In anticipation of Saturday's ACC contest, CardinalAuthority.com reached out to PackPride.com expert James Henderson to answer five questions about the Wolfpack.
Q: N.C. State has suspended seven players for the game on Saturday, including two defensive starters. How many of the players suspended saw a lot of minutes and which of the players will hurt the most?
James Henderson: Well, two of the suspended players, middle linebacker Jerod Fernandez and strong safety Josh Jones, were starters. Fernandez is the team's leading tackler and had two interceptions against Florida State. Jones has started to play more consistent after struggling early in the season.
The thing is, both of them are freshmen so NC State's not really losing a lot of experience. Fernandez is backed up by Airius Moore, another freshman, and he will likely start, although the coaches haven't ruled out sliding linebacker Rodman Noel or Brandon Pittman inside to middle linebacker this week.
That same move could be made at strong safety. Jones has rotated with redshirt senior Jarvis Byrd, who is more than capable of doing the job, or NC State could slide starter Hakim Jones over from free and play Germaine Pratt, a true freshman who has started to receive more snaps lately.
The other five players, Johnathan Alston, Justin Jones, Pharoah McKever, JuMichael Ramos, and Michael Stevens, are reserves. Alston has played the most of the group and has worked as the Pack's slot receiver with true freshman Bo Hines.
Q: Jacoby Brissett is a transfer from %%MATCH_24%% who is getting his chance at QB for the Wolfpack. How would you assess his start to the season and what's he doing when he's at his best?
James Henderson: Brissett has played well, but he has had some issues lately. He started the season really hot, and was outstanding at South Florida against, in my opinion, a very solid defense.
He had a breakout game against Florida State, but has struggled since. A lot of it has had to due with protection issues up front that have really come to light while playing better competition. They've played the last four games without starting left guard Joe Thuney, the team's best lineman, and have had to play true freshman Tony Adams. It's never good when you're playing a true freshman on the offensive line, especially against teams like Florida State, %%MATCH_23%%, and Boston College. The good news for NC State is Thuney will be back for Louisville, which means Alex Barr can slide from left guard back to right guard.
Brissett is at his best when he is running State's uptempo/no-huddle offense. However, to get to that point they have to generate first downs and that's been a problem.
He's also an effective scrambler, and does a good job of throwing while on the run.
Q: On offense, it seems like the yards are spread out among a bunch of weapons. Three running backs have 200-plus yards and six WRs have 100-plus yards on the season. Who are the key guys that have to make plays for the Wolfpack and have there been any surprises so far?
James Henderson: Yep, that's the thing, they share the wealth (maybe a bit too much at times). NC State uses three running backs and seven receivers are in the rotation. There isn't a go-to wideout, Brissett goes through his progressions to find the open receiver.
The two most productive skill position players are tailbacks %%MATCH_25%% and Matt Dayes, and the complement each other really well. Shad is the better inside runner, and Dayes is extremely versatile. They line him up a lot in the slot and use him on jet sweeps or on pass routes against linebackers.
I think you'll see a lot of Dayes this weekend because of Louisville's scheme... although the Pack may try to get back to establishing the run, something they haven't done the last two weeks.
Q: The Wolfpack are giving up almost 400 yards of offense to opponents and it looks like teams are rushing and passing on them. What's been the biggest weakness on defense?
James Henderson: Inexperience. They are a young defensive team and struggle allowing big plays. Their biggest issue has been defending mobile quarterbacks. They had their best game of the year against South Florida, dominated that game with their starting defense and I think a lot of it had to do with USF's immobility at quarterback.
%%MATCH_26%% and %%MATCH_27%% caused them major problems on the ground... they often give up contain on read option plays and struggle at the point of attack with QB power runs.
I'm interested to see how they defend Louisville. I don't think Gardner is as mobile as Watson and Murphy, but I think the Cards could have a better ground game than both of those teams. That was the concern for State heading to USF, stopping their talented tailback, but they were able to focus on him and did a good job because there was no run threat at quarterback.
Q: Dave Doeren is in his second year as the N.C. State head coach. He said this week that he's "just competitive. I love my players, and I’ll never quit on my guys. We’ve got to go earn a win.” Is he the right guy for the job with the Wolfpack or is it too early to tell?
James Henderson: It's too early.
We're in an era where we want to have success right away, and it often doesn't happen. He took over a program devoid of upperclassmen talent (NC State hasn't had a preseason All-ACC player in three years) and has implemented completely different offensive and defensive schemes. He's recruiting well and rebuilding his roster, but it takes time.
I think he proved at %%MATCH_28%% that he can coach, but I think, like a lot of coaches, he needs to have experienced talent to consistently win games.
The ACC didn't do them any favors this year with the schedule. They haven't had a bye yet and opened league play with Florida State, Clemson, and Boston College, three very physical teams (and BC was coming off a bye) and then a road trip at Louisville. Good luck with that.
NC State is 4-3 right now and their goal is to make a bowl game this season. They still have Louisville, %%MATCH_31%%, %%MATCH_32%%, %%MATCH_30%%, and %%MATCH_29%% remaining no the schedule and need two wins to reach their goal.