Football is back, y’all! On Saturday, NC State faced off against the Pirates of ECU for the second time in three games. And although some of the coaches and players have changed, NC State was still the dominant football team and pounded the Pirates by a score of 34-6.
One of the reasons for optimism this season is that Doeren finally has quality depth at pretty much every position on the field and it was easy to see during the game on Saturday. Here’s a breakdown of who played at every position.
Note: I’ve had to change the format of the stats a bit this season because the Pack seem to a have more dynamic players on offense - QBs with rush yards, RBs with receiving yards, WRs with rushing yards.
With three year starter Ryan Finley graduating and taking his talents to Cincinnati, the dominant storyline of the offseason has been who would be lining up under center for the Pack this Fall. Matthew McKay eventually won the job and had a very good performance in his first start. He threw for 300+ yards and a TD, scored 2 TDs on the ground, didn’t turn the ball over, and seemed to get better as the game went along.
What a difference a year makes. After mostly relying on Reggie Gallaspy for the running game in 2018, the Pack rolled out four RBs in Game 1 of 2019. Knight, Person, and Houston all made big plays. I think everyone expected Zonovan “Bam” Knight to get plenty of playing time, but I’m not sure anyone believed he would be the RB who played the most snaps. Jordan Houston may have only been on the field for 12 snaps, but still touched the ball 9 times (6 carries, 3 catches). Person was not used as much as expected, but hopefully that was just precautionary after spending so much of last season with a nagging injury or two.
When a team is breaking in a new QB, it is always nice to have a talented WR group catching the passes. Emezie looked Harmon-esque at times, Thayer Thomas seemed to fit nicely into the Jakobi Meyers role, and Tabari Hines has added a whole new dimension to the offense. The only downer of the day was C.J. Riley tearing his ACL in punt coverage. Luckily, the Pack seem to have the players available to replace him.
Since Doeren arrived on campus, the tight ends have been relied on more for run blocking than pass catching. Angeline got a few targets but was only able to haul one in. It was nice to see Parham out there after missing most of last season with an injury. Autenrieth did a great job blocking and was the reason McKay was able to get into the end zone on his second TD.
After losing Bradbury, Prescod, and Tyler Jones to graduation, and losing Tyrone Riley and Jalynn Strickland to preseason injury, the offensive line depth was starting to get scary-thin. However, Doeren and company were able to rotate in a lot of bodies against ECU and get them a little experience. Some of these guys got more snaps in Week 1 than they had in their entire career combined. Despite that lack of experience and the amount of players being rotated through, the offensive line had a great day - no sacks allowed and paved the way for 191 yards rushing at 6.2 yards per carry.
On the defensive side of the ball, one of the big stories was the Pack using a 3-3-5 alignment for the majority of the game. The defensive line played well and were able to get a few tackles for loss along with a couple of sacks. As expected, Big Murch and JSW led the way.
With added depth and the shift to a 3-3-5 alignment, the LB participation report is vastly different than last year where two players (Pratt, Moore) played an overwhelming majority of the snaps. On Saturday, six players got snaps at LB and, as a unit, looked really good. Shout out to Payton Wilson with a HUGE debut in a Pack uniform - 6 tackles and 2 TFLs on 22 plays.
Last season, the Nickel position received a lot of (deserved) criticism. The hope is that this year’s group will perform better now that it is healthy and has players playing in positions that better fit their skillset. A healthy Stephen Griffin is back as the starting nickel and split time with Tyler Baker-Williams. The nickels seemed to play well enough on Saturday in that there were no glaring plays to complain about.
The safeties had a big day for the Pack. Senior leader Jarius Morehead made some nice plays, especially to recover that first ECU fumble in the end zone. The highlight reel, though, belongs to Tanner Ingle who had a STRONG debut at free safety after struggling at nickel last season. The sophomore was the second leading tackler for the Pack and even had more pass breakups (2) in Week 1 than he had his entire freshman season (1).
One other interesting note about the safeties: check the Quarterback Hurries. Yes, the Pack looks like they’ll blitz more this year and it looks like the safeties are going to be a big part of that.
The cornerbacks received their fair share of criticism last season. There was hope, though, that there could be improvement based on some talented freshmen coming in and pushing the older players for playing time. Well, so far we haven’t seen Taiyon Palmer or Shyheim Battle line up at CB, but the veterans certainly looked like they’ve improved - especially Chris Ingram who had a big day.
Chris Dunn continues to be good and Trenton Gill had a good debut replacing A.J. Cole at punter. Also, Gill was able to get 3 touchbacks on kickoffs. This will be important moving forward because the kickoff coverage wasn’t great when ECU did return a kickoff.
Nine true freshmen got into the game on Saturday. In a bit of a surprise, a few of the Pack’s top recruits were NOT among those who made their debut such as Savion Jackson, Shyheim Battle, and Khalid Martin. Also, top recruits C.J. Clark and Joshua Harris are out with injuries, but Doeren sounds optimistic that Harris will be ready soon.