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NC State can be a 2015 ACC dark horse, but has big issues to fix first

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If the Wolfpack defense can surprise in the trenches, the rest of the team can showcase some fun weapons.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Well done. Now do it again.

This is how it's supposed to work. You shift around the pieces in your first year, and you maybe take a slight step backward. Then, in your second year, you take a definitive step forward.

NC State found itself in Glen Mason territory at the end of the Tom O'Brien era. Despite winning 24 games in three seasons (2010-12) -- a three-year win total the program hadn't exceeded since 2001-03 -- the Wolfpack were slipping and decided to cut bait. Despite pulling off four bowl bids in five years, O'Brien's squad had fallen from 22nd in the F/+ ratings in 2010 to the 60s and 70s. Winning should never be taken for granted in Raleigh, but there was justification.

Dave Doeren walked in the door and went 3-9 with a No. 92 ranking in his first season. The defense slipped, the offense remained bad, and against a brutal schedule that featured nine bowl-eligible teams and four 10-game winners, the Wolfpack were rarely competitive.

Quite a few second-year coaches made noise last year, but NC State's was some of the most significant. The defense remained mediocre, but the offense, with a clear identity under quarterback and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, leaped.

The Wolfpack won their first four games and four of their last five, and despite a massive October funk, they averaged at least 6 yards per play in eight games after doing it twice the year before. The offense was young enough to return nearly every starter, too, at least until a couple of unexpected receiver transfers.

After a Year 0 situation, followed by second-year progression, Doeren's renovation is right on schedule. But in the ACC, home of seemingly every No. 25-50 team in the country, State progressed into a quagmire. It's one thing to catch back up to the Dukes and Miamis and Pitts -- now how do you surpass them?

The Pack are in the wrong division for title aspirations -- instead of figuring out how to maneuver past Georgia Tech and Duke, they're still looking up at Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville. But if you're a State fan, you can be forgiven for taking newfound optimism for a spin.

What if the lines hold up despite turnover? What if Brissett and a nice stable of running backs become even more dangerous? What if the defense, in its third year under coordinator Dave Huxtable, clicks into place? You've got Louisville and Clemson at home, and Florida State's retooling, and the trip to Virginia Tech doesn't look as scary ... might the pieces be in place for a run?

Probably not. Then again, part of being a dark horse is that you don't really see the run coming before it comes. That you could go down that road with just a little bit of optimism is a sign that Doeren's second year went pretty well.

But so did Larry Fedora's at UNC. His Heels lost a few defenders and plummeted in Year 3. The challenges never actually stop.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 55
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Georgia Southern 57 24-23 W 74% 15.1 63%
6-Sep Old Dominion 108 46-34 W 79% 18.9 98%
13-Sep at South Florida 123 49-17 W 93% 33.9 100%
20-Sep Presbyterian N/A 42-0 W 87% 26.4 100%
27-Sep Florida State 15 41-56 L 41% -5.2 21%
4-Oct at Clemson 14 0-41 L 1% -51.6 0%
11-Oct Boston College 36 14-30 L 21% -19.1 3%
18-Oct at Louisville 23 18-30 L 45% -2.8 21%
1-Nov at Syracuse 80 24-17 W 38% -7.2 53%
8-Nov Georgia Tech 8 23-56 L 14% -25.3 0%
15-Nov Wake Forest 101 42-13 W 88% 27.5 100%
29-Nov at North Carolina 70 35-7 W 93% 35.3 100%
26-Dec vs. Central Florida 60 34-27 W 82% 21.4 91%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 32.1 43 28.1 64
Points Per Game 30.2 58 27.0 66

2. 3 seasons

If your season percentile chart looks like either Shruggy or the Wu-Tang Clan logo, you were dealing with a wide range of emotions.

NC State's 2014 began about as well as one could have imagined. After surviving a Georgia Southern team that was much better than we knew, the Wolfpack plowed through Old Dominion, USF, and Presbyterian and jumped to a 24-7 first-quarter lead on defending champion Florida State.

Then, over the next 15 quarters, they were outscored by a 150-49 margin.

