NOTES: NC State vs. Central Florida

NC State faces Central Florida tonight at 8:00 on ESPN. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

Heading into the 2014 campaign, one of NC State’s team goals was to advance to a bowl game and then win it. The Wolfpack accomplished the first part of that goal and posted seven wins for the regular season, earning a bid to the 2014 Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl - the 28th bowl game in NC State history.

State posts a 14-12-1 all-time record in postseason bowls and has won seven of its last 11 post-season appearances.

Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren has now coached bowl eligible teams 10 of the 13 years he’s been a full-time D1 coach.

NC State is one of 11 bowl eligible teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (12 including Notre Dame), but the only one to play all four league teams currently ranked in the top 25 of the CFP - Florida State (3), Georgia Tech (12), Clemson (17) and Louisville (21). Those top teams accounted for four of the Wolfpack’s five losses and all five were to bowl-bound squads.

NC State is the only team in the league that had to face all four ranked ACC teams (Clemson played the other three). The Wolfpack and Tigers are also the only teams in the ACC that have had to face the Atlantic and Coastal Division Champions in the ACC this year.

Combined, the teams that defeated NC State in 2014 post a 48-14 record.

The Wolfpack got out to a great start to the 2014 season - starting out with a 4-0 record, and then won three of its last four games to finish the season with a 7-5 mark. NC State won its last two contests of the regular season by a combined 77-20 margin.

In the past two games, NC State has scored all 10 times it’s reached the red zone. And the Wolfpack’s all-time leading scorer Niklas Sade has had nothing to do with that success either, as all 10 visits to the red zone have resulted in touchdowns.

NC State is tied as the second-most improved squad in the Power 5 Conferences. In Dave Doeren’s first year as head coach, his team posted a 3-9 mark, but more than doubled that win total in his second campaign.

Here’s a look at the most improved teams in the P5 leagues from 2013 to 2014 (regular season games only):

Rk Team # of Games Improved 2013 Rec. 2014 Rec
1. TCU +7 4-8 11-1
2. NC State +4 3-9 7-5
Mississippi State +4 6-6 10-2

A dozen Wolfpack players will be headed home for the holidays when NC State travels to St. Petersburg for the Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl.

Although most of the 12 players from the Sunshine State hail from the southern end of the state, sophomore wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling calls St. Pete his hometown. His high school, Lakewood, is less than five miles from Tropicana Field.

One of the brightest spots on this year’s team has been the Wolfpack’s run game. NC State enters the bowl game averaging 206 ground yards per contest. If the squad is able to keep up that mark, it would mark the highest rushing average for a Pack squad since the 1981 team rushed for 211.2 yards per game.

The Wolfpack ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing yards, while individually, Shadrach Thornton ranks seventh, even though he has the second-fewest number of carries (147) among the league’s top 10 ground gainers. The Pack ranks second in the league in yards per rush.

Thornton splits duties at running back with sophomore Matt Dayes and senior Tony Creecy. All three of those backs have averaged 5.4 yards per carry or better in 2014.

State tallied over 300 yards rushing as a team for the second straight game in the regular season finale at North Carolina - the third time for the season. The last a Pack squad had posted back-to-back 300+ rushing yard games in a season was in the first two games in 1981, and the last time the Pack had three 300+ rushing yard games in a season was in 1980 (3).

The Wolfpack enters the bowl game with the ACC’s most balanced offense, With 2,472 yards on the ground and 2,352 through the air, NC State posts a slim .024 differential between the run and pass. That makes the Wolfpack the nation’s sixth-most balanced offense among teams ranked in the top 75 nationally in total offense.

For the season, the Wolfpack has averaged 6.7 yards on first down. NC State has gained 1,238 yards rushing on first down (a 5.8 average) and has passed for 1,098 on 135 attempts - a 7.9 yard average.

NC State has scored eight rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns on first down plays in 2014.

Sophomore running back Matt Dayes could be the most versatile offensive player in the ACC. Dayes ranks eighth in the ACC in all-purpose yardage, but among the players ranked in the league’s top 10, his yards are the most evenly distributed between rushing, receiving and returns.

Dayes also ranks sixth in the league in TD scoring, with 11 this season. His scoring is also the most evenly distributed among the league’s top TD scorers, as six (55%) have come on the ground and five (45%) have come through the air.

Dayes is one of just two players in the country with more than 300 rushing yards (he has 495), receiving yards (303) and return yards (384). He is the only player with 300-plus yards rushing and receiving along with five or more TDs rushing and receiving.

