Syracuse and North Carolina State are set to face off in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. We asked PackPride.com publisher James Henderson five questions about the Wolfpack in preparation for the ACC matchup.
Q: NC State started off 4-0, but has lost four straight since. What has been the key to their tumble of late?
A: Well, the easy answer is scheduling.
NC State started the season by winning their four nonconference games, but opened league play with arguably the toughest stretch of any school in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack faced Florida State and then had to go on the road to play Clemson. They followed that up with a home game against Boston College (who was coming off a bye), and a road game at Louisville. When you factor their schedule with the fact that they are a young team that didn't have their first bye until week 9, I believe it all snowballed for them a little bit.
Q: How has the team and coaching staff handled the loss? Has there been any loss of faith in their system or are they remaining confident in the direction of the program?
I don't believe so. They seem confident with the upcoming stretch of games. They are coming off a bye, which was needed, and I get the sense it energized the players and the coaching staff.
The belief is there are some winnable games left on the schedule, and their goal of reaching a bowl game is still attainable.
Q: How has the N.C. State defense performed this season? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
They've been up-and-down, but that's to be expected given their youth on that side of the football. They are starting the same amount of true freshmen (3) as seniors, and they have 10 freshmen on the defensive two-deep depth chart.
I think they have two solid cover corners in Jack Tocho and Juston Burris, two players they are confident in when it comes to man coverage, and it has allowed them to mix up their schemes lately. They blitzed a lot more at Louisville and I think that will continue given the emergence of true freshman linebacker Airius Moore.
Their biggest weakness has been handling mobile quarterbacks. They've struggled defending them all season, particularly quarterbacks running the option. Tyler Murphy from Boston College was the dominant player in that game.
NC State has done fairly well defensively against pro-style offenses with immobile quarterbacks.
Q: Jacoby Brissett has been somewhat inconsistent. What has been the key to looking like an emerging star in some moments and average at best in others?
It's probably the same as the first question, competition. He's come down to earth a little during league play, but we have to remember, that was against Florida State and three defenses (Clemson, Boston College, and Louisville) ranked in the top nationally in total defenses. This stretch wouldn't be easy for any quarterback, and Brissett has had his ups-and-downs.
He's had problems at times dealing with pressure, but they got back Joe Thuney for the Louisville game, probably their best lineman, and NC State had as productive a game against Louisville's front as any team this season.
Overall though, I believe NC State has been thrilled with Brissett's play. The final four defenses they will face are ranked 41, 42, 87, and 123 nationally, and that should help Brissett and the rest of the Wolfpack offense.
Q: Besides Brissett, who are some offensive playmakers that could give Syracuse some trouble on Saturday?
NC State has two really good tailbacks in Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes. They both averaged over four yards per carry against Louisville and both are dangerous in the passing game.
Sophomore tight end David Grinnage has started to emerge. He's 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds and they flex him out in the slot and at wide receiver. He had two touchdowns against Louisville and has three in his last two games... he's a matchup problem.
At wideout their most consistent player has been true freshman wideout Bo Hines. He plays in the slot, has really good hands and quickness.