NC State was essentially a nine-win team hiding in a modest 7-6 record in 2016, and there were a number of factors involved there: special teams struggles (no details needed here), an inability to execute some game-changing plays late, and the offense’s occasional disappearances.
While it’s really difficult to imagine how the kicking game or clutch execution might change this fall, we can at least go into the season confident that the offense will get better.
In five of State’s six losses last year, the Wolfpack was held to 20 points or fewer. Granted, most of these losses came against good defenses—FSU, Clemson, BC, Miami—but if 2017 is to be a breakout season, the offense is going to have to produce more consistently against talented defenses like those.
State ranked only 75th last season in explosiveness, 48th in efficiency, and 107th in points per drive inside the opponent 40. The Pack averaged an even 4.0 points per trip into the 40, nearly a half point below the national average. Part of that is on the kicking game and not so much the offense, but still there obviously is a need for improvement here from Ryan Finley and company.
The good news is that they’re well-positioned to level up. Virtually every skill position player of consequence returns, and the offensive line is not going to be a concern. State will miss Matt Dayes to some degree but I’m not overly worried about replacing him with the aggregate contributions of Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gallaspy, and Dakwa Nichols. A lack of explosive plays on the ground was actually a big part of State’s issue in 2016.
NC State’s wide receiving corps is easily the deepest its been during Dave Doeren’s tenure, and the Pack’s passing game ranked among the nation’s top 35 in several categories last season, including explosiveness. That’s encouraging, especially since State was relying on young guys like Stephen Louis and Kelvin Harmon.
A year older, a year wiser, a year better, and those dudes can make the passing game even stronger. I haven’t mentioned Jaylen Samuels, or Cole Cook, or JuMichael Ramos or Maurice Trowell and Jakobi Meyers, or potential x-factors C.J. Riley and Emeka Emezie. I expect to see more big plays out of this group.
But the ground game was mostly just average last year, at least in terms of the advanced metrics, and it finished the season 113th in explosiveness. Hines seems like just the cure that NC State needs at running back, but questions are going to linger since he’s been spread across multiple roles during his career.
Matt Dayes may not have been a huge play-maker, but you knew what you were going to get from him week in and week out, and for now at least, that’s what appears to be missing. Dayes maximized his time on the field because he took care of the little things, whether that was making the right reads or running good routes out of the backfield.
The component parts are all here, it’s just a matter of how quickly they are acclimated. I’m optimistic, but then again, this is the offseason, so of course I’m optimistic.
With a few more haymakers from the ground game and the likely improvement from the passing game, NC State’s offense can be a lot more difficult to slow down in 2017. Eli Drinkwitz has the rare luxury of going into a season with a puzzle that’s like 80% complete—putting the whole thing together is still not a given, though.