Pack Pride's James Henderson, Steve Williams, Rob McLamb, and Bryant Carson answer several critical questions facing NC State heading into Saturday's matchup with East Carolina.
Heading on the road for the first time this season in what should be a hostile environment, what should be the No. 1 priority for the Wolfpack offensively?
James Henderson: Start fast... value the football. In recent road games where State's had success the Wolfpack has come out and jumped to a big lead early... look at Old Dominion, South Alabama, Wake Forest, and Boston College in 2015. If State can do that, it will put pressure on East Carolina's offense and potentially lead to them being one-dimensional.
Also, NC State must limit the mistakes. Low penalties... no turnovers would be ideal for the Wolfpack.
Steve Williams: Get off to a fast start and try to take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. ECU has always been a team that feeds off the energy of the fans so finding success early is crucial for the Wolfpack. I think the best way to do that is to run the football effectively and by all means, stay out of third and long on offense.
Rob McLamb: Offensively, NC State needs to go through both Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels and then work towards players like Kelvin Harmon and Nyheim Hines. out deep and in the flats.
Bryant Carson: When you’re playing against a spread team that is capable of scoring a lot of points quickly I think it’s extremely important to keep your defense off the field. If ECU is able to get a lot of offensive possessions and get in a rhythm it could get ugly in Greenville for the Pack. I think State is built best to run the ball and beat teams up with their offensive line.
In my opinion State needs to lean on their strength, run the ball, control the clock and let the defense watch most of the game from the sidelines.
NC State didn't go down the field much against William and Mary because they didn't have to. Do you believe they will need to take shots deep on Saturday?
James Henderson: I have a feeling the deep ball will be a major focus this week for NC State. Dave Doeren has talked several times this week about how he expects East Carolina to play man coverage and pressure on the perimeter and he also pointed out they've continued to work on taking, and hitting, the deep throws.
Look for State to go deep early and often on Saturday, and do so in a variety of ways.
Steve Williams: East Carolina has better athletes than William & Mary and won’t give up as much cushion as the Tribe. The Pirates know the Pack will want to run and stick with the short, quick passing game which means they’ll likely put a lot of defenders in the box. The Pack will have to take a shot or two down the field to at least keep that option in the back of the ECU defensive back’s mind.
This is likely to be a theme headed forward until the Pack proves they can beat you over the top.
Rob McLamb: The Wolfpack needs to shots downfield when it can both to establish the deep threat and to not let East Carolina limit its focus on others facets of NC State's offense. If a team takes eight chances at long passes and only converts twice it is still giving them 14 points.
Bryant Carson: Whether they need to or not I think they will. However, in watching a little of the first half of the ECU v. WCU game last Saturday I thought WCU was able to move the ball well between the 20’s predominately on the ground. Finley certainly played well last Thursday against W&M but continuing to lean on Dayes/Sameuls/Hines/Gallaspy in the run game (or short passing game) will help ease the pressure in the pocket. If State can be effective upfront and get the ground attack going then I think everything else will come.
Do you believe NC State should look to rotate in Jalan McClendon against East Carolina?
James Henderson: I don't think there should be a rotation any longer. I think NC State should play Finley unless he's really struggling or gets injured... use the next couple of games to build stability/chemistry at that position.
Steve Williams: I think in a perfect world State does get McClendon some reps. The experience that comes along with taking meaningful snaps in a hostile environment is invaluable. Of course, the number of snaps he receives may be dictated by how the game plays out.
Rob McLamb: McClendon should only play in the event of a rout. The first game was to establish a pecking order at quarterback. If there is to be further rotation, it can come in the following game versus Old Dominion at home -- which should be considerably easier for NC State.
Bryant Carson: I think circumstance must dictate here. If Finley is playing well and the game is close then no, I don’t see why you would force that just to do it. If Finley struggles and you want to change things up or you’ve got a very comfortable lead late in the game (or losing is inevitable) then go for it.
Who is your x-factor offensively for NC State against the Pirates?
