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 Old Dominion.
Two games in, what have you been most impressed with offensively from NC State?
James Henderson: I've liked State's efficiency. Nearly 8 yards per play against East Carolina is superb, and the State offense continues to be stout on the ground. Look for the offense to continue opening up going forward.
Steve Williams: I would have to say QB Ryan Finley. I didn’t know what to expect and so I had little or no expectations for him this season. I think he’s played much better than I thought and he’s definitely been an early bright spot for the Wolfpack in my opinion.
Rob McLamb: Ryan Finley has eliminated any doubt as to who should be the starting quarterback for NC State. His play has been solid and he mixes it with an attitude that suggests he is more interested in what the team does opposed to individual glory.
Bryant Carson: I’m not sure that the OL has been really tested yet—and they will be—but thus far that unit has been solid. State has rushed for over 200 yards in both games and Finley, for the most part, has operated out of a clean pocket. Coming into the season the OL had to be a question mark due to replacing 3 starters, replacing the OL coach and learning a new offense. Thus far they have risen to the challenge.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: Nyheim Hines... he's been relatively quiet through two games and now he is banged up.
Steve Williams: I think Nyheim Hines has a world of potential and perhaps my feeling on him is the exact opposite of Finley. Hines is a sophomore, has a year under his belt and I think it’s time for him to become a bigger threat offensively. I believe he has game breaking ability and that’s something State desperately needs in their offense.
Rob McLamb: Nyheim Hines. He needs to be the type of receiver that mixes deep threat with solid possession-type catches that will free up both Jaylen Samuels and other wideouts that can go long, such as Kelvin Harmon, Maurice Trowell and Stephen Louis.
Bryant Carson: I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Nyheim Hines just yet. He’s made some plays and had some chances but he’s a guy I expected to come into year 2 and put it on some defenses.
I think it would really help Hines out if he would get some calls that gets him the ball past the LOS where he can get a little more space and make things happen—I feel like thus far he’s ran plays that force him to go through the teeth of the defense and while he’s been good doing it I believe he’d be at his best in space.
NC State has now rushed for over 200 yards in five straight games, dating back to last season. Do you think this should be and is the identity of the Wolfpack offense?
James Henderson: I think it should be the focal point, but I still believe against the elite teams NC State's going to have to be effective, maybe moreso, through the air to win games.
Steve Williams: I don’t know if should or will be the identity but I think it has to be the foundation of the offense. When you can effectively run the football it sets up so many other things offensively and you don’t get pigeonholed into a one dimensional look. The Pack has to continue to be able to run the ball well if they want to have any chance to compete against the tougher half of their schedule.
Rob McLamb: Balance should be the identity of the offense because it allows a coach to take what the defense gives him. It also gives the one calling the plays the freedom to adjust to a defense that has shown no ability to stop a particular aspect of NC State's offense.
Bryant Carson: I don’t know about should be but I certainly believe it is the identity. Doeren put in a lot of years at Wisconsin in the days when they were very successful running the ball right at defenses, controlling the clock and winning. Fundamentally it’s still a great game plan IF you can do it right. The best way to keep these high octane spread offenses at bay is to play keep-away by possessing the ball and keeping long sustained drives that end in touchdowns. The problem is when your run game takes a while to get going and before you know it you’re down a few scores.
I think you saw a small glimpse of that last week at ECU; in the first quarter I thought State did some power-set run formations that moved the ball ok but didn’t produce points which allowed ECU to gain confidence and a small lead. Then in the second quarter State opened it up more, threw the ball down the field and put up some quick points. I’d rather see State try to do things the opposite way—come out aggressive, throw the ball and try to score and score and score and then, if you’re up a few scores hit them with your potent rush attack to keep the clock moving and your defense on the sideline.
What has been your biggest takeaway so far from the Wolfpack defense?
James Henderson: I think there is a higher ceiling that his unit hasn't reached yet. State's been dominant in stretches, but the Wolfpack has to become even more consistent defensively given the remaining teams on the schedule.
Steve Williams: I think the jury is still out on the defense. If I’ve had one concern thus far it’s been the play of the cornerbacks. State hasn’t been particularly aggressive defensively in the first couple of games and that’s something that they’ll likely have to adjust if the coverage downfield doesn’t tighten up.
Rob McLamb: The drives to open each half versus William & Mary, the first two drives and the final drive of the ECU game should be troubling to the NC State defense. They have a 'don't allow the big play' feel to them but what the Wolfpack needs is to assert itself on the opening drives and get critical stops when it counts. They have 10 games left to do so.
Bryant Carson: I still believe this will be a tough defense to run the ball against. Unfortunately the better teams on State’s schedule would probably prefer to spread ‘em out and throw it. I imagine those games will look a little like ECU—bend don’t break, allowing a ton of offensive yards and trying to force field goals and turnovers.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: Jerod Fernandez was solid in week one, but I thought against East Carolina he was picked on a little bit. If he's going to play on obvious passing downs he has to be more effective.
