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Sophomore running back Zonovan Knight carries the ball up the field at Carter-Finley on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Knight had eight carries that totaled 37 yards throughout the game. The Wolfpack won 41-17 over the Orange.

No. 20 NC State football improved to 8-3 (5-2 ACC) with a dominant 41-17 victory at home against the Syracuse Orange Saturday evening. Let’s take one final look at what we learned from the blowout win.

ACC Championship game hopes alive

With Saturday’s win, the Wolfpack remained in play for the ACC Atlantic Division. Because the Pack beat Syracuse and Clemson beat No. 10 Wake Forest, all NC State needs is a win over UNC and a Boston College win over Wake Forest. At that point, NC State, Wake Forest and Clemson would all have two conference losses.

The tiebreaker first would use the division record, which would knock out Wake (losses to Clemson and Boston College). Then, head to head between NC State and Clemson, which would favor NC State.

Running backs getting back on track

After consistently terrible performances from the run game, things finally broke out a bit for the team’s running backs. Both sophomore running back Bam Knight and junior back Ricky Person Jr. rushed for over 4 yards per carry, combining for 87 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts. Not the greatest day ever, but also more than they’ve been able to provide as of late. This was NC State’s first game with a rushing touchdown by a running back in ACC play.

Beyond the rushing game, Knight continued to dominate as a returner, taking a kick back 97 yards for a touchdown. He’s the first player to have two kickoff return touchdowns in a season since Tobias Palmer in 2012.

Linebackers continue to dominate

Sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas rose to the occasion Saturday, leading the team with eight tackles, two sacks and a pick-6, but he wasn’t the only one in his unit who went off. Redshirt junior Vi Jones had six tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry. Freshman linebacker Devon Betty chipped in as well, with four tackles, a sack and two TFLs of his own. This unit continues to lead the team, cementing a very good chance for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tony Gibson to finish as a finalist for the Broyles Award, an award honoring assistant coaching.

No Shyheim Battle, no problem

With redshirt freshman cornerback Shyheim Battle out for the first half against Syracuse because of a targeting penalty, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell seemed to decide to give him the night off. If Battle ever saw the field in the second half, and I didn’t see it if he did, he didn’t for very long. Instead, senior cornerback Chris Ingram started opposite Derrek Pitts Jr. Ingram performed well with three tackles, a TFL and a PBU. Did it help that Garrett Shrader couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn? Yes, yes it did, but the secondary performed admirably without its top corner.

Massive rivalry game on the horizon

I said it before the season, and I’ll say it again: beating UNC-Chapel Hill would be the biggest win of the season. Preseason, I said it because NC State needs to prove it and UNC are not leagues apart in order to return to its place as the best recruiting team in the state. Mack Brown’s had head coach Dave Doeren’s number since he returned to UNC and that needs to change. Now there’s even more reason: no way can you allow your rival to derail what could be a 10-win year (with the bowl), especially in front of a home crowd.

Editor-in-Chief

I'm Jaylan Harrington, Editor-in-Chief at Technician. I'm in NC State's class of 2022 majoring in communication. I've been at Technician since the fall of 2018. For more of my coverage, you can follow me @jaylan__1 on Twitter.