After a couple more sketchy performances, the rally was strong. Against Wake Forest, UNC, and UCF, the Pack averaged 6.6 yards per play and allowed 3.8, playing at a top-15 level and finishing with a three-game win streak.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 83% (~top 25 | record: 4-0)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 6 games): 27% (~top 95 | record: 1-5)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 3 games): 88% (~top 15 | record: 3-0)

There was no clear reason for the midseason funk. Brissett didn't miss time, nor did any major skill contributors. Left guard Joe Thuney missed four games (including FSU, Clemson, and BC) with illness, which meant freshman Tony Adams, but while that could be a source of regression, that shouldn't have meant total collapse.

Regardless, a collapse it was. Inconsistency is to be expected when a team is breaking in a new quarterback with receiving corps full of freshmen and sophomores, and the rebound gave rise to severe optimism, at least on one side of the ball.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 77 IsoPPP+ 125.9 21
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.0% 9 Succ. Rt. + 114.2 24
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.7 42 Def. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 11 Redzone S&P+ 125.8 9
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.0 ACTUAL 15 -4.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 60 19 19 21
RUSHING 39 3 8 8
PASSING 84 43 46 49
Standard Downs 10 17 9
Passing Downs 47 37 65
Q1 Rk 12 1st Down Rk 29
Q2 Rk 57 2nd Down Rk 29
Q3 Rk 9 3rd Down Rk 18
Q4 Rk 45

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jacoby Brissett 6'4, 235 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9404 221 370 2606 23 5 59.7% 28 7.0% 6.0
Garrett Leatham
1 6 8 0 1 16.7% 0 0.0% 1.3
Jalan McClendon 6'5, 208 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8996
Jakobi Meyers 6'2, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038

3. A QB-friendly system and friendly results

Matt Canada tends to know what he's doing. The Wolfpack coordinator was an O.C. throughout the Midwest -- Butler (1997), two stints at NIU, Indiana, one year at Wisconsin -- and he has been pretty good at setting up a logical structure that puts talented players in position to succeed.

His four years at Indiana (2007-10) produced decent results with less-than-decent talent (IU ranked between 51st and 71st in Off. S&P+), his 2011 NIU thrived (21st), and his 2012 Wisconsin offense held steady (25th). Over the last decade, 2013 was the first year that he was at the helm of a simply bad offense. But with Brissett, he started to push the right buttons again last fall.

There are two ways you can handle a quarterback who is skilled running the ball but inconsistent as a passer. Either you decide to throw as little as possible, or you try to take advantage of down, distance, and defensive tendency. Canada aimed for the latter, and it worked.

State threw 5 percent more than the national average on standard downs and ran 4 percent more than average on passing downs. Knowing that the Wolfpack had run threats, defenses were always geared to stop that on standard downs, and this opened up short-passing and play-action options. Brissett had a 144.4 passer rating on first downs and a 190.9 rating on third-and-short, and Canada worked this advantage.

Meanwhile, forcing the defense to mind the pass and stealing yards on second-and-long meant excellent things for the run game. Brissett averaged 7.7 yards per carry, not including sacks (of which there were quite a few), and for the first time in years, the running backs were effective. The trio of Shadrach Thornton, Matt Dayes, and Tony Creecy combined to average 5.5 yards per carry over about 25 carries per game.

If your QB is just good enough at throwing the ball to steal the yards the defense is giving out, then Canada's approach is a sound one. And Brissett was good enough.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Shadrach Thornton RB 6'1, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8659 164 907 9 5.5 4.2 47.6% 3 1
Matt Dayes RB 5'9, 203 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8346 105 573 8 5.5 5.6 40.0% 2 0
Jacoby Brissett QB 6'4, 235 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9404 96 740 3 7.7 6.0 58.3% 10 7
Tony Creecy RB
52 282 2 5.4 4.9 40.4% 0 0
Jaylen Samuels TE 5'11, 236 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8188 17 128 1 7.5 6.4 64.7% 0 0
Bryan Underwood WR
11 96 1 8.7 15.2 45.5% 0 0
Dakwa Nichols RB 5'9, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8054 11 66 0 6.0 4.1 45.5% 0 0
Bra'Lon Cherry WR 5'11, 191 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8066 6 40 2 6.7 4.2 50.0% 1 0
Josh Taylor QB 5'11, 189 Jr. NR NR 4 28 0 7.0 1.6 100.0% 0 0
Johnny Frasier RB 5'11, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9610
Nyheim Hines RB 5'9, 186 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9460
Reggie Gallaspy II RB 5'11, 209 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8736







4. Years since NC State had a good running game: 0

This is my fifth year writing this preview series, and 2015 marks the first time I'm previewing a State offense that actually ran the ball well the year before. That Wolfpack backs averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year was incredible -- it had been since 2008 since Pack RBs averaged 4.4.

