Between now and fall practice, we're going to take a walk through the 2015 Hokies schedule and preview each opponent with the people that follow them every day. We will be taking a look back at last season and spring practice, as well as attempting to forecast the year ahead.
On a night usually reserved for high school football, the Hokies will square off against the NC State Wolfpack under the lights at Lane Stadium on October 9th. Since these teams last met in 2010 — a 41-30 Hokies victory in Raleigh — the Pack have moved on from the Tom O'Brien era and are seeking a return to the top of the ACC under third year head coach Dave Doeren. In an effort to learn a bit more about the Pack and how their offseason has gone, I had the pleasure of exchanging questions and answers with Akula Wolf of Backing the Pack. Akula's answers to my questions are below, and you can find my answers at Backing the Pack.
Before we get into the Wolfpack roster, walk us through the impact third year head coach Dave Doeren has had on the NC State program since his arrival? How would you say Doeren's program compares to his predecessor, Tom O'Brien?
Dave Doeren and his staff actually care about recruiting, so that's probably been the biggest thing. Tom O'Brien was a solid coach but really seemed to lose interest in the recruiting process toward the end of his tenure, and it showed. He was fortunate to inherit Russell Wilson and have Mike Glennon to replace him; having good quarterbacks can mask a lot of weaknesses, and at least at NC State, deliver bowl seasons that most people will be okay with.
Doeren's first team was a Tom O'Brien team without a good quarterback, and you saw what happened there. That's not the whole story — that team had massive flaws elsewhere — but it shows what was on the horizon if State had stuck with TOB. That 2013 season is the perfect justification behind jettisoning O'Brien, even though he'd cobbled together another winning year.
Doeren's philosophies also vary significantly in some areas, particularly on the offensive side. The Tom O'Brien/Dana Bible offense was pretty dull when Russell Wilson wasn't running the show. Shotgun formations! Handoffs out of the shotgun formations! TOB never could reconstruct the offensive lines he had at BC, and his NC State teams were almost always terrible at running the ball. Wilson could hide some of this; Glennon, obviously, could not.
Doeren is much more focused on running the football to win, and in 2014, working with many of the same parts TOB had at his disposal, State had its most successful season rushing the ball in two decades. Funny how that works.
The Wolfpack offense is led by former-Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who is coming off a year in which he accounted for 26 TDs (versus 5 interceptions) and over 3,100 yards of total offense. How much stock are Wolfpack fans putting in Brissett to carry this team on his back en route to the ACC Championship Game?
After that season? A lot. But there are also areas where we hope Brissett has gotten better. He had a tendency to hold onto the ball too long while in the pocket, and sometimes that worked out miraculously great, as in that memorable play against Florida State.
Sometimes it led to sacks that never had to happen--especially in the red zone, or late in a half--and sometimes it led to fumbles. I appreciate the confidence, but his decision-making and feel for the game needs to be better in that respect.
Additionally, his accuracy on throws deep down the field was not where it needs to be. That's been a focal point during the offseason, so I'm optimistic he'll be better there. And if he is, man, this offense could really be something special.
How does Dave Doeren's offensive scheme in Raleigh compare to the scheme he implemented with great success at Northern Illinois? Who are the guys Hokies fans should familiarize themselves with on the offensive side of the football in preparation for their October 9th matchup?
It's different from NIU in that he does not have a quarterback he can use to blunt-force trauma opponents to death, but his preference for running the ball has carried over (pun intended I guess, I dunno I haven't decided). His last NIU team ran the ball about 60% of the time and averaged 5.4 YPC; NC State last season ran it about 57% of the time and averaged 5.2 YPC. (I didn't factor sacks out of those figures but you get the picture.) The Pack's 381 pass attempts were the team's lowest total since at least 2007, and probably much farther back than that.
They've been much more careful in their handling of Brissett as a runner; they didn't call a lot of designed runs for him in 2014, though they did loosen up a bit toward the end of the season. (He absolutely torched UNC on designed QB draws/read plays, so they kept that up until UNC stopped it, which UNC never did.)
