Matt McKay Celebrates

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay celebrates after scoring a touchdown against ECU on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 in Carter-Finley Stadium. McKay threw for 308 yards and rushed for 35 yards and had two touchdowns in the 34-6 win over the Pirates.

The NC State Wolfpack (1-0) will take on the Western Carolina Catamounts (0-1) after having defeated East Carolina a week prior. This game will prove to be a chance for the offense to prove that the outstanding showing against ECU was not a one-time occurrence.

Matthew McKay versus Western Carolina secondary

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay had an impressive showing in the first start of his career, though he suffered a recurring problem throughout the first half that could test him this week. Despite finishing with no interceptions, McKay overthrew his targets a handful of times, finishing with nearly 68% completion, a still-solid mark. This game will provide an opportunity for correction, though it may be a decent test, as the Catamounts’ secondary, and in particular their safeties, are older and more experienced than those of ECU.

McKay also finished the victory over the Pirates with 308 yards and one passing touchdown, and showed enough to sit out the last handful of offensive plays.

WCU safety JerMichael White has 10 pass deflections and two interceptions for his career, and fellow safety Devarius Cortner has 16 solo tackles. Cornerback Ronald Kent Jr. led the team in pass breakups with 12 last season, which ranked second in the Southern Conference.

Receivers versus Western Carolina defensive backs

While McKay needs to place the ball for the receivers, it is equally up to the receivers to make plays on the ball. Corners Kent Jr. and John Brannon will be guarding redshirt sophomore Thayer Thomas and junior Emeka Emezie, who were both productive in the victory over ECU. Graduate Tabari Hines was also impressive, contributing 108 of the trio’s 261 total yards and a touchdown. 

The unfortunate ACL tear of redshirt junior C.J. Riley will test this group, but the Pack receivers should have little problem getting the best of a secondary with few interceptions under its name, and a group that gave up 207 yards and four passing touchdowns in its loss against Mercer.

Wolfpack running backs versus Western Carolina linebackers

The Pack opted for a running back-by-committee approach against the Pirates, with all rushers combining for 191 yards on 31 carries. The ground game also accounted for three touchdowns, with freshman Zonovan Knight scoring one and McKay rushing for two.

One Catamount linebacker to watch for is Ty Harris, a junior who last season accounted for 46 solo tackles and 87 total tackles. Harris also recorded two sacks and two interceptions. Similarly linebacker Michael Murphy, who last season recorded 40 solo tackles, 92 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a whopping three interceptions, which he returned for a total of 128 yards and a touchdown.

The linebacker position is arguably the strongest of the Catamount defense, so if the offensive line can hold up, the Pack running backs will be tested against strong players.

Wolfpack offensive line and tight ends versus Western Carolina defensive line

The new-look offensive line played an incredible game against ECU, not allowing McKay to be sacked at all and effectively helping to generate the 191 rushing yards. Not only this, but it powered the rushing attack to two impressive running bursts by receivers, one from Hines, who had a 34-yard end-around run, and one from freshman Keyon Lesane, who had a 24-yard burst.

The Wolfpack tight ends will also play on the O-line, with redshirt junior Dylan Autenrieth leading the charge. The tight ends played exceptionally well along with the O-line, consistently getting the backs’ open holes at the line of scrimmage.

As for the Catamounts’ defensive line, the group is led by Jarquavius Wortham, who posted two sacks and three forced fumbles last season, Adam Henderson, who had two sacks and a pass deflection, and redshirt freshman Chris Campbell.

Western Carolina runs a 3-4 defensive scheme, so defensive ends Campbell and Wortham surround nose tackle Henderson, while end Ricky Palao rotates in. With only three D-linemen, the four linebackers on the field will also pressure the NC State offensive line, but if the Pack holds strong against the WCU starting D-line that combined for five sacks last year, it should have no problem guiding McKay and the Wolfpack to victory.

The game will kick off at 12:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium.