GAMEDAY: NC State vs. William & Mary

NC State opens the season tonight at 7:30 pm against William & Mary in Carter-Finley Stadium. The game can be viewed on ESPN3.

NC State Links
Official Site

William & Mary Links

PP DIGITAL: William & Mary Preview

NC State Game Notes

Before the 2016 calendar even turned to July, season tickets and Mini-Packs at NC State had already sold out. Wolfpack Nation purchased the highest number of season tickets in program history - over 36,000 -  with over 3,000 new season tickets being sold.

Highest Season Ticket Totals:

Rk. Year Season Tickets Sold
1. 2016 36,000 +
2. 2007 35,156
3. 2015 35,065
4. 2008 34,910
5. 2013 34,705

The Wolfpack has the distinction of being just one of two teams in the ACC that will face FIVE teams ranked in the top 25 of the preseason AP poll.  (NC State plays six ranked in the top 26).   Among those five top-25 opponents, three teams on the Wolfpack's 2016 schedule - Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame - are ranked in the top 10. ranked the Wolfpack's conference schedule as the toughest in the ACC for 2016. Here's a look at where it stacks up with other league schools:

Team Opp. in Top-25 Opp. in Top-10
NC State 5 3
Florida State 5 1
Syracuse 4 3
Boston College 3 2
Louisville 3 2
Duke 3 1
Georgia Tech 3 1
Miami 3 2
Pitt 3 1
Virginia 3 0
Virginia Tech 3 2
Wake Forest 3 2
Clemson 2 1
North Carolina 2 1

For the first time in three seasons, there are no freshmen or redshirt freshmen listed as starters on the season opening depth chart. Instead, the Wolfpack depth chart for the William & Mary game is dominated by sophomore (6) and junior (12) starters.  

The six sophomores who are listed as starters (all on the offensive side of the ball) have started a combined 21 games. The 11 juniors (9 on the defensive side of the ball) have started a combined 150 games, while the five seniors have started a combined 112 games.

Projected starters on defense have started a combined 157 career contests - that's compared to just 128 starts for the starters listed on the opening depth chart of 2015.  Here's a look at the breakdown by class on the last three Wolfpack opening depth charts:

Year Fr. RS-Fr. So. Jr. Sr.
2016 0 0 6 11 5
2015 1 1 8 6 7
2014 4 0 3 8 8

For the third time in Dave Doeren''s four seasons as head coach, a new starting quarterback will be standing behind center in 2016. A pair of redshirt sophomores (eligibility-wise) - Ryan Finley and Jalan McClendon - have battled it out in fall camp and although one will (obviously) get the start, Doeren says that both will play in the season opener.

Finley graduated and transferred from Boise State this summer, but was granted an additional year of eligibility after breaking his ankle in game 3 last season.  He started three games for the Broncos last season before the injury.

McClendon played in seven games behind starter Jacoby Brissett (New England Patriots) in 2015.  He was in for a total of 66 snaps and was 8-14 passing.

For the first time during Dave Doeren's tenure as head coach, the Wolfpack elected permanent captains for the 2016 captain. Each member of the team's Leadership Council (which is also elected by the team) was eligible for the honor.

The team selected two seniors - RB Matt Dayes and CB Jack Tocho - and two juniors - TE Cole Cook and DE Bradley Chubb. Each week, the LC will help select a fifth captain based on performance in practice or in games.

No member of the 2016 Wolfpack is looking forward to 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 1 more than senior running back Matthew Dayes.  Dayes was rushing into the record books last season before a season-ending injury in Game 8 vs. Clemson.  He was just 135 yards from reaching his goal of gaining at least 1,000 yards when he injured his foot and was forced to undergo surgery.

Dayes' 865 yards for the season was the 15th-best mark in school history, even though he played in just 7-1/2 games. His 12 rushing TDs tied as the seventh-best single-season mark in school history and led the FBS during the early part of 2015.

Dayes, who was named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards, was the first State runner since 2002 to rush for 100+ yard in five straight games.  His 5.6 career yards per rush is the top mark in school history, while he also is responsible for two of the 10 longest rushing plays in school history (85 yards vs. Wake Forest,  77 yards vs. South Alabama).

Jaylen Samuels
 SHOULD be on everybody's preseason All-America team. Problem is, nobody knows where to list him. Called "the Swiss Army Knife" by one media outlet, he is a weapon wherever he lines up - at tight end, in the backfield or at wide receiver. He scored seven receiving touchdowns and rushed for nine scores last season.

