What did we learn about NC State from the season-opening win against William & Mary? We review the game by answering several critical questions about the Wolfpack.
The big questions coming into the game was who would start at quarterback and how would the rotation work. What did you think of Ryan Finley's first start and how Dave Doeren and Eli Drinkwitz handled rotating the quarterbacks?
James Henderson: I think Ryan Finley was really good. He did exactly what was asked of him to do... distribute the ball to playmakers and not turn the ball over. If he can do those things consistently, he will likely remain the starting quarterback and NC State should have a productive, efficient offense.
I don't think they could have handled the rotation any better. A lot of times those things can work themselves out, and it certainly did with the way Finley played, but State went with Finley, worked McClendon in, and then chose to stick with the hot hand, rightfully so.
Steve Williams: Finley gets an A+ in my book. It certainly helped that he was already familiar with Drinkwitz’s system but we’re talking about a guy with limited experience, playing in an unfamiliar location and with very limited time playing with the guys around him. He managed the game well and most importantly, didn’t make mistakes.
The Pack doesn’t need Finley to be a hero. They need a quarterback to simply get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and he did a masterful job of accomplishing that.
The rotation of the quarterbacks was fine in my opinion. Had Finley struggled and McClendon lit it up then I’m sure the rotation would’ve went in a different direction. Personally, I thought McClendon played well and suspect he’ll continue to get reps headed forward.
Rob McLamb: The coaching staff handled the quarterback situation well in that they made adjustments on the fly after initially announcing the intention to rotate Finley and Jalan McClendon more frequently.
When someone is succeeding, there is little sense in replacing that player. The objective was always to find a starting quarterback and Finley's effort indicated he should get the chance in Greenville next week.
Bryant Carson: There was a lot to like about how Finley performed in week one. He stayed within the system and did the things he was asked to do which was primarily to protect the ball, keep composure and keep tempo. He wasn’t called on too often to make a difficult throw but facing a few third-and-longs he did what he needed to do to convert.
I felt like the rotation lent to the notion that Finley was going to be ‘the guy.’ Both guys had some moments but in the first half Finley led four scoring drives and McClendon threw an ill-advised pass that ended in an interception; from that point you just kind of felt like Finley, at least in game one, was better. As Doeren keeps saying, the season is long and if the competition remains open for a few more weeks we’ll see how both do given a larger body of work.
What stood out to you most about the offensive performance and/or scheme vs. William & Mary?
James Henderson: For me it was the screen game. I thought it was obvious that NC State was looking to get the ball out of Finley's hands quickly and to the perimeter as much as possible. They did that with a lot of underneath routes to try and get wideouts, tailbacks, and tight ends the ball in space to make plays.
I was also really impressed with the perimeter blocking.
Steve Williams: Some fans complained that it was too simplistic and I completely disagree. Do what works. Keep it simple and don’t outsmart yourself. If throwing a swing pass to Matt Dayes or a short out to Nyheim Hines picks up five or six yards well, that’s a good play. Keep doing it until someone proves they can stop it. Not only do you methodically march down the field but you also chew up clock and keep your defense on the sideline.
Rob McLamb: There were times in previous seasons under Doeren where guys with the hot hand did not seem to get enough touches. Balance is important (NC State had 259 rushing yards and 262 passing yards against William & Mary) but if a particular player cannot be stopped then there is no reason to stop feeding him the ball. That could be what most stood out Thursday, as the only reason Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels did not get more touches is probably because the game was no longer in doubt.
Bryant Carson: This is a little tricky because I’d guess that William & Mary’s defense will be one of the worst defenses State will face this season. I thought it was clear that State overpowered W&M from the point of attack which allowed them free reign in their rushing game. I thought that both the offensive players and Coach Drinkwitz did a nice job taking what was there and doing what they needed to do to score.
It will be interesting to see how State responds when teams are able to stop or at least slow down the ground attack.
NC State's has four new offensive line starters. How do you think they performed?
James Henderson: It wasn't the toughest test, but I thought they did really well. Plenty of offense, very few mistakes... the starting group allowed one sack but didn't allow a negative play in the run game.
Steve Williams: I thought they were okay. The second drive of the third quarter, State basically said we’re going to line up and pound the ball behind their offensive line. The Pack rushed 10 straight times and took a commanding 35-14 lead.
