It feels like it’s been forever, but we finally have Wolfpack football Saturday night (of the course the non-noon game is away). The positive of the unexpected bye week is that NC State was able to get healthy and is traveling to Huntington pretty close to full strength, minus Ricky Person it sounds like.
As you probably remember last year, Marshall gave the Pack all they could handle for much of the game in Raleigh and returned 9 starters on each side of the ball. Going up against an experienced team in a weird evening road environment poses an immense challenge and feels like it has the makings to be a strange game. To be quite honest I’ve been feeling pretty confident about this game for awhile. But then yesterday I had a friend say to me, “We’re 5-point favorites?? Bet the house on that!” Now, I’m kind of scared.
Marshall so far this year:
The Thundering Herd have started 2-0 with victories over a winless Miami (OH) team and FCS foe Eastern Kentucky. Not exactly world beaters on the schedule so far. South Carolina was supposed to be their first big test last weekend but that obviously got cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.
Redshirt freshman QB Isaiah Green has looked good so far completing over 61% of his passes for 550 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, he is listed on this week’s depth chart as a co-starter with Alex Thomson. Thomson, the 6’5 graduate transfer from Wagner, was originally thought to be in line to start the opener but has battled shoulder issues and is yet to take a snap. Seeing them listed together with OR next to their names suggests he’s healthy and we could see both at some point. Experienced running backs Tyler King and Keion Davis haven’t lit up defenses but have been serviceable with each totaling around 100 yards on the year. WR Tyre Brady, who NC State defensive backs still have nightmares about, is off to a hot start with 15 catches for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defensively LB Chase Hancock and S Malik Gant have each totaled 23 tackles which is good for 11th in the country in tackles per game. The defensive line has been strong as well so far with Ty Tyler and Channing Hames each tallying 2 sacks in what has been part of a solid front seven which only allows 113 rushing ypg. Special teams was a disaster in their last game (raise your hand if you’ve heard that before) where they had 3 (!!) turnovers on 3 (!!) muffed kicks.
How NC State wins:
It’s really simple… play a clean game and don’t shoot yourself in the foot. A ton of mental mistakes and self-inflicted wounds got them in a hole against Marshall last year before getting it together and finishing the game with 27 unanswered points. Even though Marshall returns almost all of their starters, State is still more talented across the board. Shut down the run early on and make either an unproven freshman or an injured FCS transfer beat you. That seems like a decent formula to me. And when they do throw the ball? For the love of God somebody please guard Tyre Brady. Double team him. No actually triple team him for all I care. I’d rather not see him go off for 248 yards again. But either way, the key to beating a lesser opponent is to jump on them from the start and not give any hope. If State can do that then we could be looking at cruise control by mid-3rd quarter. But if not……..
How NC State loses:
Marshall jumps out to an early lead, the crowd gets rocking, and this is a dogfight for 60 minutes. They have a good enough team to where they will take advantage if gifted with turnovers, penalties, and other such doo doo brain plays. So far we’ve seen Doeren actually go away from his usual tendencies as far as run/pass split. But the worst thing that could happen here is for him to decide to go back to trying to pound it on the ground even when it’s not really working. This would be the best way to help Marshall get some early confidence and even build a lead. The defensive line has been disruptive so far along with Hancock, and they shut down Nyheim Hines last year. Although I do believe getting tight ends Dylan Autenrieth and Cary Angeline back should be a huge boost to the run game, Ryan Finley is really good at throwing the leather ball. If the running backs can’t generate anything early you’ve got to just let Finley sling it left, right, straight, backwards (for a Thayer Thomas double pass obviously) or just about anywhere he wants. If this is a one possession game in the fourth quarter, anything could happen on the road. Oh and also letting Brady go off for 200+ yards again sure wouldn’t help. Losing this game would be very upsetting.
At the beginning of the season I said NC State wins 31-23 and I think I’m going to stick with that. Marshall is a quality opponent and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But Ryan Finley has been nothing short of surgical so far, without 2 of his top 3 receivers for much of the time, and until he proves otherwise I’ll continue to bet on him. Speaking of betting, it looks like if my friend does bet the house on State -5 then he’d win it back and then some.