The addition of Brissett apparently changed everything. Brissett is a load in the open field, and he carried just enough (about 7.4 times per game, not including sacks) to give defenses too many threats to mind. It helped to turn Shadrach Thornton into one of the country's most efficient backs (48 percent of his carries gained at least five yards), and it gave speedy Matt Dayes more chances in the open field. And utilizing a unique weapon in fullback/H-Back/tight end Jaylen Samuels a couple of times per game further frayed defenses.

With Brissett, Thornton, Dayes, and Samuels back, not to mention four linemen with starting experience (72 career starts), it does appear the running game is loaded again. If the passing game can survive the loss of its top two targets and still steal free yards from defenses gearing up to stop the run, this should be another prolific year.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Bo Hines WR-F
61 45 616 73.8% 16.8% 60.7% 10.1 85 10.0 90.5
Marquez Valdes-Scantling WR-Z
50 22 257 44.0% 13.7% 62.0% 5.1 -32 5.0 37.7
Matt Dayes RB 5'9, 203 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8346 44 32 321 72.7% 12.1% 65.9% 7.3 -57 7.6 47.2
Bra'Lon Cherry WR-F 5'11, 191 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8066 42 27 354 64.3% 11.5% 78.6% 8.4 28 7.6 52.0
David Grinnage TE 6'5, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8502 39 28 370 71.8% 10.7% 56.4% 9.5 38 9.5 54.4
Johnathan Alston WR-Z 6'0, 203 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8660 39 21 224 53.8% 10.7% 66.7% 5.7 -39 5.8 32.9
Shadrach Thornton RB 6'1, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8659 20 15 133 75.0% 5.5% 70.0% 6.7 -43 7.0 19.5
Bryan Underwood WR-Z
18 5 98 27.8% 4.9% 55.6% 5.4 22 5.5 14.4
Tyler Purvis FB
14 10 75 71.4% 3.8% 57.1% 5.4 -44 5.4 11.0
Stephen Louis WR-Z 6'2, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8052 12 7 72 58.3% 3.3% 83.3% 6.0 -14 6.6 10.6
Jaylen Samuels TE 5'11, 236 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8188 7 6 96 85.7% 1.9% 42.9% 13.7 27 14.6 14.1
Tony Creecy RB
7 4 16 57.1% 1.9% 28.6% 2.3 -33 3.2 2.4
NaQuan Brown WR 6'1, 203 Sr. NR NR 4 1 5 25.0% 1.1% 50.0% 1.3 -11 1.4 0.7
Jumichael Ramos WR-X 6'2, 199 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8216 2 1 7 50.0% 0.5% 50.0% 3.5 -6 3.0 1.0
Benson Browne TE 6'5, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8279 2 0 0 0.0% 0.5% 100.0% 0.0 -3 N/A 0.0
Maurice Morgan WR-X 6'3, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8106
Josh Sessoms WR-X 6'2, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382
Cole Cook TE 6'6, 250 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8550
Gavin Locklear WR-F 5'10, 186 So. NR NR
Elliott Davis WR-Z 6'1, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048
Maurice Trowell WR-Z 5'11, 191 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8207
Freddie Simmons WR 6'3, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8513

5. Untimely departures

When the season ended, it appeared that not only was State returning its quarterback and top two running backs, but also its top seven receiving options. Bo Hines had come out of nowhere to average 10.1 yards per target as a true freshman, and sophomore possession man Marquez Valdes-Scantling had emerged as the No. 2 guy. Combined with juniors-to-be Bra'Lon Cherry and Johnathan Alston, tight end David Grinnage and solid receiving threats out of the backfield, the receiving corps was completely intact.

Hines shocked the world by announcing he was transferring to Yale. Valdes-Scantling left as well. Valdes-Scantling was replaceable (in fact, backup Z receiver Johnathan Alston nearly matched his production in 11 fewer targets), but Hines had come up huge; he caught eight passes for 103 yards against Florida State and a combined four for 110 against BC and Louisville, and he had three big catches for 79 yards in the bowl win. He caught only one touchdown, but touchdowns are an overrated evaluator -- Hines was good.