Steve Williams: C’mon Kentavius Street, it’s time to earn that five star ranking. You see a flash of brilliance (running down an ECU running back from behind) and then he disappears for stretches at a time. Street, physically, is way too talented not to be a bigger, more disruptive force on defense. The Pack needs his light to come on immediately.
Rob McLamb: Bradley Chubb. He was given the number 9 for a reason. The two penalties at East Carolina were brutal but he has to be the defensive line's playmaker and a leader. It is still early in the season so many of the goals NC State has are still on the table.
Bryant Carson: A corner, any corner. I think Tocho still has a chance to be a very good cover CB and he did create a nice turnover at ECU when State really needed it. At the end of the day though you really need consistency and that, in my opinion is still lacking.
It seems against East Carolina NC State appeared to play more of a bend-don't-break style to limit potential big plays. It led to a lot of yards and plays for East Carolina, but did prevent big plays and helped the Wolfpack force some field goals. What is your feeling on that strategy versus an aggressive, blitzing style?
James Henderson: I like it, but I think in stretches. I don't think it should be the exclusive way to play, but tehre will be times where State needs to adjust back-and-forth from each strategy.
Steve Williams: I wasn’t crazy about it because what it allowed East Carolina to do was dictate time of possession and by the fourth quarter, NC State’s defense looked gassed. All of a sudden they’re whiffing on tackles and looked helpless to stop the Pirate’s offense. I’ve always believed, once you get in the red zone, get aggressive and force the issue. That was a staple under former defensive coordinator Buddy Green and he had a ton of success with it.
Rob McLamb: The. defensive line is supposed to be a strength. The emphasis should be on getting into the opponent's backfield, especially when linebackers are forced to cover slot receivers.
Bryant Carson: Look, I’d love for State to be able to play spread teams really aggressively by blitzing LBers and Ss and CBs playing man coverage that starts just off the LOS but I don’t think the coverage is good enough to do that. Maybe FSU, Clemson, Alabama and a few others can get away with that kind of game plan because they have future NFL CBs…right now State doesn’t.
Bend don’t break is excruciating to watch but it is a safe way to defend the spread. I think State was very close to defending ECU the right way but the inopportune penalties killed them and allowed ECU to continue some drives that should have been stopped.
What should NC State try and do offensively against Old Dominion on Saturday night?
James Henderson: I thought last year in these games NC State didn't allow Jacoby Brissett to dominate like he was capable of, and because of that when the tougher games came around he and the offense lacked explosiveness.
I would be really, really aggressive with my calling and play fast and take shots deep if the opportunity is there.
Steve Williams: Let’s be honest and not to take anything away from ODU but State should do whatever they want offensively. The Pack should be able to run the ball and athletically, should have an advantage at the receiver spots. This needs to be a game where the Pack worries about themselves and just works to get better as a unit.
Rob McLamb: Establish the run first, then incorporate a scheme where Hines and the other receivers can find an offensive identity -- meaning the Wolfpack should learn who are the viable deep-threat options and who are possession-type receivers.
Bryant Carson: First thing is first..win, and I think State’s easiest road to victory is running the ball which is something they’ve done extremely well against inferior teams the last few years. However, I would probably try to keep it simple in the early going and try to get up a few scores and then if that were accomplished I’d open up the playbook and try to throw the ball vertically down the field and get some of these playmakers going—Hines, Moss, Trowell, Louis, Harmon, etc.
What do you expect to see from NC State's defense against Old Dominion... who features a mobile quarterback and explosive running back?
James Henderson: I believe the defense will focus on limiting the running game... I think you'll see perimeter pressure so State can load the box and try to limit the effectiveness of tailback Ray Lowry.
Steve Williams: It’s a good test both physically and from a discipline standpoint. This will be an opportunity for the Pack’s front four to make a statement and really show what they’ve got. I don’t think you’ll see the Pack do anything exotic and they really shouldn’t have to. Just like with the offense, it’s a chance for NC State to improve as a unit.
Rob McLamb: This game would likely more difficult for the Wolfpack is NC State had never played Old Dominion before. With this being the third straight season the two schools have matched up, there should be little in the way of suprises for the defense.
On a side note, the junior class for this season (assuming they do not redshirt in the coming seasons) will play Old Dominion in the regular season three times in their football career but never once play Duke. That is remarkably stupid, regardless of who is to blame.
Bryant Carson: I think State will get right back to business and beat up ODU on the LOS and stop the run. The big unknown element here—and I’ll be interested to see how they handle it—will be containing the threat of the QB-run. Last season, with what was then a young DL, they were susceptible to getting out of their lanes and playing without discipline which allowed some long plays and easy scores by mobile QBs (Lamar Jackson). Another year older now we’ll see how those guys hold up.
I feel sure though that ODU will not play in conservative-mode all night and will likely at some point take some chances in an attempt to catch State off guard.
Throughout the course of the game though I’m all but certain that there will be a breakdown or two and State will give up some big plays and scores.