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Pack Participation Report: Wake Forest edition

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I heard someone say that this team is young

North Carolina State v Wake Forest Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

I am going to take a bit of a different route with the Participation Report this week. Everyone knows NC State lost in embarrassing fashion at Wake Forest on Saturday. The defense just could not get a stop on 3rd down and the offense could not generate more than 10 points against a very average defense (69th ranked defense going into the game according to SP+) who had just lost their best defensive player to injury.

There are a lot of things going on right now that are limiting this football team’s potential - I believe we are now using the term “crap multiplied” to describe the phenomenon. One of the ingredients contributing to the crap storm is how young the team is and young players tend to less physically developed and make more mistakes. The focus of this edition of the participation report is to explore just how reliant this team has become on “youth.” As a result, I’m not going to be posting a bunch of box score stats - only pointing out a few interesting stats here and there.

To be clear, this post is not meant to be an excuse-maker for the football team. It is intended to take a look at exactly how much this Wolfpack football team is relying on youth and what positions are feeling this trend the most.

*For statistical purposes, I defined “youth” as anyone who is less than two years removed from high school - so anyone who is classified as a freshman, redshirt freshman, or sophomore.

BIG PICTURE

Last Spring, when the team began preparing for this season, there were only 13 seniors on the team. By the time the season started, Damontay Rhem was arrested for assaulting a woman (still on the roster but haven’t heard his name since), Tim Kidd-Glass decided to transfer to Liberty, and Tyrone Riley was lost for the year due to injury. That left 10 seniors on the roster for Game 1, including a rarely used former walk-on (William Brown) and Tabari Hines who had just joined the team over the summer. In other words, this team was always lacking in senior leadership even before injuries to Nick McCloud and James Smith-Williams caused them to miss multiple games.

On the flip-side, the roster itself is made up on 118 players when you include the walk-ons. 59 of them (50%) are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That number does include the majority of the team’s walk-ons so that helps explain why that number is so high, but it also shows the make-up of practice and the sidelines during home games.

In actual games, here is the breakdown of the number of players who have played non-special teams snaps by class.

Fr/R-Fr: 22
So/R-So: 18
Jr/R-Jr: 18
Sr/Gr: 10

It’s probably not ideal to have the largest percentage of your players who have played be freshmen, but it also doesn’t really tell the story so let’s look at percentage of snaps played to see if they are getting significant playing time.

According to my spreadsheet, there have been 13,458 non-ST player-snaps taken so far this season.

Fr/R-Fr: 20.8%
So/R-So: 32.8%
Jr/R-Jr: 29.0%
Sr/Gr: 17.4%

Freshmen definitely aren’t taking the majority of the snaps, but over half of the snaps so far this season have been taken by freshmen or sophomores. In an ideal world, you’d want upperclassmen to be getting the majority of the team’s snaps with the younger players rotating in.

Now let’s take a look at the Wake Forest game. There were 1,766 non-ST player-snaps taken on Saturday.

Fr/R-Fr: 30.7%
So/R-So: 28.4%
Jr/R-Jr: 21.6%
Sr/Gr: 19.2%

Yeah. Let that sink in. Freshmen and sophomores played over 59% of the player-snaps.

OFFENSE

If you look down this list of players on offense, you will only find two seniors getting snaps - Tabari Hines and Emmanuel McGirt - and neither of them are starting at this point in the season.

QB

Youth snaps for the season: 21.6%
Youth snaps against Wake: 100%

As redshirt sophomores, McKay and Hockman don’t fit under my definition of “youth” but regardless of who is taking the snaps you have an inexperienced guy at QB.

  • Devin Leary had his first career start against Wake. He was 17/45 (37.8%) passing for 145 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. That is not fantastic.
  • Doeren says his intention is for Leary to be the QB for the rest of the season.
  • This game is only the second game this season where NC State only had one QB take snaps.

RB

Youth snaps for the season: 97.0%
Youth snaps against Wake: 93.3%

RB is obviously a very young position. R-Jr Will Dabbs is the only RB who has gotten snaps who doesn’t fall into the “youth” category and he only gets garbage time carries. Sophomore Ricky Person was the one guy with much experience heading into this season and he hasn’t played a snap since getting injured in the first conference game of the year.

  • The RBs actually had a pretty good day against Wake Forest. They ran for 116 yards on 26 attempts (4.5 yds/carry). NC State was down 21-0 very quickly which limited the rushing attempts.
  • Bam Knight got injured on a wildcat play and never returned. There has been no update.
  • Trent Pennix had a big day averaging 8.8 yds/carry on 5 carries. But he was also injured and there has been no update.

