If Basham can be stopped, the Wolfpack offensive line should be able to keep the pocket clean

Wolfpack WRs vs. Demon Deacon secondary

Unfortunately for Wake Forest, the majority of their talent on the defensive side of the ball is stuck inside the box. With so much inexperience in the secondary, even Wake Forest students are calling them a “work in progress.” 

There’s no doubt this is the matchup the Wolfpack offense is most likely to dominate, and the NC State wide receivers will have an easier time compared to the other units on offense. If Zonovan Knight can find success early in the running game, expect it to complement the passing game by giving the wideouts space to operate on play-action passes. Speedy receivers like graduate student C.J. Riley and redshirt junior Thayer Thomas look to be the main beneficiaries of deep balls from redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, but if Leary can throw it over the top as easily as he’s expected to, he may just spread the wealth and target redshirt sophomore Devin Carter and senior Emeka Emezie on some vertical routes.