Pack Pride's James Henderson, Steve Williams, Rob McLamb, and Bryant Carson answer several critical questions facing NC State with the Wolfpack coming out of the bye week.
What has impressed you the most about NC State's offense through the first three games?
James Henderson: The offensive line. I know some were concerned about the quarterback, but I had pretty good feeling that this system would be quarterback-friendly. Anytime you're essentially starting three new starters up front, it's a concern, but that group has played well and should only get better as they continue to build chemistry.
Steve Williams: Two things that have stood out are efficiency and protecting the ball. The Pack has had just three turnovers and QB Ryan Finley has yet to throw an interception. In fact, he really hasn’t even come close to throwing a pick in three games. As a whole, State has been able to move the ball methodically by effectively running the ball and utilizing the short passing game. We felt this would be their identity in 2016 and so far they’ve been true to form.
Rob McLamb: NC State has shown an ability to find targets down the field. Deep balls were an issue for the Wolfpack last season. Stephen Louis has done particularly well.
Bryant Carson: Efficiency. Ryan Finley is second nationally in completion percentage and NC State is averaging 6.8 yards per play—both are extremely impressive stats. State has moved the ball well using multiple offensive players in a multitude of ways which should cause opposing defensive coordinators studying tape to develop at least a mild headache in deciding what they want to take away and how.
James Henderson: It would probably be the level of competition faced. I think all areas are performing well, but the competition picks up with league play looming.
Steve Williams: The three defenses State has faced thus far are probably some of the weakest they’ll see all year. The only thing missing offensively has been the big play and you have to feel like the first three teams on the schedule would’ve given the Wolfpack the best shot at this. As the talent level improves headed forward you’re going to see teams really tighten their coverage which is going to attempt to limit the run and short passes. To counter this State is going to have to prove they can throw the ball down the field.
Rob McLamb: Will NC State continue to find receivers 15 yards or more down the field as the competition gets tougher?
Bryant Carson: I think the primary concern is the level of defense you’ve faced thus far—in my opinion the three they’ve played may well be the worst three they’ll see all season.
James Henderson: I think NC State should continue to work in the wide receivers even more. I believe Stephen Louis, Kelvin Harmon, and Jakobi Meyers have the look of really productive players. Look for them to continue getting opportunities to make plays.
Steve Williams: I think schematically NC State is fine. I think the jury is still out on the offensive line and the Pack may have to use more misdirection in the future to protect Ryan Finley in the passing game.
Personnel wise I’d like to see Jakobi Meyers become a bigger part of the offense. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to find openings in the defense and then make the catch.
Rob McLamb: Right now there is not much that needs to be changed. It is more about how NC State can cope with league opposition, along with Notre Dame. That said, finding innovative ways to get Jaylen Samuels the ball is always a plus.
Bryant Carson: The one thing I’ve been most surprised by is the lack of creativity in getting Nyheim Hines the ball. I assumed that in this offense he’d be a primary key and more so a guy Coach Drinkwitz would really scheme to get the ball to in open space. He’s probably gotten a reasonable amount of touches in the two games he played in but I felt like he was still having to get through the teeth of the defense on those touches. I’d like to see Hines get into some crossing routes or maybe even some quick slants where he can kind of get going at the second level as the ball is delivered because once his legs start going he is so elusive.
James Henderson: I think there's still plenty left to see, but from what we have on tape so far he does a good job of spreading the ball around to playmakers and really helps out his quarterbacks.
Rob McLamb: Drinkwitz seems to be the type of coordinator that does not force-feed players. He will adjust to what the defense gives him then look to exploit it for maximum gain.
Bryant Carson: I think Drinkwitz wants to throw the ball around—which I firmly believe is why he hired. From game 1 to game 3 you saw Drinkwitz take the reigns off of Ryan Finely more and more. The first game plan was probably a little on the conservative side because of the opponent and given the uncertainty at QB. Now that some roles have been settled into and you kind of know what you’ve got I think the creativity and pace will continue to evolve.
James Henderson: Ryan Finley. He's been outstanding.
Steve Williams: Ryan Finley, without a doubt. He’s surpassed anything I expected by a wide margin. Early on the word behind the scenes was he was simply expected to be an ablebodied backup but he’s seized the starting spot and emerged as a huge bright spot for the Pack. The question is, how effective can he be against FSU, Clemson, Louisville and Boston College in the weeks to come.
Rob McLamb: Ryan Finley has been terrific. His completion percentage has been out of this world and he seems grounded when it comes to how he carries himself. The quarterback position had some questions entering the season. Finley is giving the answers.
Bryant Carson: It simply has to be Ryan Finley. Finley is looking like a major steal for NC State. He’s a little older and presumably a little more mature than your average college sophomore and he’s playing like it. He just seems to have those intangibles that makes for a great QB—he appears to be poised and in control in the pocket, he understands the offense and what Drinkwitz wants and thus far he is executing out on the field.
