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West Virginia Football First Look: NC State Wolfpack

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The Mountaineers have one of the best signal callers in the land, but the Wolfpack have one as well.

North Carolina State v Wake Forest Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Gameday: Saturday, September 15, 2018

Location: Carter Finley Stadium, Raleigh, North Carolina

Opponent: N.C. State Wolfpack

Predicted Season: 7-5, Offense - 14th ; Defense - 83rd

A quick glance at the Dave Doeren era at N.C. State Wolfpack would lead you to believe that last year wasn’t really that last year the Wolfpack found some magic they have previously lacked. After a tumultuous 3-9 debut season, Doeren and the Wolfpack rebounded to 8, 7, and 7 wins the next three years. The problem was that despite winning 22 games in three years, they only won 9 conference games. Last year they turned it all on its head with a 9-4 record and 6 conference wins.

The 2017 version of the Wolfpack relied on a senior heavy team that had experience at nearly every position. The ‘pack ranked 34th in overall returning production with 83% of their offensive production from 2016 returning and 58% of their defensive production. This allowed NCSU to perform over its collective head while catching breaks with down seasons from Florida State and Louisville.

NC State did in 2017 what West Virginia is hoping to do in 2018. They capitalized on great seasons from upperclassmen. The problem with that is what happens the following year. The Wolfpack will need to replace: their entire starting defensive line, their top rusher, all-time leading receiver, two-thirds of their linebacking corp and the right side of their offensive line. This year, Doeren has a high profile quarterback in Ryan Finley which helps account for 70% of the returning offensive production but on defense, Doeren has his work cut out with only 35% of his production returning.

North Carolina State v Louisville
Finley F-U-M-B-L-E
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ball Throwers: Ryan Finley has many people raving, after he threw 17 touchdowns last year in twelve games. If you are counting at home that is the same number Will Grier threw in 5 games and 5 passes. Grier threw his 17th touchdown on his fifth pass of the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Finley started the year hot with 415 yards passing against South Carolina and 341 against our little brother before cooling off considerably. Finley went a six-game stretch where he only threw 7 touchdowns. He threw three against Clemson before nose-diving again with two touchdowns in his final four games.

If anything happens to Finley, the Wolfpack will find themselves in the same situation that West Virginia found themselves in following Will Grier’s attempt to play 8-finger football. The backups are redshirt freshman Matt McKay, and incoming freshman Devin Leary, neither of whom has thrown a pass in college before.

Ball Runners: Nyheim Hines, a back who gained 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns last season decided that being a fourth-round NFL pick was better than playing for free in college. Do-it-all scatback Jalen Samuels left after exhausting his seniority, taking his 12 rushing touchdowns with him. leaving Doeren to Reggie Gallaspy as his feature back. Gallaspy averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 116 carries and should be fresh given that he’s only carried the ball 231 times in his first three seasons. At least NCState returns a 1,000 yard rusher, if you add up all the yards Gallaspy has rushed for in his career.

The backups are once again greener than Snoop Dogg’s closet with JUCO transfer Damontay Rhem, and redshirt freshman Erin Collins and Nakia Robinson Jr. asked to contribute early. Ryan Finley is the Wolfpack’s second leading returning rusher with 194 yards.

Miami v North Carolina State
Bra’Lon Cherry fumbles the ball
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Pass Catchers: Kelvin Harmon returns after a 1,000-yard, 4 touchdown season. Jakobi Myers is also back after finishing 2017 with 727 yards and 5 touchdowns, and so is Stephen Louis and his 583 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Dylan Parham is the leading returning tight end target with one catch for 25 yards.

Hog Mollies: The Wolfpack should feel really good about at least 3/5ths of their offensive line as tackle Tyler Jones, guard Terronne Prescod and center Garrett Bradbury all return. Its the right side, where two sophomores in Joshua Fredd-Jackson and Justin Witt will be asked to protect Finley. The senior combinations of Jones, Prescod and Bradbury should hopefully help the Wolfpack improve on their 76th ranking in adjusted line yards. The offensive line generated a lot of rushing yards, mostly because the backs were able to make people miss, not because the line opened holes.

North Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Trench Monsters: NC State featured a defensive line of Bradley Chubbs (#5 overall pick), B.J. Hill (69), Justin Jones (84) and Kentavius Street (128). The ‘Pack boasted four players who were all drafted in the same class and yet they still hey were 48th in stuff rate, 57th in rushing success rate allowed, and 75th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Even with those four NFL DL’ers and three returning linebackers, the pack dropped from 11th in S&P+ to 62nd last year defensively.

In order to replace all that talent, Doerern will have to turn to sophomore Shug Frazier and JUCO transfers Joe Babros and Larrell Murchison as well as redshirt freshman Grant Gibson. He does have senior Darien Roseboro who totaled 2.5 sacks as a reserve

Defensive Quarterbacks: If you remove the NFL draftee portion of the defensive line, the same scenario applies to NC State’s linebackers. State’s leading tackler Jerod Fernandez is gone as is his partner-in-crime, Airius Moore. Fifth year senior Germaine Pratt returns but he will be buoyed by sophomores Louis Acceus or Brock Miller. Miller and Acceus combined to make eight tackles last season. If both Acceus and Miller fail to secure the other linebacker spot (NC State plays a 4-2-5), it will be up to freshman Payton Wilson. Needless to say, there is a lot of experience to be gained but not alot going in.

Pass Defenders: Where the Wolfpack lack experience on the front end, they have loads of experience on the back end, because they were inexperienced last year. Junior Jarius Morehead, who finished second on the team in tackles with 80, along with senior Dexter Wright and junior Tim Kidd-Glass. Junior Nick Mcloud will help lock down one spot but he’ll have to make up for the losses of Markel Valdez and Bryce Banks, both of whom took their talents away from Raleigh. Junior Stephen Griffin, who originally enrolled at Tennessee, transferred last season is slated to be the starting nickel corner.

All of that experience should come in handy because last year’s inexperience showed.

As you can see, the passing defense was one of the weaker areas for the 2017 ‘Pack. That should correct itself with all of the returning experience but will it be able to make up for the lack of experience on the defensive line and linebacker?

Ball Kickers and Returners: NCSt will attempt to use a freshman, Chris Dunn, who enrolled early at kicker. The Wolves were so enamored with Dunn they’ve been recruiting him since 2015. Dunn may be able to handle both kicking and punting duties but it looks like senior AJ Cole III will handle the punting duties for this season. The ‘Packs most dangerous weapons Hines and Samuel handled return duties so look for freshman Thayer Thomas to make an impact so Doeren isn’t required to use his starting running back Reggie Gallaspy as a returner as well.