NC State has plenty to prove with home test against Notre Dame
There’s no telling whether NC State is sleight of hand or substance.
Through four games, the Wolfpack (3-1) are averaging 40 points per game, which ranks 28th nationally (one spot ahead of Notre Dame). Their quarterback, Boise State transfer Ryan Finley, sits 11th in passing efficiency (two spots behind Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer). Their rushing attack averages 208 yards per game and 5.01 yards per carry, spearheaded by rugged 5-foot-9, 203-pound junior Matthew Dayes.
Defensively, NC State allows just 99 rushing yards (13th nationally) and 321.5 total yards (21st) per game.
On paper, this team is a powerhouse.
But is it really?
Besides last weekend’s ACC victory over then 3-0 Wake Forest, which followed a bye week, NC State has beat up on the likes of Old Dominion and William & Mary. Its loss came on the road at East Carolina, a team that has proceeded to lose each of its last three games.
In that 33-30 defeat, NC State’s only road game thus far, East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson passed for 297 yards and completed 76.7 percent of his passes.
The NC State secondary is vulnerable.
Now, enter Kizer, who just passed for 471 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse.
“It’s a tough matchup, regardless of the progress we’ve made,” said NC State head coach Dave Doeren. “They’ve got some really good players at receiver. They’ve got a huge offensive line. They’ve got two (potential) All-Americans (in left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey), maybe one of the best tackles in college football if not the best.
“There’s going to be some 1-on-1 matchups regardless of how you defend anybody with the way you can move people around. We have to make plays on the ball. We have to beat blocks 1-on-1.”
NC State will have to do all of that with some unfamiliar personnel. Starting strong safety Shawn Boone will miss the first half of Saturday’s game after being disqualified due to a targeting call last weekend. That leaves either redshirt freshman Jarious Morehead or redshirt sophomore Dexter Wright to start in his place, and a hole for Kizer and Co. to expose.
On the other side, NC State’s offense has proven to be both balanced and efficient through the first third of the 2016 season.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s defense has yet to prove much of anything at all.
“We really don’t have a true sense of, are they going to be more like they were earlier in the year? Are they going to be more like they were against Syracuse?” Doeren said. “Syracuse is kind of a special opponent offensively. They’re different than most teams. So are they going to play more press coverage like they did earlier in the year? Are they going to play more soft coverage like they did last week?
“We’ll have to have some adjustments as we go in the game because of that.”
Saturday’s game should begin to answer the swirling questions surrounding both programs. Specifically: Can Notre Dame’s retooled defense hold up against another legitimate opponent?
And, with games at Clemson and Louisville looming, is NC State a genuine ACC contender, or just another early-season mirage?
“For us to beat anybody, regardless of what they used to be or what they are now or what people say they’re going to be, how many stars they have or what their preseason rankings are, we’ve got to control the things that we can control,” Doeren said. “That’s all we’re going to talk about with our players.
“The history of that program has nothing to do with what’s going to happen on Saturday. We have to understand and control (that).”