The corps is still dangerous, but it's less proven. Bra'Lon Cherry took a nice step forward, and Grinnage and Samuels combined to average 10.1 yards per target in about four targets per game. If one more threat emerges, be it Alston or sophomore Stephen Louis or a newcomer, the passing game should have enough weapons to play its part.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 120.9 3.3 3.66 47.9% 74.0% 14.6% 77.9 5.3% 11.2%
Rank 9 23 30 6 20 11 106 80 115
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Quinton Schooley C 6'4, 298 Sr. NR NR 25
Tyson Chandler RT
25
Rob Crisp LT
23
Joe Thuney LG 6'5, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7600 21
Alex Barr RT 6'8, 318 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8056 18
Tony Adams RG 6'2, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8339 8
Andy Jomantas LT
1
Bryce Kennedy LG 6'3, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8759 0
John Tu'uta C 6'3, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8223 0
Tylar Reagan RT 6'5, 287 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8547 0
Tyler Jones LT 6'3, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575
Will Richardson LT 6'6, 315 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8732
Terronne Prescod RG 6'5, 338 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8432
Daris Workman OT 6'6, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8332
T.J. McCoy C 6'1, 314 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8202
Emanuel McGirt Jr. OT 6'5, 285 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9109

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 66 IsoPPP+ 100.9 62
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.2% 66 Succ. Rt. + 95.0 88
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.5 82 Off. FP+ 98.0 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 74 Redzone S&P+ 101.1 60
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.4 ACTUAL 20.0 -3.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 47 62 78 62
RUSHING 67 91 100 85
PASSING 31 48 56 43
Standard Downs 62 88 55
Passing Downs 87 66 90
Q1 Rk 114 1st Down Rk 65
Q2 Rk 34 2nd Down Rk 26
Q3 Rk 40 3rd Down Rk 65
Q4 Rk 78

6. A 4-2-5 with obvious benefits and drawbacks

The offense broke through; can the defense do the same in 2015? Signs point to no.

Actually, signs point to volatility. Dave Huxtable has installed a 4-2-5 defense, and while a permanent nickel can be devastating in the right hands (i.e., TCU's), it introduces obvious strengths and weaknesses if you don't have the right personnel.

By sacrificing a linebacker for a fifth defensive back, you're adding speed and subtracting size, and you're putting a lot of pressure on your line to stand up to run blocking. You're adding a potential attacking option while risking getting pushed over.

NC State's line didn't do a good job of holding up. The Wolfpack had a solid pass rush and stuffed a few runs in the backfield, but they had one of the worst short-yardage units in the country, and if runners got past the line (which was a bit too easy to do), they ran a long way. The Pack ranked a healthy 28th in allowing only 96 passes of 10-plus yards but ranked 95th in allowing 78 such runs.

It's looking like a "strength gets stronger, weakness gets weaker" situation. Seven of the top eight tacklers from a disruptive secondary return, as does middle linebacker Jerod Fernandez, who played passing lanes well. After ranking 48th in Passing S&P+ last year, it's conceivable that State could rise into the top 40 in 2015.

Meanwhile, the run defense might get worse. The Pack ranked 91st in Rushing S&P+ and must now replace their top two defensive tackles, two of their top three ends, and run-stuffing linebacker Rodman Noel, who led the team with 11 non-sack tackles for loss.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 93 2.87 3.22 39.0% 76.9% 20.8% 111.5 5.7% 7.9%
Rank 94 59 58 65 118 45 38 42 55
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Mike Rose DE 6'3, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8428 13 37.5 5.2% 14.0 5.0 0 2 2 0
Thomas Teal DT
13 37.5 5.2% 8.0 3.0 0 0 2 0
T.Y. McGill DT
11 29.5 4.1% 8.0 3.0 0 1 1 0
B.J. Hill DT 6'4, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8349 12 29.0 4.0% 6.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Art Norman DE
13 24.5 3.4% 9.0 6.5 0 0 0 0
Kentavius Street DT 6'2, 290 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9506 12 15.5 2.1% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Monty Nelson DT 6'2, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8535 6 11.0 1.5% 1.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Drew Davis DE
11 10.5 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kenton Gibbs DT 6'2, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543 10 9.0 1.2% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Pharoah McKever DE 6'6, 290 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200 10 8.5 1.2% 3.0 1.0 1 0 1 0
Justin Jones DT 6'2, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8736 10 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Bradley Chubb DE 6'4, 260 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8539 11 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Rose DE 6'3, 271 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8428
Deonte Holden DE 6'4, 240 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472
Deshaywn Middleton DT 6'2, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8422
Coult Culler DT 6'5, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404
Hampton Billips DE 6'7, 247 RSFr. NR NR
Darian Roseboro DE 6'4, 280 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9478
Tyrone Riley DE 6'6, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544
Emmanuel Olenga DE 6'4, 241 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8489
Quentez Johnson DT 6'4, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460

