Opponent Outlook: N.C. State presents challenges all over field

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

An early season loss hasn’t sidetracked North Carolina State’s football program.

Losing in the season opener to South Carolina, a 6-7 team in 2016, could have been the start of a frustrating year for N.C. State. Instead, it’s proven to be an anomaly.

The No. 14 Wolfpack has put together six consecutive wins and finds itself in the conversation as one of the best teams in a top-heavy ACC. A road win at No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) would only bolster that argument.

Will the Wolfpack be able to beat the Irish two years in a row? We caught up with James Henderson of Inside Pack Sports for a better perspective on N.C. State.

• How has this N.C. State team turned its season around following the loss to South Carolina in the opener? Where have the Wolfpack improved the most?

Henderson: “I don’t think N.C. State feels like they are really turning anything around because they believe they outplayed South Carolina. They just didn’t win. State controlled that game on both sides of the ball and really lost it on special teams and with a couple turnovers.

“From an improvement standpoint, N.C. State has cut down on the turnovers. In the six games since South Carolina, the Wolfpack has had just one turnover and quarterback Ryan Finley hasn’t thrown an interception all season.

“Also, N.C. State played that game without two valuable starters in right tackle Will Richardson, who head coach Dave Doeren says is playing as well as any offensive lineman in the country, and senior cornerback Mike Stevens, the Wolfpack‘s most experienced player in the secondary who had a big interception two weeks ago against Pittsburgh.

“I believe N.C. State feels now it is at full strength versus where it was when the Wolfpack faced South Carolina.”

• Notre Dame’s offensive line squaring off with the N.C. State front seven should be the best matchup of strengths in the game. How well do you expect the Wolfpack to hold up against an Irish rushing attack averaging nearly 318 yards per game?

Henderson: “I think that’s the biggest question going into the game because it’s strength on strength.

Notre Dame has proven to have a strong rushing attack and N.C. State’s defense ranks No. 6 nationally in rush defense. Winning that battle will go a long way towards winning the game.”

• What will N.C. State have to do offensively against Notre Dame to match its scoring average this season of 35 points?

Henderson: “N.C. State’s offense is rarely talked about because of how strong the defense has played, but I think the offense might be a bigger strength overall right now than the defense.

“Quarterback Ryan Finley is playing at an elite level, tailback Nyheim Hines is fifth in the ACC in rushing (648 yards) and the Wolfpack has talented playmakers and maybe the best offensive line in the ACC.

“This unit has moved the ball and scored against every defense they’ve faced with relative ease, and Finley hasn’t been sacked in ACC play. That’s very impressive given the Wolfpack has played Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh, all teams with aggressive defensive fronts.”

• Defensive end Bradley Chubb is the name everyone knows on N.C. State’s defense. What has he done to continue to live up to the high expectations as a potential first-round draft pick?

Henderson: “He is just so consistent. He plays well every game and does so against the run and the pass. He’s not a one-trick pony at defensive end.

“Chubb does a great job of rushing the passer, but I think what sets him apart is how well he can defend a run. Teams are now running away from him and rolling the pocket away from him more often because of how productive he has been.

“Coming off a bye week, I imagine he will be fired up and ready to go against a Notre Dame line he dominated last season in Raleigh with five tackles and three sacks.”

• Jaylen Samuels leads the Wolfpack in receptions (54) and rushing touchdowns (7). Is there any role on offense that N.C. State hasn’t tried with him? What can Notre Dame do to minimize Samuels as an offensive threat?

Henderson: “He is probably the most unique offensive player I’ve seen since covering NC State. There really isn’t anything he can’t do, and N.C. State will take advantage of his skillset by lining him up all over the field.

“He’s going to play tailback, tight end, H-back and slot receiver, and he’s the Wolfpack‘s goal line back and Wildcat quarterback. As you can see he’s going to have a major role.

“I think Notre Dame will try to shadow him with a safety because linebackers struggle defending Samuels in space, but it’s hard to shadow him due to his versatility.”


Twitter: @TJamesNDI

North Carolina State's Jaylen Samuels celebrates scoring a touchdown in the second half against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. NC State defeated Florida State 27-21. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)