What did we learn about NC State from the Wake Forest win? We review the game by answering several critical questions about the Wolfpack.
What stood out to you the most about NC State's offense against Wake Forest?
James Henderson: It's been a common theme all season so far: efficiency. NC State continues to be productive offensively while limiting turnovers and producing points.
Most of all, I was impressed with the offensive line. Wake's front seven is the strength of their defense and NC State gave Finley time all day and allowed the ground game to total 200 yards.
Steve Williams: The thing that really jumped out was how many skill players offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz got involved on offense. Nine different guys caught passes and seven different players rushed the football. If you're someone on offense you've got to love the way Drinkwitz spreads the wealth on offense.
Rob McLamb: Basically NC State used the deep ball to build around the rest of the offense... striking deep made it impossible for Wake Forest to put eight or nine in the box.
Bryant Carson: Executing the game plan. Wake had proven to be pretty good against the run in their first four games and given how Matt Dayes played against them in 2015 it was fair to believe Wake would come out ready to go all out to stopping the run—they did. State came out ready to throw the ball around and run enough to work the Wake DL/LBers and keep the defense honest. As the game wore on and State got a comfortable lead they let Dayes grind on them on the ground a little. Very solid execution.
Did you notice any new wrinkles offensively coming out of the bye week?
James Henderson: Finley was more aggressive with his throws. Both touchdowns in the endzone were passes thrown to give his man (Samuels and Harmon) a chance to make plays, which they did.
If he starts to play with more aggression NC State might have some turnovers down the road, but the offensive upside really increases which is a plus given the opposition remaining on the schedule.
Steve Williams: It was obvious that State really respected Wake's defensive line. They moved Finley outside the pocket several times on bootlegs, rollouts, etc and then used a quick pitch to the running back to get to the perimeter of the Deac's defensive line. All in all a really nice game plan from NC State.
Rob McLamb: It did seem like new wrinkles from the offense but more like taking what is there along with using a deeper pass attack to set up the running game.
Bryant Carson: I believe we saw at least a couple plays we hadn’t seen previous to the Wake game—the throw back to Meyers that became a forward pass to Cole Cook for instance. However, to me the biggest things were more of the willingness and aggressiveness with which State threw the ball down the field. On top of that there were more targets to Moss, Harmon and Trowell; the latter likely a result of circumstances.
Not sure if it counts as a ‘new wrinkle’ but Kyle Bambard stepping in, like a boss, and hitting a 49-yard field goal was huge in my opinion if for no other reason to give Bambard a boost in confidence going forward.
What was the biggest concern on that side of the ball?
James Henderson: The penalties. A few were bogus, but State has to clean that up.
Steve Williams: The biggest concern I had on offense were the two bogus chop blocks that were called. If you're going to get called for it, at least get what you paid for.
Rob McLamb: Possibly the fact that it took Matt Dayes a little while to get going but NC State is going to have to demonstrate that it can move the ball in others ways anyway.
Bryant Carson: I think offensively and defensively the biggest negative coming out of the Wake game were the penalties. Regardless of anyone’s opinion those whistles were blown and they cost State a ton of yardage—though I’m not sure how you clean up phantom penalties.
Outside of penalties I just felt like State really stalled a little late in the second quarter and most of the third quarter. I didn’t expect State to score on every possession but to have controlled the ball for most of the day the lack of scoring for a long stretch was at least a mild concern. The same thing happened last season at Wake after scoring a quick 28 in the first quarter and then putting up a 0 for the remainder of the game on offense. Given the final score the first 17 points were all State needed to win the game but that won’t get it done in this ridiculous stretch of opponents State is about to enter into.
Should NC State be worried with the lack of offensive production from Nyheim Hines?
James Henderson: No. The offense is producing and he's returning from injury. I think he'll have a chance going forward to be a major contributor.
Steve Williams: I'll only be worried if no one else is able to pick up the slack. There were guys galore that more than covered for Hines' lack of production. By the way, he's coming off an injury and clearly was never a focal point of the offense. Nyheim will be fine.
Rob McLamb: Not yet, especially since it is only the coaches who know the true extent of how injured he really was. The play of Louis and Harmon is mitigating Hines' lack of production up to this point but it's still early.
Bryant Carson: No, not worried. First, this is not a one-trick pony type of team as there are multiple guys across this offense capable of making plays. Second, it seems that Hines still has not fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered at ECU in week two. I certainly believe that a fully healthy Hines is on the way and will leave his mark on this season.
Who was the player of the game offensively for NC State?
James Henderson: I'm going to go with a group and say the offensive line. I was really impressed with their play in terms of pass protection and opening holes in the running game.
I felt this was going to be the stiffest test to date and that group passed with flying colors.
Steve Williams: I think I've given it to him every week but I'm going to keep riding with Ryan Finley. When he's able to drop back, plant his feet and throw in rhythm- he is deadly accurate. Personally I think through three games he's the third best quarterback in the ACC thus far. The competition will only get tougher so it will be interesting to see how he performs when his clock to get rid of the ball is smaller and the windows to throw to get tighter.