According to ESPN, that dual-threat stat (300/300 and 5/5) is something just 12 other AQ-conference players have done in the past decade. Some of those other players include such notables as: Todd Gurley, De’Anthony Thomas, Giovanni Bernard, Montee Ball, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray, Brian Leonard and Percy Harvin.

Here’s a look at Dayes’ distribution of yardage this season:

Rush Yards: 495 - 42%
Receiving Yards: 303 - 26%
KOR Yards: 384 - 32%
All-Purpose Yards: 1,182 - 100%

After tallying just 12 sacks in the first seven contests, State has tallied 17 in the last five games - including eight at Syracuse. (The Wolfpack did not tally a sack against Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets had just six pass attempts).

Senior defensive end Art Norman leads the team with 6.5 sacks for the season, with 4.5 of those coming in the last five games. He ranks ninth in the ACC in that category.

Only twice in NC State history has the Wolfpack scored 40 or more points five different times in the regular season and 2014 is one of those times.

The 2014 Wolfpack hung 40 on four opponents in a row earlier this season (first time in school history) and now joins the 2003 squad as the only teams that have scored 40+ five times.

That year, Philip Rivers and company had six 40+ outings including a 56-26 bowl win over Kansas (Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren was on the Jayhawk sideline for that contest). In 1972, Lou Holtz’ team have four 40+ outings in the regular season and a fifth in a Peach Bowl win over West Virginia.

Senior kicker Niklas Sade became the leading scorer in NC State history in the Wolfpack’s win over Wake Forest, surpassing NFF Hall of Famer Ted Brown, who scored 312 points from 1975-78.

Sade has now scored 322 points in his stellar career - a mark which ties for 10th in ACC history. He also has set the school record for field goals (53) and extra points (163). That PAT mark is the fifth-highest ever by an ACC player.

Here’s a look at the leading scorers in school history:

1. Niklas Sade, 2011-pres. 322
2. Ted Brown, 1975-78 312
3. Josh Czajkowski, 2008-10 257

As a team, NC State has thrown just six interceptions in 2014 (five by starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett). That mark is tied for 13th nationally and is the lowest number of picks for a Wolfpack offense since the 1967 squad had that same number.

After registering 40 tackles for loss in the first seven games of 2014 (5.7/game), the Wolfpack has tallied 44 tackles for loss in the last five contests (8.8/game) and 84 for the year.

Senior punter Wil Baumann was named a first-team All-ACC performer after a record-setting season that saw him lead the ACC and rank seventh nationally in punting average with a 45.3 per punt mark this season. He has set new school records for career punts (262) and punting yards (10,682) - marks that rank sixth in ACC history.

Baumann has placed 22 punts inside the 20 yardline this season - one of the top marks in the FBS.

Freshman fullback Jaylen Samuels doesn’t see an abundance of action. In fact, in 12 games this season, he’s played just 113 snaps from scrimmage and touched the football just 17 times. However, when the ball is in Samuel’s hands, he definitely makes the most of the opportunity.

Samuels has only carried the ball 14 times, but has averaged 10.2 yards per carry. He was the team’s leading rusher in the win at Syracuse, even though he carried the ball just two times for 46 yards. He only has three catches for the season as well, but has averaged 18.3 yards on those grabs.

Samuels had averaged 11.6 yards every time he’s touched the ball this season.

NC State ranks fourth in the ACC in third down conversions this season - converting on 46.3% of its attempts. The Wolfpack was particularly effective on third down in the last three contests of the regular season, converting at a rate of 55% (22-40).

In the first five ACC games of 2014, the team only converted 34.7% on third down (25-72).

Graduate defensive end Art Norman is in rare company in terms of career sacks. He currently ranks 3rd in school history with 23.5, just two from tying the school record held by Mario Williams.

Norman has posted 35.5 total tackles for loss in his career, a mark that ranks 11th in school history.

Here’s a look at the top sack-men in school history:

Rk. Name, Yrs Sks-Yds
1. Mario Williams, 2003-05 25.5-156
2. Tyler Lawrence, 1990-93 24-157
3. Art Norman, 2011-pres. 23.5-163

Eight different true freshmen earned starts for NC State in 2014 - the fifth-highest total in the FBS.

True freshman wide receiver Bo Hines has started six contests for the Pack, offensive guard Tony Adams has started seven while linebacker Airius Moore has four starts and DT B.J. Hill has three. Safety Germaine Pratt, tight end Cole Cook, fullback Jaylen Samuels and WR Stephen Louis have also started games for the Pack this season.

The chart above below shows how much freshmen and sophomores are dominating the Wolfpack statistically. Those two classes have accounted for 87% of the teams receiving yards and 60% of its touchdown scoring, 64% of the all-purpose yardage and 55% of the tackles.

