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What to expect from Robert Anae’s offense

What should we look for in Anae’s first year with the Wolfpack?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 08 NC State Spring Game Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Anyone watching NC State football in 2022 knew that the offense was the weak link. The lack of a punch from the O nearly cost the team the season opener against East Carolina and, while not entirely at fault, was all but entirely at fault for the losses to Clemson, Syracuse, Boston College, Louisville, and Maryland. That’s five losses in a... [checks notes]... 8-5 season.

Excuse me one moment...

[sound of glass breaking in the background]

The defense only allowed 21.8 points/game in those five losses!

[breathes heavily into paper bag]

Okay. Where were we?

Tim Beck did wonders in pulling NC State’s offense out of the 2019 nose dive that he inherited, with the Wolfpack posting 30.2 points/game with a SP+ Offense ranking of 62nd in 2020 and 33.1 points/game with a SP+ Offense ranking of 39th in 2021. It seemed, however, that the book was out on Beck in 2022 with the offense stalling horrendously to the tune of 24.3 points/game a 104th ranking in SP+ Offense. Granted, he had to deal with a ton of injuries, especially in key spots, but there didn’t seem to be much ability to adjust to the players on hand.

Beck’s ascension to the head coaching role at Coastal Carolina was perfect timing for both he and the NC State program, as the Wolfpack were able to bring in Robert Anae, a seasoned coaching veteran with a track record of adapting his offenses to the weapons he has available. The question is what kind of impact will Anae have on the Pack’s offense? Well, let’s see what he was able to do in his past stops to hopefully find an answer.

2005 BYU

  • Prior Year
  • Off. SP+: 27.6 (44th)
  • First Year
  • Off. SP+: 35.3 (23rd)
  • Second Year
  • Off. SP+: 37.5 (7th)

Anae’s first run as an OC was in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year as head coach of the Cougars. BYU returned QB John Beck, who went from completing 56.0% of his passes for 2,563 yards, 15 TDs, 8 INTs, and a 128.5 QB Rating in 2004 to a line of 64.5% completed passes for 3,709 yards, 27 TDs, 13 INTs, and a 137.6 QB Rating. Beck’s second season under Anae was the real breakout as he completd 69.3% of his passes for 3,885 yards, 32 TDs, 8 INTs, and a 169.1 QB Rating.

The biggest boon to the Cougars increased offensive efficiency in 2005 came from a boost to the running game. With the same top two RBs (Curtis Brown, Naufahu Tahi), the ground attack averaged 1.4 more yards per carry than the prior year and almost 50 yards more per game. The running backs also became much more involved in the passing game with Brown and Tahi combining for 94 receptions and 829 yards through the air (they combined for 43 receptions and 314 yards in 2004). BYU went from having three players with more than 200 receiving yards in 2004 to seven players topping that mark in 2005, so spreading the ball around was obviously a key concept of the offense.

2013 BYU

  • Prior Year
  • Off. SP+: 26.3 (78th)
  • First Year
  • Off. SP+: 28.3 (67th)
  • Second Year
  • Off. SP+: 33.1 (41st)

Anae’s second run at the helm of the Cougar’s offense saw a similar ground-based breakthrough lead the offense to more success (increased scoring by 1.5 points/game, yardage by 0.4 yards/play and 86.2 yards/game). The ground attack improved by a full yard per carry over the 2012 mark and over 100 yards per game more. Much of that can be attributed to the sophomore year explosions of Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams (yes, leader of the hidden village of the den).

That 2013 season was Hill’s first as the starting QB for BYU and Anae deployed him in the true dual-threat role that he has used to carve out a unique NFL career. Hill completed 53.9% of this passes that year for 2,938 yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs, and a 118.1 QB Rating - he was more or less the same passer that Riley Nelson was the year prior for BYU - but he ran for 1,344 yards and 10 TDs at a 5.5 yards/carry average.

Interestingly, Anae led a bigger jump for the offense in 2014 despite losing the school’s all-time receiving leader (Cody Hoffman), losing Hill to a broken leg in the 5th game of the year, and losing Williams to a knee injury in the 8th game of the year. That’s some seriously impressive work.

2016 Virginia

  • Prior Year
  • Off. SP+: 33.0 (45th)
  • First Year
  • Off. SP+: 25.4 (88th)
  • Second Year
  • Off. SP+: 25.0 (91st)

When Anae left Provo to head to Charlottesville with Mendenhall, it was to undertake a complete rebuild at Virginia. The Cavaliers had East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert as their starting QB for Anae’s first two years and the offense was severely limited until the third year when it took off under dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins.

Seriously, those 2016 and 2017 UVa offenses were pretty bad. If you’re looking for individual bright spots, Taquan Mizzell went from a career average of 4.1 yards/carry during his first three years at Virginia to averaging 5.0 yards/carry under Anae. Doni Dowling also went from 140 yards receiving over his first two years with the Wahoos to 1,273 over his last two years.

Yes, the offense was bad, but Anae was able to put the right pieces in place to allow the offense to hum once it got the right man under center in 2018.

2022 Syracuse

  • Prior Year
  • Off. SP+: 27.1 (81st)
  • First Year
  • Off. SP+: 27.7 (62nd)
  • Second Year
  • Off. SP+: N/A

Syracuse’s offense averaged just 24.9 points/game in 2021 despite having Sean Tucker out there running like one of the great Syracuse running backs. The offense jumped up to 27.7 points/game in 2022 under Anae’s more balanced attack. The Orange averaged 0.3 yards/play more in 2022, even with Tucker’s efficiency dropping immensely. The big growth area was dual-threat QB Garrett Shrader, who went from completing 52.6% of his passes for 1,445 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs, and a 113.7 QB Rating in 2021 to completing 64.7% of his passes for 2,640 yards, 17 TDs, 7 INTs, and a 147.9 QB Rating in 2022.

Similar to his first go-round at BYU, Anae utilized a more diverse attack by getting the ball into the hands of more weapons rather than just a few players. Oronde Gadsden also emerged as an impact receiver, going from two receptions over eight games in 2021 to 61 (and 975 yards) over 13 games last year.

We’ll never know what Anae could have done with a second year leading the Syracuse offense, but I’m fine with that; I’d rather know what he can do with a second year leading the Wolfpack offense. First things first is this 2023 season. What will happen, we can’t be sure of. What we should expect, however, is for Anae to match the offense to the personnel on hand and - based on past experience - put the pieces in place for bigger things in his second year at the helm.