James Henderson: Ryan Finley. I believe NC State will have success running the football. If Finley plays well, the offense should do really, really well. That makes him the x-factor in my book.
Steve Williams: For me it’s Nyheim Hines. Sure, he’ll do his thing on special teams and in the short passing game but he’s the only real burner for State. Can he get behind the East Carolina defense and make a play? If he does, it’s going to put the Pirates in a predicament where they’re going to have to decide what to do with their safeties.
Rob McLamb: Kelvin Harmon looks like he could be a receiver that can make plays beyond 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Bryant Carson: Nyheim Hines. I think East Carolina will make a concerted effort to stop Dayes out of the backfield and Samuels will probably get some special attention too. If they try to man-cover the wide receivers and clog up the box then a guy like Hines who can out-quick you in the slot or flat out-run you out wide could have a big day.
The Wolfpack will be facing a tough test in East Carolina, who rolled up over 600 yards of total offense in their opener. What is the No. 1 priority for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: I don't expect NC State to shutdown East Carolina, the Pirates are good offensively. However, the defense has to be opportunistic. Limiting ECU to field goals and forcing turnovers will be critical.
Steve Williams: Without a doubt it’s to avoid giving up explosive plays. I don’t think East Carolina can methodically drive the ball consistently up and down the field on the Wolfpack defense. The Pack has to get them in third and down and then get off the field.
Rob McLamb: Winning the line of scrimmage will tell the tale of the game. If NC State can play in ECU's backfield, the Pirates will have trouble establishing a running game and will constantly be playing on the back foot.
Bryant Carson: Tackling in space. ECU is going to complete short-quick passes which is fine to give up if you can get them quickly to the ground. Don’t let little dump off plays go for chunk yardage and instead make them earn everything all the way up the field.
East Carolina is going to spread NC State out and mix in the run with a high-powered passing game. Do you expect to see State pressure more with blitz packages or play coverage and try to stop the run with the defensive front?
James Henderson: I think State's going to try and create confusion with the front. Defensive ends Darian Roseboro, James Smith-Williams, Kentavius Street, and Bradley Chubb are all versatile enough to drop into coverage and they can also line up all across the defensive line in pass-rush situations. I think you'll see pressure but it will come from various angles and positions.
Steve Williams: Personally I’d start with my front four and see how it goes. If the Pack can generate pressure with their defensive front then I’d limit how much I sent pressure. I have some concerns about State’s defensive backs in man coverage and if the Pack is forced to send a lot of extra bodies then I’m afraid it’ll make question number five a major problem.
Rob McLamb: A combination of both would be ideal, particularly if NC State jumps out to an early lead. If East Carolina is forced to pass on first and second down the Wolfpack can then introduce its blitz packages to help its secondary.
Bryant Carson: Early on I would expect State to sit back a little, try not to let ECU get behind them and just use the DL to rush the passer. That ‘bend don’t break’ philosophy is gut-wrenching for fans but what you don’t want is to give up a few ‘cheap/easy’ touchdowns early on the road in Greenville. If State can gain and maintain a decent lead thereby making the ECU offense a little more desperate and predictable then maybe you mix in some blitzes to cause chaos in the backfield.
If you had to pick one stat to track in this game, on either side of the ball, what would it be?
James Henderson: Explosive plays. I think both offenses want to generate as many explosive plays as possible, and whichever team is able to create the most explosive plays will likely win the football game.
Steve Williams: Turnovers... I think whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win this game. Protecting the ball is critical but even more so when you’re playing on the road. Conversely, generating turnovers and short fields is the great equalizer in a hostile environment.
Rob McLamb: Rushing yards. If NC State has over 200 yards rushing and wins the battle on the ground a road victory will be much more likely.
Bryant Carson: I’d be most interested to see State’s rushing yards. My guess is that State will need to at least attempt to stretch the field more in this game than the last but I’d be surprised if they got too far away from all the weapons they have in the rush game.