After a disappointing offensive showing against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Wolfpack turned up the heat early and kept its foot on the gas as it bashed the Furman Paladins’ defense in a 45-7 rout. The Pack rebounded from an early fumble by sophomore running back Zonovan Knight in its opening drive to score on three consecutive drives. The offense never looked back after that.
By the end of the game, the offense gained 25 first downs compared to eight by the Paladins’ offense. The offensive attack out-gained the Paladins by a little over 300 yards of total offense. The performance was certainly helped by the offensive line protecting well and the defense allowing no third down conversions in the first half. Third-down efficiency was eight for 13, though, with all eight conversions coming from the starting offense.
After going up 45-0 early in the third quarter thanks to a rushing touchdown by junior running back Ricky Person Jr., the Pack decided to pull out redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary and put in freshman quarterback Ben Finley to close out the game. Other backups were allowed some playing time, as the offense went on cruise control until the end of the game. With the many positives that come from this win, the Pack will need to quickly turn its attention to next week’s matchup against the No. 9 Clemson Tigers. For now, they can enjoy their success.
Leary was outstanding in this game as he looked decisive and confident in his throws. Leary completed 79.3% of his passes for 259 yards and three passing touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 188.5. He also ran one in on a delayed quarterback sneak on third and four from the Furman 7-yard line behind Knight’s lead block. All of Leary’s touchdown passes hit different receivers forcing nothing downfield as he consistently moved the ball around. He played until the third quarter when Finley came in and finished the game five for eight for 28 yards.
There were also no turnovers for the first time this season. Leary had given up at least one turnover in the first two games of the season. Against South Florida, it was on a deep ball early in the game. Though at least for that game he put the turnovers to bed as most of his passes were strong and on the money. There is still some concern with his accuracy downfield, but if he can keep it up against the Tigers’ defense next week, he might make some noise in the college football world.
The running backs for the Pack looked rejuvenated in Carter-Finley Stadium as they broke tackles and plowed through the defense. Knight looked slow to start as he fumbled the ball to the Paladins on his first carry of the game, but he rebounded to finish with 11 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown on the second drive of the game. During that scoring opportunity, he had an impressive 42-yard rush as he broke a tackle from behind the line, found a hole and hit it till he was tackled at the 7-yard line. He then continued to carry the rock as he found the endzone on a 1-yard rush to give the Pack its first points of the game.
Knight’s running mate Person Jr. didn’t have a huge impact on the offense; he finished with eight carries for 41 yards with 39 of them coming on the first drive of the third quarter after an interception. On that drive, the Pack gave him the ball five times, and on the fifth time, he punched it in for the game-clincher.
Other running backs got involved as well, as redshirt freshman Delbert Mimms III and sophomore Jordan Houston ran for 38 and 19 yards, respectively. They will look to continue the dominance on the ground as the season continues building their confidence up from performances like this.
When you can say that you allowed no sacks and only three quarterback hits to the defense all game, that is always a good sign. NC State’s offensive line took control of the Paladins’ defensive line. Leary was given plenty of time to throw and if you give a quarterback time to throw in the pocket, good things are bound to happen. They also opened up holes for the running backs consistently with each back that got into the game averaging at least five yards per carry.
Allowing your running backs that many yards per carry allows for plays to open up which is exactly what the doctor ordered for this offensive line to get back on track. They also looked to be more aggressive and confident, maybe due to playing a team which they have beat decisively in the past as well. This offensive line needs to be able to protect the quarterback and open up holes like they did against the Tigers if they want continued success this season.
The receivers for the Pack had a field day against the Paladins’ secondary. They could not stop the NC State receivers from gaining separation or making contested catches. Redshirt junior Thayer Thomas led the group with five receptions for 82 yards and a beautiful route to the corner of the endzone on a 12-yard throw by Leary near the end of the first half.
At least 14 receivers were targeted for passes and 13 receivers caught at least one ball from Leary or Finley. Redshirt senior tight end Dylan Parham caught his first career touchdown on a rollout from Leary near the back of the end zone. That was Parham's only reception of the game. Freshman wide receiver Anthony Smith also made a great adjustment on a deep ball, jumping up into the air and stretching into the endzone for a 42-yard touchdown pass. He finished behind Thomas with three receptions for 53 yards, looking to make a mark on this offensive attack going forward.
The Pack has to continue to get open down the field and create separation from the cornerbacks. It will be key as this team continues to develop into a team that can compete with anyone.
The players responded well to their poor performance against the Bulldogs. The coaching staff will be proud of how they dominated in this game, but they should also be wary. Head coach Dave Doeren does not want a repeat of what happened against the Bulldogs right after the Wolfpack’s win against South Florida. That win coincidentally also came after they scored 45 points and dominated on offense.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck should now open the playbook and look at what his squad needs to improve on for its next game. Though the Tigers are struggling right now, they are still a top-10 team that is expected to make noise this season sooner or later. This game will be a huge test for these players and this coaching staff, something that will put the Wolfpack on the map if it can succeed.