Ethan Hyman/News & Observer/TNS
Ethan Hyman/News & Observer/TNS

Q&A: Behind enemy lines with N.C. State

Earlier this week, I spoke with Daniel Lacy of the North Carolina State student newspaper, Technician, to learn about how each team may fare in this weekend’s game between the Wolfpack and Demon Deacons.

Kyle Tatich: N.C. State was considered by some (including myself) to be a “dark horse” in the ACC’s Atlantic Division this year, yet finds itself without a win in ACC play to this point in the season. What is the general perception of where the program is right now? Are fans optimistic that coach Dave Doeren can still turn this season into a success?

Daniel Lacy: N.C. State had a lot of young talent and was set to build off of last year’s success. Fans are split on the team, and doubts are beginning to come up more often. Many are counting N.C. State out already, rightfully so, because the team struggled against two average ACC teams. However, you have to take into account that Doeren struggled in October last year as well before winning four of the final five games of the season, including the Bitcoin Bowl victory. That being said, I personally think Doeren can turn things around.

KT: It’s fair to say N.C. State’s non-conference strength of schedule was less than impressive. Do you believe the Wolfpack faced a disadvantage entering ACC play since because of it?

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DL: Yes, I do. While it can be good to have warm-up games like these, a team shouldn’t have more than two. The jump in talent was significant from South Alabama to Louisville, and the dismissal of Shadrach Thornton that week did not help the adjustment at all. Fortunately, the non-conference schedule will be more formidable in the coming years, as it plays ECU and Notre Dame next year and South Carolina and Notre Dame in 2017. While these games might knock a couple games out of the win column, it will better prepare it for ACC play.

KT: N.C. State has showcased proven talent on both sides of the ball this season. What players on offense and what players on defense should Wake Forest pay special attention to on Saturday?

DL: On offense, pay attention to runningback Matt Dayes, fullback Jaylen Samuels and quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Dayes works best as a scat back, who has that second level speed and elusiveness that makes him hard to tackle. He is also very versatile, and plays a big role in the passing game.

Defensively, the Wolfpack are led by defensive tackle B.J. Hill, linebacker Airius Moore and defensive end Mike Rose.

KT: It has been a few weeks since starting running back Shadrach Thornton was dismissed from the team. How has his dismissal impacted the team both on and off the field?

DL: I got the sense that, despite his shortcomings and the amount of trouble he got it, Thornton was well-liked among teammates and the coaching staff. On the field, N.C. State definitely misses him. After rushing for 330 yards and seven touchdowns against South Alabama, the Wolfpack managed just 45 yards against Louisville after his dismissal. Obviously, you would expect that number to decrease due to Louisville’s stout run defense, but not by almost 300 yards. Thornton had a good combination of strength, speed and function as the power back, while Dayes was primarily the scat back. Now Dayes has to carry the load, limiting his explosiveness.

KT: Jacoby Brissett was one of five Power 5 quarterbacks in the country last year to account for 25 touchdowns, 3,000 yards and no more than five interceptions. Has he met expectations for this year?

DL: At first, Brissett was meeting expectations, as he completed 75 percent of his passes in three of the first four games. Since then, he is barely over 50 percent. His 241 passing streak without an interception broke against VT. He has almost been playing scared, not taking the deep shots down field. He will need to improve if N.C. State wants bowl eligibility, or if he wants to get drafted.

KT: As of Oct. 19, N.C. State is favored by 10 points over Wake Forest. Does this line sound about right?

DL: I wouldn’t put the line that high. N.C. State has struggled this year, and like you mention in the next question, it is historically bad against Wake Forest on the road. Personally, I’d say N.C. State is a three-point favorite.

KT: What are your three keys to success for a Wolfpack victory on Saturday — a win that would end N.C. State’s losing streak in Winston-Salem dating back to 2001?

DL: Run the ball, create turnovers, look for efficiency in the passing game.

N.C. State’s identity is a balanced offense that leans on its power rushing attack. With its power runner gone in Thornton, it needs to find other creative ways to get Dayes, Samuels and Brissett going.

Based on the little I’ve seen from Wolford, he is talented but young and still somewhat prone to mistakes, so N.C. State needs to take advantage of that and force some turnovers.

KT: And finally, give me a score prediction.

DL: While State is on a slump, I believe that the bye week helped, and the team won games when it needed to last season. That being said, N.C. State wins 21-17.

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