BTP: With a win already over UNC, what would it mean for Pirates fans to come into Raleigh and score a major upset?
PW: The win over UNC was sweet...especially since the Pirates dominated the 2nd half of that game and beat the fight out of the Tar Heels. UNC quit in that game, and as State fans know first-hand, beating the will out of UNC is highly enjoyable. Pirate fans take great joy in victories over NC State and UNC, so a win Saturday would mean a season sweep of the two and that would be a nice consolation for the pain that’s been endured throughout the (finally finished) Scottie Montgomery era.
BTP: The weather sounds pretty awful for Saturday. Which team do you think this helps the most and why?
PW: I don’t think inclement weather helps either team, but it most negatively impacts ECU, especially if Ahlers can’t play (more on that below). The ECU rushing attack outside of Ahlers is virtually non-existent and has been a revolving door of RBs with the coaching staff hoping to catch a hot hand (but rarely doing so). RS-FR RB Trace Christian has shown the most promise of all the ECU RBs, but he inexplicably has just 33 carries on the year. NC State has proven RBs in Reggie Gallaspy and Ricky Person (and Brady Bodine, who I’m a big fan of) who can take over a game when needed. I’m not sure that ECU has that luxury if the game turns into a ground-oriented affair.
BTP: Reggie Gallaspy rushed for five touchdowns against UNC last Saturday. How can the Pirates best stop him from having another huge game?
PW: Hope Reggie’s still too busy rushing for TDs in Chapel Hill to bother showing up for the game? ECU’s defensive strength is on the line, so this is an area that matches up well for the Pirates. The unit features a pair of talented interior defenders in NT Alex Turner and DT Jalen Price, both juniors, but the problem is the depth behind them as their backups weigh in at 275 and 263 lbs, respectively. Nate Harvey (AAC Defensive Player of the Year) and Kendall Futrell are LB-sized DEs, but as you would expect with that size, they both have tremendous speed for the position. If the interior guys can force Gallaspy to have to try and run outside of the tackles, then the DEs have the speed to contain and/or string those runs out for minimal or no gain. The issue for ECU in stopping the run is really going to be the same as it was for UNC last weekend: depth.
BTP: For the Pirates, much of the offense starts and ends with Holton Ahlers. What can he do to have success against NC State’s defense?
PW: Ahlers is still incredibly raw and the dude is out there just living on talent right now as he learns the nuances of the game at the collegiate level. He’s had a couple very “freshman” games, both on the road (Tulane, Cincinnati), but he’s also had some “holy ****!!!” level games where you get a glimpse of just how high the ceiling is for this kid. For Ahlers to have success against State’s defense, it really hinges on the ability of the offensive line and the RBs to generate any sort of non-Ahlers run game to keep State’s LBs honest (there are a lot of similarities in ECU’s and NC State’s OLs this year - excellent at keeping the QB upright but failing to generate a consistent rushing attack).
The one significant advantage Ahlers does have is his ability to run the ball on his own, whether designed or improvised. That ability typically means that a LB will have to stay in and spy him. Ahlers torched UConn running the ball when they would either not use a spy on him or when the spy would try and shoot a gap instead of staying home and then Ahlers would vacate the pocket elsewhere with plenty of room to run. State can’t afford to do that. Even if it means using Germaine Pratt as a human scarecrow for Ahlers all game, that’s what State’s going to need to do. If they don’t, Ahlers can find success with his legs.
BTP: Any major injuries to report?
PW: CB Colby Gore is questionable with a shoulder injury. That would be a big loss for ECU. And - oh yeah, one other somewhat important one: QB Holton Ahlers. Ahlers has a sprained knee to go along with a broken finger on his non-throwing hand. After practicing in a limited capacity on Tuesday, he was held out of Wednesday’s practice entirely and it’s doubtful that he plays on Saturday. My preference would be that he doesn’t; there’s no upside to him playing and only the potential of that knee getting further injured and turning into something that negatively impacts his development in the spring and next fall.
If Ahlers can’t go, it’ll be Raleigh-native Reid Herring (Millbrook HS) in at QB. It’s widely speculated that Herring (who opened the season as the starting QB and torched UNC) will transfer after the season, as will 3rd string QB Kingley Ifedi. Also, non-injury related but in the realm of ECU players I hope aren’t playing on Saturday: WR Tyler Snead. Snead is a 5’6 walk-on freshman wideout from Raleigh (another guy from Millbrook HS) who didn’t play until four games ago. He’s started three of those four games and has caught 15 passes for 236 yards and 4 TDs, but by not playing him he can retain his redshirt.
Montgomery said Monday that he would start Snead, but it will be interesting to see if interim HC David Blackwell (ECU’s DC) decides differently. The bigger upside is to redshirting Snead and keeping him around for a potential fifth year, and hopefully Blackwell (a former ECU player) recognizes that. It’s entirely stupid and selfish to play Ahlers (if not fully healthy) and/or Snead (or CB Damel Hickman, who has also played in 4 games this year as a true freshman) in this game.
BTP: Lets get a prediction: who leaves the victor on Saturday?
PW: Without Ahlers, I don’t think the ECU offense has enough firepower to hang with State, while I think the Wolfpack pull away in the 2nd half by pounding with the run game: 30-13 State.