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 Notre Dame
Notre Dame has struggle defending the run and the pass while NC State's offense is clicking. What would be your offensive gameplan against the Irish?
James Henderson: I would look to establish Matt Dayes, given the conditions, but also mix in creative passing looks.
Notre Dame at times could have four true freshmen in the secondary and that's never good. Any sort of plays to create confusion could leads to busts and explosive plays for the Wolfpack offense. I fully expect NC State to show some different pass plays specifically designed for this game.
With that being said, Matt Dayes has to get going. State's best gameplan could actually be pounding away at Notre Dame's defense while keeping DeShone Kizer on the sidelines.
Steve Williams: Just keep being yourself. Do the things that you've been successful with and don't change a thing. The Pack has been extremely balanced, and they've utilized a ton of players. This makes them tough to defend and puts Notre Dame is a position to pick their poison when they try to stop the Pack.
Rob McLamb: Focus on the run and short passing games early due to the weather. Use go-routes and deep post plays to keep the Irish from loading the box.
Bryant Carson: Balance. I would try to show the ND defense both the run and the pass all day and never let them get comfortable in what is coming next. I think offensive balance has been a major goal for Coach Doeren since arriving in Raleigh and when you’re playing a team that has had trouble defending both the run and the pass why not work both.
I would expect ND to come out similar to Wake last week and really work to take away the run because of how well State has rushed thus far this season and also because of the likely wet-weather. If they do, Finley and the State O will have to settle in and work the passing game through the wet and sloppy conditions.
How do you think the weather will impact NC State's offense?
James Henderson: It's hard to say because I'm not sure how well Ryan Finley can play in those conditions. It's going to be wet and windy and wet footballs can lead to turnovers/poor throws, but one comment he made recently was really interesting. He said that the humidity he dealt with in the summer had him basically throwing a wet football everyday in camp. If that's true, maybe he does well.
Outside of that, I think the bad weather could help State's offense because it should help the Pack's ground game and shouldn't really both the short passing game they've favored early in the season.
Steve Williams: I really don't think it will unless it turns out to be a lot worse than is currently predicted. State is not a vertical passing team so I don't think the weather should have a huge impact on their offense at all.
Rob McLamb: It will make it harder to be a team that focuses on the pass. Jumping out to an early lead will be important for NC State so the Wolfpack can dictate game flow.
Bryant Carson: Unless the wind and rain are out of control I imagine Coach Drinkwitz will continue calling plays as he has all season. If the wind and rain get crazy then I would assume both State and ND will predominately stick to the ground—though maybe with some creativity mixed in—jet sweeps, reverses, draws, etc.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball for NC State?
James Henderson: Ryan Finley has to keep playing well. I don't see NC State winning (or losing) a low-scoring game... the offense will need to be productive because Notre Dame's offense is as dangerous as any on the Wolfpack's schedule.
Steve Williams: I'd really like to see Matt Dayes take over this game. His numbers are good this year, but I've yet to feel like he's dominated a game. Running the ball effectively takes so much pressure off other areas of the offense so an effective Matt Dayes is big for the Pack.
Rob McLamb: Jaylen Samuels: He can be the short game alternative to Matt Dayes.
Bryant Carson: This could be a game where showing a productive change-up from Matt Dayes could be really helpful so I’ll go with Reggie Gallaspy. Gallaspy came in and gave NCSU a nice spark in the ECU game with a couple of nice runs and if ND zeroes in on Dayes it’d be great if Gallaspy could come in and catch them off guard a little.
Notre Dame is a max-protect team that looks to allow Deshone Kizer to take vertical shots. What would be your gameplan defensively to defend the Irish?
James Henderson: State has to make Notre Dame one-dimensional. They can do that by jumping out to an early lead (which they did against Wake Forest) or eliminating the Irish ground game early. If State can make the Irish one-dimensional it will help the pass rush and pass defense.
Also, I think State must continue to force field goals and limit explosive scoring plays. That is going to be critical. The Wolfpack can't allow Notre Dame to score quickly on chunk plays. If they can make the Irish sustain drives and ultimately kick field goals, the Wolfpack will have a great chance at winning.
Steve Williams: Mix up your coverages, mix up your blitzes but this is one of those games where I force Notre Dame to dink and dunk. Along the way you hope they make a mistake, turn the ball over, have a penalty or the Pack comes up with a big play. Stops are going to be at a premium in this game.
Rob McLamb: NC State may need someone to be a sitter to prevent Kizer from scrambling for yards. As far as the long ball, perhaps a cover-4 if the Wolfpack is not concerned about short passes.
Bryant Carson: I think I’d call some LBer blitzes to help the front four get a little penetration through the max-protect—of course if you do that and you don’t get Kizer on the ground and your LBers are now behind the LOS you’re likely to give up big chunks of easy yardage to Kizer’s legs. I would not commit a lot of DB help during blitzes because I would think you’d want to keep those guys deep to help to defend the bombs. I would also be inclined to play Niles Clark a little more than usual due to his coverage skills.
