NC State is coming off its most successful season rushing the football in more than two decades, which is a little astounding given how impotent the Pack was just a couple of years ago. NC State finished the year strong, and that's led to optimism, but it's not just blind hopin'.
As ESPN's David Hale noted the other day, NC State was really good in several different respects:
Last year, NC State's ground game ranked 13th nationally in yards-per-rush (5.98), first nationally in third-down conversions (66.1 percent), ninth in fewest runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage (14.2 percent) and sixth in percentage of runs going for at least 5 yards (46.8 percent).
It's fair to wonder how much State's soft non-conference schedule contributed to the overall numbers, but the advanced opponent-adjusted statistics agree that the Wolfpack had an excellent ground game. State ranked 9th in rushing S&P+, and ninth in Adjusted Line Yards (which is a measurement of the quality of a team's offensive line). The Pack finished higher than Wisconsin in both categories, and higher than Auburn in rushing S&P+, to give you an idea of what kind of territory we're talkin' about here.
Now they want more -- Shadrach Thornton's goal is to finally hit 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, while Matt Dayes wants 1,000 rushing and receiving yards. Those goals are admittedly a wee bit on the optimistic side, what with the number of RBs the Pack has to feed, but they also don't seem totally nuts, either. These are strange new times.
The question that will linger for a while, of course, is how effectively the team replaces its offensive tackles. Perhaps we're worrying about that more than we should, but in the meantime we can rest easy knowing last year was no mirage. The Pack will be productive running the ball in 2015, it's just a matter of how far--and in which direction--the ceiling's moved.