"JaySam" enters his junior season ranked 15th in school history with 18 career touchdowns.  His 16 TDs (9 rushing, 7 receiving) in 2015 tied with Torry Holt (1998) as the third-best single-season mark in school history and were the most ever for a Wolfpack sophomore.  

Samuels, who was named a first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American performer as a tight end last season, was the team's leading receiver and ranked third in rushing a year ago and his 65 receptions ranked as the fifth-highest single season total in school history. In the past two seasons, he ranks seventh in the FBS in receptions by a TE.

In 2016, Samuels will have the honor of wearing the No. 1 jersey for the Wolfpack. Head coach Dave Doeren says that because Samuels "shows up every day with the same work ethic, same effort, same attitude and same results," he recommended to his Leadership Council that he would be the player most deserving of that honor.

A look at the opening depth chart for the Wolfpack shows some familiar faces on the defensive side of the ball.  In fact, every single starter listed on the defensive depth chart has started multiple games during his career.  Those projected starters combine for 157 career starts.

The defense has shown steady improvement since Dave Doeren was named head coach in December of 2012.  He inherited a team that had ranked 68th in the NCAA in total defense, giving up over 400 yards game.  In 2013, NC State improved its national ranking (FBS) to 61st, but still gave up 399.4 yards per contest.  Prior to 2014, the Wolfpack switched to a 4-2-5 alignment and improved to a No. 46 total defense ranking, allowing 373.1 yards per game.  

Last season, that ranking was up to 29th, as the Pack gave up 350.7 yards per game.  The Wolfpack's passing yards allowed (2,642) in 2015 was the lowest total in 10 years.  Here's a look at the Pack's defensive improvement under Doeren:

Year FBS Rank Yds. Allowed
2012 68th 404.7
2013 61st 399.4
2014 46th 373.1
2015 29th 350.7

No one associated with NC State football will EVER again will we use the word "deep" at the running back position. The biggest question entering the 2015 campaign was how the Pack would deal with the plethora of depth at that spot.  

By the time the season ended, the player who may have been fifth-team heading into the season was starting games.

A suspension, a season-ending injury and other less-serious injuries quickly whittled the RB corp down last season.  In the last six games of 2015, five different RBs started.

This season, the Wolfpack could possibly end up having three starters who graduated from other schools. Quarterback Ryan Finley graduated from Boise State after only three years and has three years left to play after earning a sixth year due to a season-ending injury.  Placekicker Connor Haskins graduated from UNC Pembroke, where he  led the team in scoring for three straight seasons (although he did not play in 2015).  Center Joseph Scelfo was an All-Sun Belt performer at South Alabama last season who is a definite starter at center.

The only graduate transfer who has ever started for NC State was placekicker Steven Hauschka, who decided to forego dental school after graduating from Middlebury College in 2007 and come to NC State, where he would lead the ACC in field goal percentage (.889) and PAT kicking (1.000) that season. (The dental career is still on hold, as Hauschka has spent the last  nine years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks).

In 2015, only 114 of the Wolfpack's 246 passes (46%) were caught by wide receivers.  Although much of that had to do with the Wolfpack's offensive style, the inability to find a go-to-guy at wideout was also a reason.

Of those 114 receptions, 53 (or almost half) were caught by players who will not see action in 2016.  Senior JuMichael Ramos was the second-leading receiver on the team last year (leading all WRs) with 34 grabs. He underwent knee surgery this summer and will redshirt this year.

Johnathan Alston had 18 receptions last season before moving to cornerback during spring drills.  (Incidentally, he will redshirt as well).

This season, the Wolfpack hopes to reestablish its wide receiving corps. Four players with starting experience return in that unit (Bra'Lon Cherry, Nyheim Hines, Stephen Louis, Maurice Trowell) but those four combine for a less-than-overwhelming 95 career receptions.

Several young players have turned heads in camp, particularly freshman Kelvin Harmon and redshirt freshman Chandler Belk, while RS-freshman quarterback Jakobi Meyers is now also working with the WRs and could see action as early as Game 1.

It's not an easy task at NC State.  The Wolfpack has three Joneses listed in the starting lineup for Game 1:  LT Tyler Jones, DT Justin Jones and FS Josh Jones.

Tyler Jones started games at left guard and right tackle last season, but will get the nod at the cruical left tackle spot in the season opener.  The redshirt sophomore  has six starts, 11 games played and 531 career snaps under his belt after one season.

Justin Jones was a top reserve on the d-line last season, playing in all 13 games and starting three. He also played in 10 contests as a freshman.

Josh Jones is the most experienced Jones on the squad.  A two-year starter at strong safety, Josh moved to free safety for 2016, where his size and strength should be a huge benefit. He's started 19 career games, while playing in 25, and seen action in 1,379 snaps from scrimmage, plus numerous special teams snaps.

