NC State’s crushing 41-10 defeat against UNC-Chapel Hill capped off the team’s second-worst season under Dave Doeren, with the Wolfpack missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2013. Here are some takeaways from the final game of the Wolfpack’s season:
Offense only goes where Knight can take it
Freshman running back Zonovan Knight had about as good a first season as he could, given his injuries, leading the Wolfpack with 745 rushing yards on 5.5 yards per carry. Knight started the UNC game with touches on nine of NC State’s 16 first-quarter plays, and NC State’s offense gained 115 yards that quarter. Knight tweaked his knee injury and had to leave the game before briefly returning, and with him hobbled, the Wolfpack only gained 174 more yards the rest of the game.
Defense breaks down in second half
NC State’s defense was without key players at each level of the defense, with graduate defensive end James Smith-Williams, junior linebacker Louis Acceus, sophomore safety Tanner Ingle, and cornerbacks senior Nick McCloud and junior Chris Ingram all out against the Tar Heels. Still, in the first half UNC only put up six points because of solid defensive play. The second half was a completely different story, with UNC moving the ball at will against a helpless defense that seemed gassed. The Tar Heels racked up 380 yards and 35 points in the second half, aided by bad tackling and multiple bad turnovers by the offense. This marks the second week that tackling has been a huge issue for the Wolfpack.
QB competition unsettled
Thought to be QB1 of the future, redshirt freshman Devin Leary put up an extremely unimpressive stat line on Friday before being forced from the game due to injury. Leary went 7 for 20 with 98 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman came in to relieve Leary and fared a little better, going 6 for 10 for 59 yards and an interception. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay has since announced on Twitter he’s transferring from the program, leaving the future at quarterback murky for the Wolfpack.
Seniors leave team in good hands
NC State started 10 players that were freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores against UNC, five on each side of the ball. On Senior Day, NC State’s youngest players played more snaps than they had all season, and by and large, there were signs for confidence moving forward. Knight and fellow freshman running back Jordan Houston combined to go over 100 yards, while freshman offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu seems to have established himself as the left tackle of NC State’s future. On the defensive side, four of NC State’s top five tacklers were underclassmen, with Payton Wilson leading the way with 14 tackles and an interception. Freshman safety Khalid Martin, who had only seen four snaps on defense against Western Carolina, got his first start and responded with seven tackles, including a half TFL. So many players seeing time early in their careers will only help them when they are seniors.
Mack is back, so they say, but really, it’s this rivalry. The scales in this series dipped drastically toward NC State following a 41-10 blowout loss for the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill in 2008, and with the Tar Heels enacting an equal and opposite revenge on Saturday, the Wolfpack needs to take care not to be swept under UNC’s momentum. For all his faults, NC State fans have to respect the fact that Dave Doeren has never lost in Chapel Hill, and have to hope that fact stays true next year.