James Henderson: Negative yardage plays. State's one of the top teams in the country in terms of creating tackles for a loss. That's a big positive moving forward.
Steve Williams: The ability to generate negative plays has definitely been noteworthy. If my count is right the Pack has generated 32 tackles for loss through three games and that’s a huge number. 25 of those have been by the defensive line.
Rob McLamb: The defense for NC State has had its moments. The good news is there always seems to be a player or two that has a better than average game but, to be fair, the sample size is not great.
Bryant Carson: For me it’s the defensive line. In three games they have plenty of tackles, tackles for loss, QB hurries and the sacks finally started pouring in against ODU. Even in the loss to ECU the DL was plenty disruptive and came up with several TFL but in a game like that the style of offense counteracts a good DL.
Steve Williams: Inconsistency. Way too often the Pack has followed up a tackle for loss with a breakdown defensively that allowed the opposition to sustain a drive particularly against East Carolina. It’s almost as if the defensive line doesn’t make a play then the Pack struggles to find someone else to make one. You simply cannot expect your front four to make or influence a play on every single snap.
Rob McLamb: If there is little pressure on the quarterback the Wolfpack tends to give up big yardage, particularly when linebackers are asked to cover running backs or slots. NC State needs to be in the quarterback's face as much as possible.
Bryant Carson: Coverage…overall coverage. I think for State to take the next step and win some of these ‘big’ games they’ll have to cover a little better all over the field. This is certainly easier said than done though.
James Henderson: I would continue to try and play with safety help to limit big plays... make teams sustain drives, and I would also look to mix in more dime. On obvious passing downs, why not go with one linebacker to add another pass defender?
Steve Williams: I would like to see the Pack get more aggressive on second and third and long and in the red zone. State hasn’t been a heavy blitzing team this year and it’s something I’d like to see more of, especially in those particular instances. Personnel-wise I think State is fine although I feel Darian Roseboro and Eurndraus Bryant have shown they have earned more snaps headed forward.
Rob McLamb: Perhaps blitz more. The defensive line has the ability to get into the offensive backfield and that can alleviate some pressure on the back-seven.
Bryant Carson: I would make a conscious effort to get Darian Roseboro more snaps per game. He’s been pretty good this season coming off the edge or working from the inside.
Past that I wonder if State will look at using a dime package against some of the spread teams they’re going to play. I thought it might have helped against ECU to relieve the LBers having to pick up all those high-efficiency crossing routes. Of course a guy like Germaine Pratt could really come in handy in that regard but no point in burning his RS just for 3rd and mediums.
James Henderson: Mike Stevens at corner. He's had some hiccups, and teams will continue to test him.
Steve Williams: Where the heck has Dravious Wright been? Last year it seemed like he was around ball on darn near every play. This year, it’s like he’s rarely on the field. Wright has just nine tackles through three games. The Pack needs more from him headed forward.
Rob McLamb: It's hard to single out one. Bradley Chubb has spoken about the need to step up his game. With him, it is probably as much or even more about his leadership abilities over him making plays.
Bryant Carson: With match-ups on the way against Dalvin Cook, Wayne Gallman, Elijah Hood and Lamar Jackson (yikes) I think Jerod Fernandez better be ready to step up to the challenge. Fernandez was really good in the opener and then had the chance to make a big play there against ECU so I’m certainly not claiming he hasn’t played well but he and Airius Moore are probably about to see opposing jerseys hit the second level with a little more consistency. They’ve both got to play smart, take good angles, avoid bad steps and sniff out plays a little quicker.
James Henderson: Darian Roseboro on a per-snap basis may have been State's most productive player on either side of the ball. For a sub-player, he's second in the ACC in tackles for a loss. Look for his snaps to increase, and you're already seeing it with State working him in at defensive tackle.
Steve Williams: I'm really not sure that I have one so far. Individual players have been good in individual games. Darian Roseboro's three sacks against Old Dominion was noteworthy. Airius Moore had a really nice game against East Carolina with 11 tackles. Jerod Fernandez looked strong against William and Mary with seven tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception. However, as a whole I can't pick out one player and say he has shown the consistency to be an MVP through the first three games.
Rob McLamb: Darian Roseboro. In all honesty, he is looking like a kid that may only be in college for three years. He is consistently making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
What will be interesting to see is how disciplined he is against teams with a running quarterback -- especially Louisville. If Roseboro does not stay in his lane against those type of offenses, NC State will yield a lot of big plays.
Bryant Carson: I think strong cases could be made for a few guys but I’m going to go with Justin Jones. His stats may not stand up with some others but watching him in the trenches is quite a sight. If you don’t remember go back and watch the first defensive snap against W&M—Jones comes up out of his stance, attacks the OG and puts him on his back. I feel like he’s consistently wreaked havoc on opposing OL, even if he didn’t come up with the tackle or sack.