Wolfpack bring balanced, untested offense against Irish
Renee Griffin | Friday, October 7, 2016
Headed by a reliable quarterback and running back duo, North Carolina State has established the ability to rack up points on offense so far this season, albeit against opponents that were less than formidable.
The Wolfpack (3-1, 1-0 ACC) have yet to score fewer than 30 points in a 2016 contest, handily defeating William and Mary, Old Dominion and Wake Forest. They did, however, fall to American Athletic Conference foe East Carolina, 33-30, two weeks ago.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren expressed confidence in his squad as a result of last weekend’s 33-16 win against Wake Forest.
“[The Demon Deacons were a] very good football team, coming in 4-0 with some momentum,” Doeren said. “We were very pleased with play, I thought, on the line of scrimmages, rushing for 200 yards and holding them to around 60-some yards, and played really well red zone offense and defense, played really well third-down offense and defense.”
Wake Forest was the first Power-5 team the Wolfpack had encountered, but Notre Dame kicks off a series of more daunting opponents on N.C. State’s slate: trips to No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 Louisville immediately follow the visit by the Irish (2-3), plus matchups against No. 23 Florida State, No. 10 Miami and No. 17 North Carolina later on.
Leading the charge against these teams will be Wolfpack redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley and senior running back Matthew Dayes. Finley, who was at Boise State for two years before transferring to N.C. State this past offseason, has thrown for 1,014 yards through the air — not quite the gaudy numbers of Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer — but has completed nearly 73 percent of his passes and thrown zero interceptions to go with nine touchdowns.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he’s been impressed with the performance of Finley and the overall offense of N.C. State.
“Good system of offense,” Kelly said. “I like what they do. [Finley is] smart, doesn’t go outside of what his capabilities are as well. He knows what he can do, and he does it well. He’s a veteran player; doesn’t try to do too much, but does enough to be effective — very effective in what they’re asking him to do.”
Dayes, meanwhile, is averaging 109 rushing yards per game this season, with a 24-carry, 125-yard showing against ACC rival Wake Forest last week. He could be called on even more often this weekend if Hurricane Matthew brings conditions that make passing the football more dangerous. Kelly praised Dayes’ “quick feet” and ability to hit holes and accelerate.
Doeren said tape from the first few Notre Dame games is unhelpful in formulating an offensive plan for the Wolfpack because of the changes the Irish have undergone defensively in the past two weeks.
“I can’t really go off of the other games because they’re simplifying things, and it’s a different play caller, other than watching their personnel,” Doeren said. “But I think we’re going to see a defense that plays hard. They’re going to be sound. They’re going to keep the ball in front of them, and we’ve got to break tackles and make people miss and do the things that we do.”
On the other side of the ball, Doeren noted the solid performances by the Wolfpack pass rush and secondary against Wake Forest, and he emphasized that both of those defensive elements would be crucial to stopping Kizer and the Notre Dame passing game Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity to play against, like I said, a bunch of really, really talented guys that are playing at a high level,” Doeren said. “ … We’ve got to make sure to get them in different looks and use pressure when we need to.
“All those things are going to be important, tying them all together, and at the end of the day when the ball goes up, we’re going to have to make some one-on-one plays on the football with some really good offensive players.”