Rob McLamb: Ryan Finley. Going 9-for-12 for 150 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter put NC State in control.
Bryant Carson: It’s hard not to say Finley but I feel like Kelvin Harmon deserves some notice for making two huge plays that really helped keep Wake at a distance. After Wake’s first score of the day, taking the overall score to 17-3 Harmon shut their progress right down with a long TD on a go route from Finley. Later in the game with State’s offense getting a little stale and Wake closing the gap to only 10 with plenty of time remaining Harmon did a great job using his size in the end zone to box-out his CB and come up with a second TD thereby ensuring the game was in hand.
Did you notice any new wrinkles defensively coming out of the bye week?
James Henderson: NC State showed some different blitz packages with Jack Tocho and Justin Jones recording sacks out of the secondary. Overall though I don't think you're going to really see a lot different from NC State each week.
Steve Williams: The new wrinkle this week was that the NC State defensive backs played their butts off. That was one of the best DB performances I've seen in some time. Granted, they weren't facing a top-notch offense but it was certainly a step in the right direction.
Rob McLamb: The defensive line seemed more assertive or perhaps is just continuing to grow. Basically, the Wake Forest game is what NC State should've been at ECU.
The Wolfpack never broke. The defense did well in the red zone.
Bryant Carson: I’m not 100% they’re ‘new’ but the corner and safety blitzes that were called and executed were obviously well-timed and well-called. State didn’t go nuts calling blitzes every other snap but I thought those few that were called were a great way to mix it up and catch Wake off-guard.
What concerned you the most about NC State's defense against Wake Forest?
James Henderson: As with the offense, it has to be the penalties. That number was far too large, and NC State can't approach that total moving forward.
Also, the unit had a chance to force some turnovers and didn't capitalize. They MUST do this more, starting this week.
Steve Williams: The ONLY concern I had was I thought State's linebackers had some trouble losing guys in coverage. Beyond that I felt like (penalties aside) this was one of the more dominant performances we've seen from a Wolfpack defense in a while. The defensive line owned the line of scrimmage and even when John Wolford was able to complete passes, he was under duress all day on top of the four sacks that State registered.
Rob McLamb: Wolford did put up some nice numbers and moved the ball around. In a perfect world NC State would have some the same resolve it had in the red zone over the rest of the field.
Bryant Carson: Again, penalties—validity on some of the calls is debatable but even the legit ones were too much and allowed Wake to continue some drives and score some points that might have otherwise never occurred.
Who was the player of the game defensively for NC State?
James Henderson: Easy choice is Josh Jones, as he had probably the best game of his career. He was all over the field and playing with a lot of confidence, which is a must for his position.
Steve Williams: Josh Jones played out of his mind Saturday and it was great to see. He's a guy that we keep talking about and talking about and it was nice to see him play the best game of his career. Hopefully it will be the start of things to come.
Rob McLamb: Josh Jones was all over the place. If he builds on this, he could one day find himself playing on Sunday like Juston Burris does.
Bryant Carson: Josh Jones. I thought it was a standout game for him in a variety of ways. He had a good amount of tackles, the big sack, the two swatted down passes and he also had a really nice special teams tackle. Very encouraging to see him take those steps forward because if his discipline and understanding of the position catch up with his athleticism some great things may well await.
Overall, did you learn anything new about the Wolfpack?
James Henderson: I think NC State's offense is going to be legit, as long as Finley remains healthy. He has plenty of playmakers at the skill positions and the offensive line continues to gel and do their job.
Defensively, we'll learn more starting this week. What is encouraging is the redzone defense has been there, in terms of limiting teams to field goals. That's what you have to do against the high-powered offenses remaining on the schedule... limit big plays and touchdowns while also forcing turnovers.
Steve Williams: I learned that State can win convincingly even when the refs obviously don't want them to. Seriously though, that was a pretty poorly officiated game. The ACC can and should do better. In the bigger scheme, we learned Kyle Bambard can hit a 48 yard field goal. That should be a huge boost for his confidence headed forward.
Rob McLamb: The Wolfpack showed against Wake Forest that it is a team that looks ahead and does not dwell on the past. As sickening as losing to East Carolina must be to NC State, beating the Demon Deacons is more important.
It is the second straight season the Pack has used Wake to end a terrible streak. In 2015, it was losing too often in Winston-Salem. Five straight years with losses to open the ACC season was something NC State needed to stop. It was a big win for the Wolfpack.
Bryant Carson: Time will tell but thus far in the season Wake has been very good defensively and I firmly believe they’ve been the best State has seen at this point. Has to be a positive the way that State moved the ball despite Wake’s best effort to take the run game away—especially early on. The offensive line did a really nice job particularly in pass-blocking against a pretty good DL in Duke Ejiofor. Very encouraging offensive performance. Defensively a pretty solid outing minus the insane amount of penalties.