Rushing - 31.5%
Receiving - 86.5%
Punt Returns - 100%
Interceptions - 77.8%
Kickoff Returns - 98.3%
Scoring - 46.4%
TD scoring - 59.6%
All-purpose Yards - 63.9%
Tackles - 54.6%

NC State’s offensive line has gotten little rest in 2014, as the starting five has played every offensive snap in four total contests. Center Quinton Schooley has not sat out a single offensive play in 19 of his 24 career games played at State.

NC State has forced 19 turnovers this season - picking off nine passes and recovering 10 fumbles. Twelve of those times the Pack D has given the ball to the offense, the offense has punched it in for points.

At Syracuse, DE Pharoah McKever had a Pick-Six and State’s only offensive touchdown came after Rodman Noel forced a fumble that was recovered by Kenton Gibbs at the Syracuse 35 yardline. At the end of the game, with Syracuse down a touchdown and driving, S Josh Jones sealed the victory with another INT.

Redshirt sophomore tight end David J. Grinnage was named to the midseason ‘watch’ list for the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding collegiate tight end. Grinnage has 25 receptions for 331 yards this season and has scored five touchdowns. He boasts the second-best yards/reception mark on the team for players with more than two catches (13.2 yards/catch).

In other words, Grinnage scores a touchdown on every fifth catch.

The middle linebacker spot in the Wolfpack’s 4-2-5 defense is a crucial one, as that position makes all the calls for the front seven on defense. That position has been manned in 2014 by not one, but two, freshmen.

Redshirt freshman Jerod Fernandez is the team’s leading tackler and is just one of two freshmen in the FBS ranks to lead their teams in tackles this season (76 stops).

He had the best outing of his young career in the loss to No. 1 Florida State, as he picked off Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston twice in the contest. He was named the ACC Linebacker of the Week for that contest.

When Fernandez drew a suspension for the Louisville game, his backup, true freshman Airius Moore, filled in. The result? Moore led the team in tackles with eight, including two stops behind the line of scrimmage and an eight yard sack. He also picked up a fumble and wove and dove his way 76 yards to hit paydirt on a play that was overturned from the booth.

Moore started the next four games and led the team in tackles in three of those four contests.

Freshman wide receiver Bo Hines has been QB Jacoby Brissett’s favorite target in 2014. The Charlotte native leads the team with 42 receptions, and posts a 12.8 yards per catch average.

Hines turned in the longest play of the game against top-ranked Florida State, taking the Wolfpack’s second play of the game to the house for a 54-yard touchdown.

Out of the Pack’s 2,352 receiving yards this season, 2,034 yards - or 86% - have come from freshmen and sophomores. Other classes have accounted for just 34 catches for 318 yards.

NC State’s top six receivers are freshmen and sophomores.

NC State has scored 41 touchdowns this season - 19 on Jacoby Brissett passes, while 22 have been on running plays.

Sixteen of those 19 touchdown throws this season have been to freshmen and sophomores, while nine of the 22 runs have also been by players from those classes.

No matter how you look at it, NC State fielded one of the youngest teams in the nation in 2014. The Wolfpack had the third-highest percentage of underclassmen on the first day of fall camp of any team in the nation and boasted the second-highest number of freshmen (52) on its camp roster.

And the Pack’s young guns aren’t just on the roster, they’ve seen significant action. Dave Doeren’s team ranks eighth nationally in number of freshmen (true and redshirt) who have seen action in 2014, as a total of 21 have gotten into a game.

The Wolfpack is the only program in the power five conferences that boasts a placekicker, punter and long snapper who are starting together for the fourth straight year.

Groza Award candidate Niklas Sade, Ray Guy Award candidate and first-team All-ACC punter Wil Baumann and returning All-American long snapper Scott Thompson all came to NC State together in 2011 and have been the starters at their respective positions since the first game of that season.

NC State boasted eight postgraduates on its 2014 roster - one of the top marks in the nation for 2014. Five more members of the squad turned the tassle in December, giving the Wolfpack a grand total of 13 post-graduates for the bowl contest. Here’s a look at the Wolfpack’s postgraduate players:

Benson Browne, TE (Jr.)
Juston Burris, CB
Jarvis Byrd, S
Tyson Chandler, OT
Tony Creecy, RB
Andy Jomantas, OT/OG
Art Norman, DE
Tyler Purvis, FB
Niklas Sade, PK
Thomas Teal, DT
Scott Thompson, LS
Joe Thuney, OG (Jr.)
Bryan Underwood, WR

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