WR

Youth snaps for the season: 33.1%
Youth snaps against Wake: 31.9%

The WR group was supposed to trend even older, but Devin Carter was forced into a larger role when C.J. Riley went down in Game 1.

  • Not a great week for the young WRs. Carter had a drop or two and Lesane had the fumble on the kickoff that pretty much put ended the game early in the 1st quarter.

TE

Youth snaps for the season: 0%
Youth snaps against Wake: 0%

All four players who have taken snaps at TE are redshirt juniors so this is definitely one of the older positions on the team.

  • Dylan Parham was out with an injury against Wake Forest. This left Angeline as the only TE who was able to play who wasn’t a current or former walk-on.

OL

Youth snaps for the season: 13.0%
Youth snaps against Wake: 17.6%

Ikey Ekwonu is the only young player getting much playing time on the offensive line, but it became very inexperienced at the tackle spots after Witt got hurt.

  • It looks like Ikey Ekwonu has established himself as the LT.
  • McGirt appears to be mostly splitting time with Speas at RT.

DEFENSE

Against Wake Forest, the top five tacklers in the game were freshmen or sophomores: Payton Wilson - 11, Tanner Ingle - 9, Jakeen Harris - 8, Drake Thomas - 8, Malik Dunlap - 6. On the positive side, Payton Wilson, Drake Thomas, and Tanner Ingle all had TFLs and were involved in the 2 sacks the Pack had Saturday. On the negative side, three of those leading tacklers play in the secondary and it was Wake’s passing attack that gave the defense problems all day.

DL

Youth snaps for the season: 32.2%
Youth snaps against Wake: 27.9%

The defensive line is the oldest and most experienced position group on the team led by James Smith-Williams and Larrell Murchison. Alim McNeill accounts for most of the youth snaps at the position, but is one of the more experienced young players on the team.

  • Wake Forest did not have a great day running the ball, averaging only 2.7 yds/carry. That usually means the defensive line is doing its job.
  • James Smith-Williams was back. In the five games JSW has played, NC State is giving up 53.2 rushing yards per game (1.6 yds/carry). In the three games JSW has not played, NC State is giving up 228.7 rushing yards per game (5.8 yds/carry). Yes, those numbers are heavily skewed by the BC game but that is still a staggering difference.
  • Based on the end of last season, I expected Deonte Holden to have a big year, but he has not played a lot. He had a season-high 33 snaps against Wake because Savion Jackson was out sick.

LB

Youth snaps for the season: 34.7%
Youth snaps against Wake: 45.9%

If younger players are going to play, you would prefer that it is a situation where they are playing so well you can’t keep them off the field instead of being forced into playing time because of injures. This is what is happening at linebacker with Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas getting onto the field more.

  • Payton Wilson is becoming a monster. He led the team with 11 tackles while receiving his highest number of snaps this season. Doeren said that his stamina is finally getting where it needs to be to play a larger number of snaps.
  • Isaiah Moore left the game with an injury and did not return. There has been no update.

Nickel

Youth snaps for the season: 52.8%
Youth snaps against Wake: 64.6%

Sophomore Tyler Baker-Williams has been splitting time with senior Stephen Griffin and has been playing well enough to be getting the greater share of the snaps.

Safety

Youth snaps for the season: 64.3%
Youth snaps against Wake: 70.4%

All season it has been sophomore Tanner Ingle playing the entire game at FS with senior Jarius Morehead splitting time at SS with sophomore De’Von Graves or freshman Jakeen Harris.

  • With De’Von Graves moving to CB, Jakeen Harris has stepped into the two-deep and been very impressive. He has posted 8 tackles in each of his first two games which is even more impressive when you consider splitting time with Jarius Morehead.

CB

Youth snaps for the season: 49.8%
Youth snaps against Wake: 83.7%

This season, the cornerback position was supposed to be anchored by two older experienced players in Nick McCloud and Chris Ingram. Instead it has been a scramble to fill in with younger players as injuries have mounted.

REDSHIRT TRACKER

There are no real updates to the redshirt tracker. Josh Harris will likely be the only other player to burn his redshirt.

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When looking at who is receiving playing time over the course of the season, it is clear that NC State came into the year as a young team and has been forced to go even younger by circumstances. What is that like for a team - especially a coaching staff? According to Dave Doeren and George Barlow on this week’s episode of ONE it is a trial of patience. Both said that they’ve had to exercise patience more this season than at any time in their careers. When you are a development-based program and you run into a season like this one, you are going to have to play some guys before you think they are ready for the load. In the long run, though, if it doesn’t break them mentally, you are going to have a team that is better and more experienced in the future.

Sources:
NC State vs WF box score
NC State season stats