For the first six weeks of the college football season, no team has been as been a bigger surprise than North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack sit at 5-1, and have gone into Doak Campbell and beaten Florida State, which is still impressive, as going into Tallahassee and getting a victory is one of the toughest things to do in college football. On Saturday, they had their second statement victory of the season, beating Lamar Jackson and Louisville 39-25. That win moved them up to #20 in the country, and with the way this team is rolling they should continue to climb.
While Ryan Finley (pictured, above) and his 1,770 yards (10th in the nation) and his 10/0 TD to INT ratio get all the attention, the offensive line has been outstanding all year long. They have held up in pass protection, giving Finley plenty of time to scan the field to find weapons like Jaylen Samuels, and keeping his jersey clean. Finley, a Boise State transfer, is set to absolute smash his personal highs in touchdown (18) and yards (3.055) in 2017 after an up and down 2016 year.
Finley has also been able to find four quality weapons. Jaylen Samuels is the most well known name with his big play ability through three quality seasons at NC State being well documented. Kelvin Harmon has built on a strong freshman season, and is a huge body at 6’3” 213 along the perimeter. Harmon has shown ability to win 50/50 balls, and has true NFL potential.
Stephen Louis is another big-bodied receiver, who is able to make tough catches in traffic. At 6’2”, Louis has also shown some shake after the catch. Jakobi Lewis has been productive as a sophomore, and has been a solid 4th receiver and safety net for Finley.
However, this offense isn’t just the passing game.
Junior running back Nyheim Harris ranks 27th in the country in rushing yards with 513 and has also chipped in five touchdowns. Backup running back Reggie Gallaspy has just over 203 yards. Samuels once again is a gadget player for the Wolfpack, with 129 rushing yards to go along with his 425 receiving yards. The ability to be successful with the run and pass has kept defenses off balance, and helped them close out games, which is something North Carolina State hasn’t been able to do for the last few seasons.
The defense for this Wolfpack has been solid too, employing a “bend but don’t break” defense. NC State ranks 88th in total defense, but give up less than 24 points per game.
Everybody knows about Bradley Chubb (featured), and for good reason. The senior defensive end had 10.5 sacks in 2015, and already has seven this season. But the entire front four has been strong against the run, allowing just 90.7 yards on the ground per game. Jerod Fernandez has also pitched in from linebacker, making 52 combined tackles this year.
However, this defense has been abused through the air. They’re ceding 296.3 pass yards per contest. That number ranks 122nd in FBS. The secondary of Nick McCloud, Dexter Wright, Jarius Morehead and Johnathan Alston has been awful all season long. With the way they’ve played, it’s a surprise this team is 5-1.
Fortunately for this group, the next four opponents aren’t strong through the air.
Pittsburgh is a grind it out, tough team, that is similar, just not as good as the Wolfpack. #16 Notre Dame relies on Josh Adams for most of their offense, but that game could wind up with a loss, as NC State has to travel to South Bend. The game of the year for this team will be against Clemson, who comes to Raleigh to open the November schedule. This could decide who wins the ACC Atlantic Division. Then, Boston College gets another try to crack 20 points, which they probably wont.
The ACC is surprisingly deep this season, with teams like Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Virginia all seemingly taking steps forward through the first couple of weeks in conference play. This could be a 10 win season for the Wolfpack, but they’ll have to shape up on the back end if they want to challenge Clemson and make a surprise run to the ACC Championship Game.
Cover Photo via FanRag Sports
Other Media via NC State Athletics