They have that in their back pocket, but I think they're more concerned about making sure Brissett stays healthy, and also I think they're confident they can accomplish what they want to do with the guys in the backfield.
Guys to watch this season, other than Brissett: It's really a take-your-pick out of the backfield. Shad Thornton was the leading rusher, and he's the best between-the-tackles guy among the returning RBs. Matt Dayes is more of a hybrid RB/WR and should catch plenty of passes out of the backfield. David Grinnage should be one of the ACC's most productive tight ends.
Then there's Jaylen Samuels, who is a multipurpose wrecking ball. He doesn't really have a position, he just does good stuff a lot. He played out of the backfield as a freshman in 2014 but is likely to spend a lot of time at tight end this year, which puts him in position for a breakout year.
At reciever, Nyheim Hines is the popular pick for breakout freshman--he was a highly-touted recruit, and he's expected to become a key part of the passing game as a slot receiver/jet-sweep type.
The NC State staff made a concerted effort to upgrade their backfield during the 2015 recruiting cycle, landing three highly ranked recruits in Johnny Frasier, [former VT target] Nyheim Hines and Reggie Gallaspy. Heading into fall camp, has the staff indicated who might see the field immediately alongside preseason All-ACC back Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes? Are there any other incoming freshman that could make an impact this fall?
Doeren said recently he'd wait until after a couple of scrimmages to determine which freshmen on the team will redshirt in 2015. He also said that Reggie Gallaspy is ahead of Johnny Frasier at this point, simply because Gallaspy enrolled early and Frasier did not. Nyheim Hines will definitely play this season, and as I mentioned earlier, he'll likely fill a slot receiver role.
I think that's been the plan all along for Hines, who might also end up returning punts. He's expected to fill Bo Hines' shoes — Bo led the Pack in receiving as a freshman last season, then transferred from NC State to Yale to pursue a future career in politics. I am not joking.
Freshman defensive end Darian Roseboro will see action straightaway; he was NC State's most highly-touted recruit (and a one-time Michigan commit) on the defensive side and is already on the two-deep. Defensive tackle Eurndraus Bryant has an opportunity to contribute given the turnover at that position, and he is listed at like 350 pounds.
The Wolfpack defense returns an awful lot of key contributors from a year ago. What is the outlook for the NC State defense and who are the players to watch this season?
The secondary returns intact, including nickelback Dravious Wright, who improved a lot over the course of the season. (NC State is running a 4-2-5 because of a talent shortage at LB.) I like that group a lot; good mix of size and experience. A lot of folks think safety Josh Jones is ready for a big year, and I'm with them.
The worry is up the middle, where NC State lost a lot of experience. There is good talent that NC State can plug in there — it helps that former four-star recruit Kentavius Street has been moved from defensive end to DT — but cohesion there may not come immediately. Street is under 300 pounds but is the strongest dude on the team. He could be really disruptive in his new spot.
The team's leader in TFLs last season was Mike Rose, and he's back to anchor the defensive ends. He's capable of improving on the five sacks he had in 2014.
Big questions: How does the defensive line come together? How does a relatively thin linebacking corps perform? The back end is gonna be fine, so the defense's outlook comes down to the front seven (er, six). I'm optimistic, but it's August so of course I am.
Okay, time to put you on the spot: What is your way-too-early prediction for the 2015 NC State season and how do you see their clash with the Hokies shaking out?
Put me down for 8-4 (4-4). I've been to Lane Stadium, and so two things: First, I really appreciate that y'all have situated the visitors' section right by where they cook the turkey legs. The whole game smelled delicious despite the result (this was 2009). Second, I'm probably never gonna take NC State in Blacksburg, especially when the game is under the lights.
Let me say this, though: There is a not-insignificant chance the Wolfpack is 5-0 heading into that game. Might be a whole lot of fun. But I think the Hokies' defense and the home field advantage will be enough to earn them the victory by a TD or so that night.
Previously in this series: