If NC State is going to pull the upset and beat the Miami Hurricanes on Friday evening, they’re going to have to do it by running the ball effectively.
Well, that’s an obvious statement given that the Wolfpack are down to their backup QB, but if you take a look at the teams who have had success offensively this season against the Hurricanes, it clearly becomes the common factor.
Just two of six teams have managed to break north of the teens in points this season against Miami (Louisville, 34 points; Clemson, 42 points), and both were able to consistently move the ball on the ground. Louisville carried the ball 49 times for 209 yards (46 times for 242 yards after adjusting for sacks) while Clemson carried it 44 times for 258 yards (43 for 261 after sacks). Both teams put up over 500 yards of total offense in the game as the success of - and overall commitment to - the ground game opened up the pass.
Needless to say, if NC State has any hopes of winning this game, they can’t abandon the run as quickly as they did two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, when Wolfpack QBs handed the ball off just 13 times in the game.
Two other teams found success on the ground against the Hurricanes’ 17th-ranked SP+ Defense. Florida State ran the ball 36 times for 151 yards (31 times for 198 yards after adjusting for sacks), but had to abandon the run in the second half since the FSU defense got their doors blown off out of the gate by the Miami offense. By the time FSU’s leading rusher for the game (Lawrence Toafili - 8 carries, 64 yards) had his first carry, FSU was already down 38-10.
FSU’s first drive of the game (that resulted in a FG to make it 7-3 at the time) featured QB Jordan Travis carrying the ball 3 times for 20 yards. Travis didn’t carry the ball again until FSU was down 35-3 (he did throw an INT in between then), but in his next series - FSU’s last series of the 1st half - he carried the ball 2 times for 29 yards. With FSU being down 38-3 at halftime and the Noles needing to throw the ball to have any hope in the 2nd half, Travis didn’t touch the ball again in the game.
Virginia ran the ball 35 times for 185 yards (34 times for 197 yards after accounting for the one sack allowed) with QB Brennan Armstrong keeping the offense moving with 15 carries for 91 yards (14 for 103, minus that 12-yard sack). The Cavaliers’ ability to run the ball consistently for positive yards - only one run went for lost yardage - coupled with UVA’s defense keeping the Miami offense in check allowed them to stay within striking distance down the stretch. If not for conservative/poor play-calling (punting on 4th & 2 at the Miami 43; last drive of the 1st half; punting from the Miami 39) and a lack of execution (missed 36-yard FG attempt; fumble on their last drive of the game), Virginia may well have won that game in the rain in south Florida.
NC State doesn’t have a QB that’s as dynamic a runner as Travis or Armstrong, but they do have a three-headed running back committee that can get the job done.
No, I’m not advocating for use of the wildcat package - the veritable lottery ticket for offensive coordinators. They know it’s worked for someone before in the past and someone somewhere will run it one time successfully, so they throw away a few dollars (plays) on it every week even though it’s never worked out for them in the past and the odds are significantly against them that it will work this time.
The Wolfpack doesn’t need Bailey Hockman, Ben Finley, or whichever QB is fielding the snap to run wild on the Miami defense, they just need to commit to the run game and let Ricky Person, Bam Knight, and Jordan Houston pound away at the Hurricanes defense.