2021 NC State football once again has a winning record after a 45-7 victory over Furman. As the Clemson game approaches, let’s take one last look at the win over the Paladins.
Thayer Thomas is an x-factor
After having a quiet first game, redshirt junior Thayer Thomas is quickly emerging as a top playmaking receiver for the Wolfpack. Thomas had seven receptions for just 39 yards against Mississippi State, but hauled in five balls for 82 yards against Furman, leading all receivers in both those categories. His two receiving touchdowns this year also lead the team so far this season.
Thomas and redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary often have a hot-and-cold relationship rather than consistency, but whenever he has a good game, it’s usually because Leary has time to go through his progressions and is confident attacking the middle of the field. However they do it, the coaches need to get Thomas the ball more often.
No Payton Wilson, no Cyrus Fagan, no problem?
With two defensive starters out, it was next man up for sophomore linebacker Jaylon Scott and freshman safety Jakeen Harris. For Harris, who started last year, it was unsurprising that he performed well but this is Scott’s first real starting role beyond playing in last year’s bowl game. Both had quiet days, each recording a single tackle while Scott added a pass breakup but much of that was the result of forcing constant three-and-outs — six in total.
Next week’s matchup against Clemson will be a first for both of them, as neither has played the Tigers before, and both will play pivotal roles for the Wolfpack: Scott in stopping the run and Harris in being NC State’s last line of defense.
Young receivers showing out
NC State’s wide receivers corps is loaded and position coach Joker Phillips seems to still be figuring out the rotation. One thing is clear, there’s a lot of young talent in this group that cannot be kept off the field. Of the 13 receivers who caught a pass, seven are underclassmen as Phillips went three deep to give players a chance to show what they could do.
Of those youngsters, freshmen Anthony Smith, Porter Rooks and Julian Gray seem to be favored for the way they break NC State’s typical big possession receiver mold. Expect their roles to continue to grow as the year goes on.
Third down woes turning around
Through two games, NC State ranked No. 59 in the country in third down conversion percentage at under 43%, and the Wolfpack turned things way around against the Paladins. The offense was 7-9 on third downs in the first half, and even with backups in to round out the rout, it closed at 8-13 in contrast to Furman’s 3-14. That ability to keep the chains moving resulted in just four drives ending with punts and only one three-and-out for the offense.
Defense shows off its depth
With a stifling first half performance, the defense quickly got the backups into the game after the opening drive of the second, and though the reserves gave up a touchdown to lose the shutout, there was a lot to like. Freshman linebacker Devon Betty was everywhere, tying sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas as the team’s leading tackler at seven tackles. Redshirt junior Vi Jones wasn’t far behind at four, and added half a TFL and a hurry to his tally.
On the line, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Joshua Harris likely saw his highest number of snaps at NC State and turned in four tackles himself as the anchor in the middle of the line. Redshirt freshman Terrell Dawkins continues to return to playing form, but he registered a couple tackles himself. Getting all those guys game experience is huge considering you never know when that depth will be called upon.