In the big scheme of things, the jury is still out on this unit. This was likely one of the weakest defenses they’ll face all year so evaluating them will be a week to week process.
Rob McLamb: The Wolfpack finished with 48 points, over 500 yards and had a 100-yard rusher. Finley and McClendon were only sacked one time each (and McClendon's came with the reserves in). That is all you really need to know about the play of the offensive line against William & Mary.
Bryant Carson: I thought the offensive line was tremendous against W&M. The run game was pretty much there all night and when they needed to pass protect, the quarterback had some time.
On several occasions you could pick out Bradbury, Scelfo and/or Adams up the field laying critical blocks past the original line of scrimmage. I thought, as a group, the offensive line looked extremely athletic and very capable of both run and pass blocking.
Again it will be interesting to see how this group holds up as the competition gets more difficult.
Matt Dayes had 23 carries and two catches... 25 touches in the win. Doeren seemed to suggest he wanted Dayes to be even more involved. Do you think NC State should look to limit Dayes in these early-season games or continue to keep giving him a heavy workload?
James Henderson: I think NC State needs to use Matt Dayes as much as they need to use him to win games. Once a game is effectively won, then rest him, but up until that point, State has to use him as much as possible.
Steve Williams: Saturday night was the first contact Dayes has had in nine months and he held up well. The Pack has to have him for the entirety of the season so I play him enough to secure wins but no more.
Rob McLamb: It is a balance. Dayes should have his stamina gradually built up so that he can maintain a heavy workload in conference play. Samuels falls in the same category. Both will be needed and should be leaned on if NC State is to have a successful season. Yet, the Wolfpack will have to be careful not to put everything on film early in the season.
Bryant Carson: As the season progresses and the opponents get more challenging I think this situation may well sort itself out. I think you saw something similar last season in the 4-non-conference games in that State didn’t have to do much on the outside or through the air so, like last Thursday night, the ground game was prominent. When you get to teams that start scoring a lot of points quickly State may feel the need to try the outside and stretch the field more which could naturally limit the ground game all around.
As for the next couple of weeks—IF you’re able to win those games by keeping the ball on the ground in the reliable hands of Dayes/Samuels/Gallaspy/Hines/Nichols then I’m personally all for it. I guess you could try to be more equitable across the various running backs but Dayes (at this point) is your best running back—use him. If you’re up three or four scores going in to the 4th I’d probably pull him at that point but anyone on the field can get hurt playing just a single snap—no planning against that.
Offensively, NC State totaled over 500 yards of offense and 48 points. What grade would you give the offense?
James Henderson: An A... a lot of production, just one turnover and very few penalties. Extremely efficient... the offense controlled tempo and scored on the opening drive along with in a two-minute situation.
Steve Williams: I give them an A. New offensive coordinator, new quarterback, several new offensive linemen, new terminology that’s a lot of newness and State performed well. In no way would you say this offense has arrived but judging it just game to game, the Pack took care of business in week one and looked impressive doing it.
Rob McLamb: A-: The offense came close to a perfect game. There were only two punts and one turnover in the contest. It will be interesting to see what NC State can do against an tougher East Carolina team on the road next week.
Bryant Carson: Like a lot of people I would have loved to have seen the Pack stretch the field and try their wideouts a little more but I also realize there was no need to do it and W&M was out to limit deep plays. All-in-all State scored 48 points and probably could have done more if they pressed.
They weren’t overly flashy but they did what needed to be done and generally did what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. For that they get an A+ from me.
Defensively, NC State held William & Mary to just 168 total yards and forced two turnovers. What grade would you give the defense?
James Henderson: I feel like it's not a high enough grade, but I would say a B+. The defense did give up two scoring drives, but really on both of those drives they easily could have been of field without allowing penalties.
To limit William & Mary, which came in claiming a potent offense, to just 14 points, just over 100 passing yards and roughly 65 rushing yards, that's pretty damn good.
Steve Williams: I give the defense a B. It’s easy to think an NC State should completely dominate a team like William and Mary defensively but in this day and time it just doesn’t happen. If there was one concern about the Tribe’s two scores was the fact that both were sustained drives. I would’ve almost felt better if they had lucked up and hit on a couple of big plays.
Of course, eliminating big plays has been a focus for the defense so in that respect, they played well. Headed forward, the play of Mike Stevens and Jack Tocho is going to be key.
