NC State teased what looked like a new chapter for Dave Doeren in its season opening win over Wake Forest. It knocked off a team that had tortured the Pack for three straight years, and it did so by racking up 45 points and delivering clutch plays late in the fourth quarter. You don’t want to draw too many conclusions from one game, but it was hard to not feel like something was different that night.
Again, you don’t want to draw too many conclusions from one game, but Saturday’s debacle at Virginia Tech was the exact opposite of the previous week’s victory. And State didn’t just get ran off the field, it looked like the exact same team from a year ago, like nothing at all had changed. You could have just included this game in 2019 and nobody would have noticed the difference.
Why is the defense so bad?
State’s defense drew some criticism after week one’s win, and it wasn’t unfounded. However, the group played better than it got credit for. It really only gave up 28 of the 42 points Wake scored and it came up with some big plays in the late stages of the 4th quarter to seal the game. It wasn’t the Steel Curtain, and it got gashed by Wake’s ground attack, but it still felt like growth. There was none of that feeling left after Virginia Tech ran for 312 yards on Saturday night.
Patience is warranted with a new coach and a new system, but this is neither. It’s true that Gibson is in his first year as the defensive coordinator, but this system was still his last season when he was a defensive assistant, and early returns on this year are overwhelmingly negative. There are six football teams that have played more than 1 game that are giving up more rushing yards per contest than NC State.
Nobody is expecting the defense to be Alabama, but there is not a dearth of talent here. It’s a youthful group, admittedly, but State is as deep and talented at linebacker as it has been since Doeren arrived, and it’s got some good players up front as well. It should not be this bad.
Two games in a pandemic-altered season doesn’t need to be a referendum on an entire defensive staff. This isn’t that, but it’s more than fair to look at the 231.5 YPG State is giving up on the ground and get a little queasy. State’s defense is currently quite a bit worse than the sum of its parts.
Who is in charge of the quarterback situation, and are they in a coma?
You can make the argument that Bailey Hockman earned the start against Virginia Tech. I’m not sure I would agree with you, but it’s not a completely unfounded argument. But why he was still out there deep into the third quarter is inconceivable to me.
Yes, he played admirably and actually quite well in the first half of the Wake Forest game. Things were made very easy by a three-headed running back attack that rushed for 270 yards. State is a good running team, and it was so dominant against the Deacs that State was able to create some wide open plays for Hockman in the play action game. That’s great, but in no way sustainable. At some point, Hockman was going to have to make decisions beyond “should I throw the ball to the wide open tight end directly over the middle?” The cracks started to show in the second half of the Wake game, and you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see that a serious regression in production was likely to come in game two.
That’s exactly what happened. Hockman went 7/16 for 82 yards and two very bad interceptions. He is fearless and really embodies the idea of “leaving it all on the field,” and you have to respect the way he approaches the game, but he absolutely did not have it in the second half of the Wake game and even less so against Virginia Tech.
So why was he still out there? Why did State continue to trot him out there, down by 20, when a passing attack was basically non-existent? Devin Leary finally entered the game around the four minute mark of the third quarter and proceeded to go 12/16 for 165 yards, one touchdown, and no turnovers.
I’m not one of those people that thought Leary was by far the best quarterback last year and should have been starting game one. That was some fantasyland nonsense, and I actually didn’t have a big problem with the way Doeren managed an unnavigable quarterback situation last season, but I got a big problem with what happened last night.
Objectively, Leary gives you the best chance to win. Dave’s actions made this clear when he named him the starter all the way back in the spring, and it was obvious late last season, and again in this game, that he was the most talented quarterback heading into the future. Now the circumstances got weird with COVID-19, but if Leary is active, and you’re down by 21 points, why in the world would you not take your best shot with the quarterback that gives your team the highest ceiling? The guy currently piloting the offense was not leading you to a comeback. What do you have to lose at that point? It is completely baffling why a change would take as long as it did given the product on the field at the time. This to me is inexcusable coaching malpractice.
It’s early on in a very weird season, and there’s no point in drawing grand conclusions from two games, but there’s certainly some alarming trends here that are amplified by the fact that they are not new trends. State is a better rushing team than it was in 2019, but there has not been much growth elsewhere, and it was a mess on Saturday in mostly the same ways it was a mess in 2019. The Pack needs to show some reversals of the problems that plagued it last year in order to avoid a repeat.