The Wolfpack has two new coaches on the offensive staff for 2016.

Eliah Drinkwitz, regarded as one of college football's brightest young offensive minds, joined the Wolfpack staff in January as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.  He has led prolific offensive attacks at both Boise State and Arkansas State in recent years. A disciple of Gus Malzahn, Drinkwitz served on his staffs at the high school level and at Auburn.

As offensive coordinator for Boise State, Drinkwitz's offense ranked in the Top 15 in the nation in points per game and total offense in 2015. The Broncos averaged 39.1 points and over 500 yards of offense per game last season.

Dwayne Ledford also joined the Wolfpack staff in January as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. The seven-year NFL veteran came to NC State after his fourth season coaching the offensive line at Appalachian State, and his third as co-offensive coordinator for the run game.  The Mountaineers set a Sun Belt single season record with 11 wins in 2015, the team's first full year of FBS eligibility, and averaged 257.2 rushing yards per game over the past two seasons.

Nyheim Hines was quick out of the blocks as a college athlete ... literally.

Hines had a stellar rookie campaign on the gridiron, earning freshman All-America honors from Athlon and  Also an honorable mention All-ACC performer, Hines already boasts the second-best career kickoff return average in school history (26.3), while his 920 KOR yards as a rookie rank 10th on the Wolfpack career list.  He tallied 1,419 all-purpose yards for the season - the ninth-best mark in school history and the second-best ever by a Pack freshman - while seeing action at wide receiver, running back and as a returner.
As soon as football season ended, Hines traded his cleats for spikes and went on to an equally stellar freshman track campaign. He earned first-team outdoor All-America honors in the 4x100 relay while running the leadoff leg (the first Wolfpack relay squad since 1991 to earn AA honors). He also won an ACC title in the event with the squad that posted the second-fasted time in school history (39.11).

Individually, Hines finished the year with All-ACC honors in the 60m and 100m dashes. He posted the fourth-fastest 60m dash mark in school history with a 6.74 and added a speedy 100m dash PR of 10.42 – good for the eighth-fastest time among college football players who also run track.

When someone graduates after starting 37 straight games and playing 2,774 snaps in three years, there typically isn't an experienced backup to take his place.  However in 2016, the Wolfpack is replacing Quinton Schooley, who started 37 straight games at center, with one who has started 36 straight collegiate games at the same position.

What makes the situation even more unique, is that although this experienced newcomer hasn't played for the Wolfpack, he's played against his new team.

Graduate transfer  Joe Scelfo (pronounced SELL fo) was a first-team All-Sun Belt performer last season at South Alabama, where he graded out at 90 percent or better in six contests and did not surrender a sack. He has been named to the Rimington Award preseason watch list for 2016 after being on that list and the Lombardi watch list in 2015.  

Scelfo started and played the entire game when the Wolfpack visited Mobile last season.

In 2015, the Wolfpack special teams posted some of the best marks in NC State history, both in returns and coverage. NC State was one of only two schools in the FBS to finish in the top 20 in both kickoff returns and punt returns.

The special teams unit, which calls itself "Special Forces" posted the second-best kickoff return average (25.7 yds.) in school history as well as the seventh-best punt return mark (13.0 yds.). Punt returner Bra'lon Cherry and kickoff returner Nyheim Hines were both named honorable mention All-ACC performers, while Hines was named a freshman All-American as a returner.

Hines posted the ninth-best single-season kickoff return average (26.3) ever for a Pack player and already ranks 10th in school history in career kickoff return yards (920).

Cherry's 13.3 punt return average in 2015 ranks ninth in the NC State record books for a single season, while his 358 punt return yards is the third-best single-season mark ever.

On the defensive side, the opponent's punt return yardage was the lowest in school history (52) in 2015 and the Wolfpack ranked eighth in the FBS in punt return defense. The Wolfpack has ranked in the top five in the ACC in kickoff return defense each of the past two seasons.

QUOTABLES: Dave Doeren

Opening Statement: 
It's good to be in game week. For us, game week Friday, playing our game tomorrow against a William & Mary team that returns 16 starters and 10 all-conference players and the longest standing head coach in college football. Great opportunity for our football team. Looking forward to watching them play, and like any year, you think you know what you have, but you really don't until you get out there, and so just the excitement of our staff and of our team to get out there and see what we have I think is real, and I know our fans will be there to support us.