Rob McLamb: B+: The defense did well. The only negatives would be the Tribe's opening drives in each half, with the secondary having some issues, along with the senseless celebration penalty from Kentavius Street.
Bryant Carson: FCS or not, the W&M offense came in with plenty of experience and proven production from their 2015 campaign so I never expected State to pitch a shutout Thursday night. In fact, I had State winning 41-27 in the pre-game predications between Steve, James and myself so in that regard the D did better than I thought.
Overall there were a few breakdowns but some of what State fans call a ‘breakdown’ was simply W&M making a play (that Dedmon catch on their first drive to get them out of a third and long was quite a play). The penalties were also a bit disappointing but the good news is those are easier to correct/clean-up than personnel deficiencies. I’ll go with a solid A- with deductions mostly for unnecessary penalties.
There has been talk all offseason about NC State's defensive line, but the group totaled just one sack in the win. How do you think the front four performed?
James Henderson: I thought they did really well. William & Mary wasn't going to let their quarterback drop back and scan the field for deep routes... he was looking to get rid of the ball quickly and when State did pressure he did a good job of throwing it away. On some obvious passing situations, the Tribe just chose to run the ball instead of passing, which showed respect for the defensive front.
Overall, the defensive line controlled the trenches and that's always pivotal.
Steve Williams: Again, I think they played okay. For the most part they controlled the line of scrimmage but weren’t as dominant as I thought they would or could be. You have to wonder how Saturday night’s effort will match up against teams like Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. My take is they’ll have to be a lot better.
Rob McLamb: William & Mary had only 78 rushing yards on 28 carries despite being a solid running team. NC State's defensive line was in complete control.
Bryant Carson: If W&M had tried to sit back and heave the ball deep down the field all night State would have accumulated double digit sacks but instead W&M tried and tried to run the ball and were consistently shut down right at or just past the LOS. Both INTs were results of QB pressure brought by the defensive line. Forced fumbles and sacks are ‘sexy-stats’ to be sure and those will come as long as the DL continues to play well but for game one they absolutely did what needed to be done and then some.
Who is your offensive player of the game?
James Henderson: Matt Dayes from the opening possession was a rock for NC State's offense. He consistently grinded out positive yards and kept the chains moving.
Through one week he leads the ACC in rushing yards (138) and his efficiency aided the passing attack.
Steve Williams: Ryan Finley he was the great unknown going into the game and was probably better than I expected. Can he maintain it as the schedule toughens?
Rob McLamb: Ryan Finley: He took control of the offense and gave the coaching staff and with his teammates the confidence to believe he is equipped to lead the Wolfpack this season.
Bryant Carson: I know Dayes and Samuels were the stat guys of the night (they likely will be all season) but personally I was most satisfied with the performance of Ryan Finley. In predicting a score for this game ahead of time the one hesitation I had—which I’m sure was a common one—was the unknown at QB. I was mildly concerned State wouldn’t be able to do enough during its offensive possessions which would allow W&M to stay close.
Finley put those concerns to rest early leading two consecutive, long scoring drives to open up the game. He just seemed to really be in control back there and didn’t ever seem to get rattled or confused by anything W&M threw at him. The jury is certainly still out on how he’ll respond when he’s playing from behind and things are a little more chaotic in the pocket but he really gave the impression of an offensive leader last Thursday night.
Who is your defensive player of the game?
James Henderson: Jerod Fernandez was stout at middle linebacker, totaling seven tackles, including six solo hits, and a momentum-changing interception in the second quarter.
I thought he was the defensive player of the game.
Steve Williams: Jerod Fernandez He lead the team in tackles, had a tackle for loss and a really nice interception. It wasn’t an eye-popping performance but Fernandez was steady, didn’t get out of position and played made plays. The Pack is going to need a lot more of this and even more from the linebacker position in the games to come.
Rob McLamb: Jerod Fernandez: He finished with 7 tackles (six solo and one assisted) along with an interception and just generally led from the linebacker position all evening.
Bryant Carson: When you give up 168 yards total in today’s game I think it’s acceptable to sell-out here and say all of them. However, if I’m picking one guy I’ll go with Jerod Fernandez because that’s the tale the stats are telling. Fernandez led in tackles and came up with a big INT just when State (and Kentavius Street) needed it most.