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 Syracuse.
NC State now heads on the road to face Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. What is the biggest key of the game for the Wolfpack?
James Henderson: Turnovers and penalties. I really think NC State must force Syracuse to beat them. The Wolfpack can't have a lot of penalties and need to win the turnover battle. If they can do those two things, they'll have a great chance at coming back to Raleigh with a win.
Steve Williams: I think the first thing State has to do is put the Florida State game behind them. If the Pack goes into this game sleep walking, they'll lose. I felt like this is exactly what happened after the Clemson loss and while I don't know if State could've beaten Louisville playing their best, there's no doubt that the Pack wasn't into the game mentally. If State repeats that effort on Saturday, Syracuse certainly has the talent to beat them.
Rob McLamb: Between the lines the biggest key for the Wolfpack will be fatigue on the defensive side of the ball. The Syracuse offense does not lend itself to making substitutions. Guys will have to dig in.
Bryant Carson: Score touchdowns. Scoring will likely be the name of the game Saturday with Syracuse going as fast as they can each offensive possession in another attempt to simply outscore their opponent. NC State has excelled defensively the last few weeks while the offense has struggled to finish drives—that is a formula for disaster this week as it can be difficult for any defense to defend this type of offense all day without giving up a few touchdowns.
The uptempo, no-huddle offense is Syracuse's identity, and NC State has to find a way to slow down that unit. What is the biggest factor for the Wolfpack versus Syracuse's offense?
James Henderson: Limit explosive plays. NC State has been a much better team this year in limiting explosive plays. State ranks No. 28 nationally in plays allowed of 30+ yards or more (16). Last year the Pack finished No. 114 in the country (39). They've been even better against in longer plays, and they've yielded just five plays of 40+ yards this season, which is fifth-best nationally. As you can see, the Wolfpack stressed all offseason that they needed to do a better job of limiting explosive plays and they've been able to do that this year.
Syracuse features a big-play offense that is 20th nationally in plays from scrimmage of 30+ yards (27), so it's critical for NC State to limit explosive chunk plays and force the Orange to sustain drives and score touchdowns in the redzone.
Steve Williams: The Pack has to get a complete team effort to stop Syracuse. They need to control the line of scrimmage but as we've seen in past games, when the defensive line hasn't made plays, the back seven has been suspect in pass coverage. The Wolfpack linebackers and defensive backs HAVE to have a good game against Syracuse and try to force them into third and longs. They can't let the Orange dictate the flow of the game with their passing attack the way Boston College did with their run game.
Rob McLamb: NC State needs to create situations where there is little guesswork in regards to whether Syracuse will run or pass. If the Orange is facing second down or third down and long, it will help the Wolfpack deal with fatigue from a mental aspect. Physical fatigue leads to mental fatigue and that is when defenses are most susceptible.
Bryant Carson: Syracuse is likely to accumulate a lot of yards with their quick pace offense. The biggest key, in my opinion, is in standing strong in the red zone and forcing field goals. I imagine State will go with ‘bend don’t break’ Saturday in an effort to keep the Syracuse skill players in front of them, make them run a lot of plays and earn everything they get.
What is the biggest concern for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: Syracuse has a group of talented wideouts. NC State's defense will be tested through the air so the Wolfpack secondary has to do a good job of winning one-on-one battles and tackling in space.
Steve Williams: If Dungey plays then obviously slowing down their passing attack is the biggest concern. This has been an area where State has struggled this year and Syracuse definitely has an offense that could give State fits.
Rob McLamb: The Wolfpack needs to have the right players in at the right times. Substituting will not be easy due to how quickly Syracuse's offense works.
Bryant Carson: Similar to Clemson and L’Ville this is an effective offense that likes to take advantage of spreading you out and getting play-makers into space. As such it’s vital to avoid giving up the easy stuff that leads to long touchdowns/explosive plays. State can allow little dink and dunk stuff as long as they get the receivers on the ground with minimal gains after the catch.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: I think Dravious Wright and Niles Clark, the Wolfpack's two nickelbacks, must be sound in coverage. Last week they struggled at times with FSU's dynamic slot man Nyqwan Murray, and Syracuse features two talented slot receivers in Brisley Estime and Erving Phillips. Look for those two to really challenge Wright and Clark through the air.
Steve Williams: I'm going to go with two- Jack Tocho and Mike Stevens. I believe how they perform is going to have a huge impact on this game. Those two have to make plays for State to have a chance to win.
Rob McLamb: Mike Stevens will have a lot asked of him. It's important not to let Syracuse find a comfort zone with its passing game. In reality, everyone in the defensive secondary needs to step up.
Bryant Carson: Shawn Boone needs to be ready, as the last line of defense, to help get receivers to the ground. He needs to play disciplined Saturday in taking good angles and sound tackling. Boone and Wright are always good for laying some hits early in a game that might lend to a WR becoming a little nervous—make them hear the footsteps.