I know you had said before with the new offensive system coming in that you didn't want to make too hasty a judgment with the quarterback. How has that evaluation gone throughout the fall? Do you expect them both to play a good bit this week, and where do you see -- in an ideal world, when would you see getting down to one for certain?
Both of them will play, and there's one guy that played a little bit better than the other from a statistical standpoint during training camp, so he'll get the first drive, maybe the first two, and from that point on, we'll rotate and kind of evaluate where we're at at halftime. If both of them are playing really well, then they'll continue to both play, and if not, then probably go with the guy that's playing better. But where it goes from here is really up to how they play.

I think both guys have prepared well. They're both talented. They're both inexperienced, so the game is going to be important for them. But I really can't give you a clear answer on how long it's going to take to solidify. It's more how they play in these games.

One of the things that I'm sure you've said before is when you're evaluating a quarterback is how they respond to adversity. How do you know that when you're rotating in one guy after another? If one guy is struggling do you want to see how he responds to it or do you go with the other guy?
Well, I think you'll still see, particularly in this first game, they'll have a chance for redemption I guess you would say, if they struggle or maybe if someone else struggles and they were the one leading the drive. Like I've told both of them, this is just the start, it's not the finish, and they need to both prepare as it's their game because it might be, and we play 12 games, and there's a lot of football in front of us, and both these guys need to be ready to help us win.

To kind of go off of that, just what you saw through the fall from your two quarterbacks and how them going up against each other has challenged you and also challenged this offense to fit around the opportunity that both will offer.
Yeah, well, you see two competitive guys that have good skill sets, that both want to play, that prepare hard, that it's important to them. They're good with their teammates. They're good with our coaches. They made it hard on us, which is their job.

You know, there was around 22 drives during our training camp where we just set the ball down and said, okay, this is the game, we're moving it. Whatever happens happens. It wasn't scripted. We're looking at really the statistics from those drives that's kind of determining who gets the ball first, who led the most scoring drives, who had the best completion rate or quarterback rating I guess you'd say, touchdown, interceptions, and where that finished after those 22 drives. That's really the starting point, and we'll go from there.

And then as far as your fan base, the school record in-season tickets and what it says about what you're building, the environment that you've been trying to create and just what you can say about the response from the community.
Yeah. Well, I'm very thankful to them, and our marketing staff has done a nice job of promoting our games. Just for our fans to understand how important this is to our players, to our program, to our recruiting, it means a lot to our coaching staff, and a big thank you to them. Having the strength of schedule that we do probably helps with that, as well.

I was just wondering if your new offensive coordinator has found any new positions for Jaylen Samuels to play.
He's not playing O-line, I can tell you that. No, I mean, our H-back or fullback, whatever you call him, position is very versatile, and one of the things I liked about Eli's offense is he does find ways to get people the ball and move them around, and there are different places to get matchups and find ways creatively where you're not always depending on a route to be open. You can hand it to him or have a screen set up for him where no matter what you're going to have the ball going to that guy, and it's a challenge because everyone talks about him, but Matt Dayes and Nyheim Hines are two guys that need the ball in their hands, too, so just finding ways to feature those players, that's the fun part of it.

You mentioned Matt obviously is a proven guy, but you have a young guy named Johnny Frasier, very highly touted coming in but redshirted last year. Can you talk about his development and the role you see for him this year?
Johnny has grown up a lot since he's gotten here. He's a small-town kid that everything was easy for him for a long time, and he got to college and it wasn't. Had to deal with some injuries and some health issues back home. I think he's in a good place now, spiritually, mentally, physically, and I'm hopeful that we can get him some carries and build his confidence on the field. He's tremendously talented, as everybody knows. But not everybody who walks in the dorm is that guy.

Like I told him, he's playing behind in my opinion one of the best backs in the country. Some of the reasons he's not going to be out there as much as other people would want him to be is because Matt Dayes is really good. He is developing. He is getting better, and he shows flashes of what we think he's going to be. It's just getting that out of him every day now.

Can you talk about the depth at running back in terms of a year ago? You ran into some trouble at that position.
We did, yeah. We had four of them injured last year, so we can't have enough. You just don't know. They take a lot of hits that are unseen in protection. That's actually how Matt got hurt last year. He was blocking.

But they take a lot of hits, and just having enough of them that are talented, we're fortunate right now, knock on wood, that we're back to where we were a year ago where we feel like Matt Dayes, Reggie Gallaspy, Dakwa Nichols, Johnny Frasier and Nyheim and J-Sam, all those guys can carry the ball, and we've got some options and they're healthy. Now it's just keeping them that way and using them the right way.

NC State Depth Chart

NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.

Thanks to NC State Athletics for much of the information in this preview.

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