As the Wolfpack licks its wounds following its first loss of the year, let’s take one last look at everything we learned from NC State football’s toughest test yet.
Run game not up to snuff
After week one, the strength of the offense looked to be the rushing attack, led by junior back Ricky Person Jr. and sophomore back Zonovan Knight, but the opening two drives for the offense each utilized just a single rush play. Coming into this game, offensive coordinator Tim Beck apparently knew for certain what we found out Saturday: Against good teams, attempting to move the ball via the run is futile.
NC State’s ball carriers averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, looking nothing like the special performance put on display against USF as the offensive line struggled against SEC size. Now it’s back to the drawing board for Beck to figure out how to make this offense work when the ground game isn’t there.
Pass game lacks explosiveness
Typically the answer would be to simply rely on the pass… that side left something to be desired as well, though. Don’t let the final statlines fool you, redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary’s 300+ yard, 1 TD, 1 INT performance depended on racking up over half his passing yards and his touchdown throw in garbage time, where Mississippi State had the game in hand.
Through three quarters, NC State averaged a putrid 4.4 yards per attempt as Leary struggled to hit receivers. It’s not all on him, though. The receiving corps dropped seven passes — four of those by redshirt freshman Devin Carter alone.
Injuries forced redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson out of both games this season. He dealt with shoulder surgery coming out of the 2020 season but was fully ready to go by fall camp before suffering what the ESPN2 broadcast team called a quad bruise in game one of the season. Still, Wilson was ready to play Saturday and had NC State’s lone sack before suffering a left shoulder injury.
It’s no coincidence that NC State’s breakdowns defensively grew in the time he was out of the game; he’s the defense’s top player and maybe the best on the entire team, and with Clemson looming next week, it may be wise to hold Wilson out against Furman to ensure he’s as healthy as possible come Sept. 25.
Special teams underwhelm
Special teams is the one phase of the game you don’t want to have to think about. It gets attention when it gets attention when it’s subpar and that phase was very subpar for NC State on Saturday. Between giving up a 100-yard kick return touchdown to start the game, missing a 48-yard field goal, failing to get a hand on the ball despite a few punt block calls, a number of the points NC State left on the field or gifted to its opponent could be directly traced to its special teams performance. It is, in particular, responsible for the most unacceptable part of NC State’s performance and needs to be shored up through the rest of the year.
Offense needs an X-factor
There’s something to be said for a balanced group on offense. The defense can’t key in on one person, you have multiple ways to win, blah blah blah. The saying goes, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” and from that it follows that at least one of your offensive weapons needs to stand out from the rest, somebody has to be the guy that will make a play when no one else will.
Doesn’t look like that person is Knight or Person after last night, or Carter given his struggles hauling in the football. That leaves senior receiver Emeka Emezie and redshirt junior receiver Thayer Thomas. One of those two veterans needs to step up and be a guy who can not only haul in passes, but also make something out of nothing, excelling after the catch. Pressure needs to be taken off Leary and that starts with the weapons he has to throw to.