For the first time in weeks, NC State will be facing a defensive unit that isn't really good statistically. What is the biggest priority for NC State's offense?
James Henderson: This should be a "get-right" game for the Wolfpack offense. Syracuse is young on defense and struggles defending the pass and the run so NC State's offense needs to have a good showing this week.
Look for State to try and establish Matt Dayes on the ground but also take vertical shots against Syracuse's inexperienced secondary.
Steve Williams: The Pack has under performed offensively in the last three games based on what the opposing defense averaged giving up. Yes, statistically Syracuse isn't as good on paper as the previous three teams but to me, State has played down to the competition lately and that needs to stop against the Orange.
Maybe I'm wrong but I really believe this is a game where State's going to need to score 28+ points to win.
Rob McLamb: Aside from turnovers and penalties the biggest task NC State will have is finishing drives. The Wolfpack needs to put the ball in the end zone and, when drives come up short, must convert its field goal attempts.
Bryant Carson: Pretty much a repeat of question 1. State can move the ball, accumulate yards, pick up first downs…but they must learn to finish drives in the end zone.
The Wolfpack has struggled inside the redzone. What do you think has led to those issues and how can it be corrected?
James Henderson: I don't think it has been one particular thing. State has missed field goals in the redzone and turned the ball over. The Wolfpack has also had critical drops and bad penalties that put them behind the chains offensively.
To correct it, NC State has to play cleaner and not settle for field goal attempts. Touchdowns are a must.
Steve Williams: Typically when a team struggles inside the red zone it's because they can't run the football and that's somewhat perplexing as it relates to State. They seem to run the ball fine between the 20's but can't get any consistent push in the red zone. One thing State has to consider based on what we've seen this year is they simply can't line up and bully their way into the end zone.
I think they need to use more misdirection, spread the field, etc to run the ball. In other words, what they've done in the past hasn't really worked so they need to try something different.
Rob McLamb: To be fair, NC State has faced stiff competition in regards to the defenses it has faced lately. That said, the Wolfpack has had a variety of things go wrong. There have been turnovers, penalties, missed play opportunities and missed field goals.
Basically it boils down to matching the efficiency in the red zone with what got them there and it is going to take a collective effort.
Bryant Carson: Well playing some really good defenses the last 4 weeks has at least had something to do with it. However, on the State side I feel like the’ve had an easier time scoring from further out than closer in. Once inside the 10 I think the offense has gotten a little conservative and predictable.
Maybe this week you don’t have to take big gambles down there and a Matt Dayes run or two will get the job done but the last few weeks those defenses just weren’t going to allow it. If Syracuse loads up and refuses to let Dayes get through on the goal line then I’d target Samuels and/or Harmon because those 2 know how to score.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball for NC State?
James Henderson: Matt Dayes is 169 yards short of 1,000 yards. The goal should be for him to get it this week against a Syracuse rush defense that ranks No. 94 against the run and is yielding nearly 200 yards per game on the ground.
Steve Williams: I don't know if I would call it stepping up but I think State needs Matt Dayes to be Matt Dayes. To me, everything starts with him and if he's having success then the Pack can move the ball and put points on the board.
Rob McLamb: Connor Haskins. When NC State needs to attempt a field goal, points cannot be left on the table. It has cost the Wolfpack at least two games (at East Carolina, at Clemson) and hurt them in another (Florida State).
Bryant Carson: This is a week where you’ve got to score to keep up and likely a game that will see State throw the ball around quite a bit. Being the lone senior in the receiving group I think it’d be great for Cherry to step up and play with some urgency—set that example early and often for the younger guys.
Prediction time... let's have it. What do you think happens on the field?
James Henderson: Two years ago NC State went to Syracuse on a four-game losing streak and left the Carrier Dome with a win. I think they'll be able to do the same this week, winning 34-24 over the Orange.
Steve Williams: On paper I think State should win. However, how much has the last four losses taken out of the Pack? If State is to make a bowl game then this is basically a must win to me. Can the Pack play like it? Can they show a sense of urgency? I'm not convinced they will so if Dungey is at 100% then I'm going with Syracuse. If he doesn't play I'll pick NC State.
Rob McLamb: Syracuse 35, NC State 31
NC State has a talented team but until the Wolfpack pulls through, particularly in a hard-fought contest, the burden of proof will be on them
Bryant Carson: State needs a win in the worst way so you’ve got to think they’ll be hungry and eager to get on the field Saturday. They had better be as a slow start could haunt them on the road against a capable opponent. The danger here is allowing this Syracuse offense to get in rhythm because once they start clicking they become very difficult to stop.
I think the State offense finds a way Saturday and leads the Pack to a close win.