What is the biggest concern for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: Notre Dame's offensive line and tight end. NC State has been able to generate pressure with their front four, but the Irish has a good offensive line and will use the tight end mainly to block... when you add in the running back, there will be a lot of max protection, and that's scary given Kizer's ability and the talent Notre Dame has at wideout.
Steve Williams: The biggest concern for me is that State gets pushed around early, loses confidence and gets back on the heels. Having success early is going to be huge for the defense. It'll also be important for keeping the crowd loud and involved.
Rob McLamb: Kizer can not be allowed to scramble for yardage if pass plays do not develop. The Wolfpack needs solid play from its defensive ends to keep him from going wide.
Bryant Carson: The big play. Coming into the season that was a huge point of emphasis for the defense to clean up from 2015 and so far so good. However, outside of maybe ECU the D hasn’t faced a lot of teams that have taken a lot of big shots—ND’s M.O. this season is throwing the haymaker over and over. You’d hate to see State play a good game both offensively and defensively but lose because of giving up 3-4 big plays…but that could happen (it did last season).
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: Josh Jones played his best game of the year and NC State will need another similar outing on Saturday. With Shawn Boone out for the first half, he could have even more responsibility on his shoulders, and Jones will need to be strong in run support and pass coverage.
Steve Williams: Bradley Chubb...maybe it's too much to ask with Notre Dame keeping guys back in coverage but it would be nice to see Chubb have a breakout game. I know he's drawn a ton of attention so far this year but he certainly has the talent to have a huge impact on this game.
Rob McLamb: Jarius Morehead: Shawn Boone will miss the first half. He says he's ready. His teammates say he is ready. His coaches say he's ready. NC State will need him to be ready.
Bryant Carson: I think this one is easy and obvious—Jarius Morehead. Shawn Boone has been rock-solid thus far this season and with Boone sidelined for all the first half Morehead, a RS-Frosh is going to step right in to ‘big-boy-ball’. Morehead has shown nice flashes but this will be a tall-task for him and I’m sure ND is aware of the substitution in the starting D.
What type of atmosphere do you expect on Saturday?
James Henderson: It's hard to say. Optimal conditions, I think it would have been electric. Given the weather and it being Fall Break, I just don't know.
Steve Williams: I think despite the weather the atmosphere will be tremendous to start the game. Whether it stays like that will be up to the team.
Rob McLamb: With the weather and the noon start there may be some empty seats but there should be a good and loud atmosphere at Carter-Finley on Saturday.
Bryant Carson: Sadly I would guess that the weather will have a big impact on both fans and recruits that were otherwise planning to show.
I know there are a lot of dedicated fans out there that would come to watch the Pack play even if the stadium was filled with angry cobras and Fran Drescher was set to sing the national anthem, but I would guess that is more the exception than the rule. Especially for fans and/or recruits coming from a few hours away where they might not otherwise be affected by the storm.
How important is this game for the Wolfpack program?
James Henderson: Well, it's big because it could be a signature win for Dave Doeren, but more importantly put the Wolfpack back on track for bowl eligibility. NC State needs a "name" win, and even if Notre Dame is down, it would be a huge win.
Steve Williams: It's huge. Since the Pack lost to ECU, they need a makeup game somewhere. Looking at the remainder of their schedule, this is one State has to win.
Rob McLamb: It is important not because of Notre Dame's past but because of NC State's future. Dave Doeren, only three weeks removed from having people question his job status, needs a solid win both for the sake of having a positive performance at home and to keep the Wolfpack in a positive mindset ahead of the two following games at Clemson and at Louisville.
Bryant Carson: It would be a great game to win but, in my opinion, for no other reason than tacking another 1 up in the W column. This game would be huge if ND weren’t 2-3 including a home loss to Duke. In fact, if State wins this game I feel like all we’ll hear about is how bad of year ND is having and if State loses then I can’t imagine how many threads will hit PackPride alone condemning State for losing to a team that Duke beat. It’s kind of strange that this is where we are with this game given how it looked before the season started.
Maybe there are some recruits out there that would be blown away by the name-value of beating ND but I doubt State would get any kind of national recognition for winning this one.
Prediction time... let's have it. What do you think happens on the field?
James Henderson: I think NC State has a good chance to get this one. The Wolfpack matches up well statistically with the Irish, who will only play three "true" road games this year: Texas, NC State, and USC. They lost to Texas already... I think State wins by 3.
Steve Williams: State in a quasi-shootout.....35-31
Rob McLamb: NC State by 10.
Bryant Carson: I don’t think I’ll be surprised how this thing turns out one way or another—State blows out ND, ND blows out State, close game that goes into 4 OTs.
I’d like State’s chances more if I felt like the weather wouldn’t impact the crowd/environment but I do. In these close games with teams that are perceived to be superior State hasn’t done very well in the last few years. I’m going to go 38-34 ND with a couple of big plays given up during sloppy weather being the difference.