7. A big line that played light

NC State has plenty of size. The top three returning ends average 6'4, 273, and the top five returning tackles average a road-grading 6'2, 300.

But the scheme did the Pack no favors, and injuries and shuffling didn't help -- of the 12 linemen who saw a decent amount of the field, only three played in all 12 games. Plus, six were freshmen. The result: a disorganized line that couldn't play as big as its size and couldn't make life easier for its linebackers.

The good thing about shuffling is that it creates experience. The Pack must replace four players who made at least 10.5 tackles last year but return four more and get back six pretty well-acclimated sophomores. Plus, there are some exciting reinforcements; among them: blue-chip freshman Darian Roseboro, who was listed as an end during recruiting but, at 280 pounds, could be used in a flexible way throughout the line.

The line has all the options in the world, and while that doesn't make for improvement, it helps the odds.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Rodman Noel WLB
13 60.0 8.3% 12.0 1.0 1 2 1 0
Jerod Fernandez MLB 6'0, 231 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8237 12 55.0 7.6% 3.0 0.0 2 3 0 0
Brandon Pittman WLB
12 30.5 4.2% 4.5 3.0 0 0 1 0
Airius Moore WLB 6'0, 232 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8444 13 29.0 4.0% 3.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
M.J. Salahuddin
(2013)
MLB 6'2, 227 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8287 12 16.5 2.6% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ernie Robinson WLB 6'1, 229 Jr. NR NR 9 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Artemis Robinson MLB 6'0, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7830
Ford Howell MLB 6'1, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8273
Riley Nicholson WLB 6'0, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8464








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Hakim Jones FS 6'2, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7700 13 63.5 8.7% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Josh Jones SS 6'2, 215 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8506 12 49.0 6.7% 1 1 4 7 0 0
Dravious Wright NB 5'10, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8155 13 47.5 6.5% 5 1 0 1 2 0
Jack Tocho CB 6'0, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7993 13 36.5 5.0% 0 0 1 11 0 0
Germaine Pratt FS 6'3, 234 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8809 13 26.5 3.6% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Juston Burris CB 6'1, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8074 13 25.5 3.5% 1 0 1 5 0 0
Tim Buckley NB
11 19.5 2.7% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Shawn Boone SS 5'10, 194 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 13 12.5 1.7% 0.5 0 0 1 1 0
Niles Clark CB 5'11, 186 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8397 13 9.0 1.2% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Jarvis Byrd SS
9 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Mike Stevens CB 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 11 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Malcolm Means CB 6'1, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8023 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Troy Vincent, Jr. CB 5'10, 199 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8813 8 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sean Paul CB 5'11, 190 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8374
Kalen McCain SS 6'2, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8545
Dexter Wright FS 6'2, 232 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8101
Freddie Phillips, Jr. NB 6'1, 192 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389
James Smith-Williams NB 6'4, 217 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8270

8. The secondary could be dynamite

State does have to replace its best pass-rushing end (Art Norman) and best blitzer (WLB Brandon Pittman), which, if added to a run defense that is still below average, could put too much pressure on the defensive backs.

But if they face plenty of passing downs, and if quarterbacks don't have a consistently clean pocket on those standard downs, the secondary could make plenty of plays. Goodness knows it did last year.

I talk about the size differences involved in the 4-3 vs. the 4-2-5, but Dravious Wright helps to minimize them. At 5'10, 208 pounds, he would be only slightly undersized as a strongside linebacker, and he proved last year that he's right at home in the backfield, making five tackles for loss. Combine him with a soon-to-be stud in safety Josh Jones (11 passes defensed as a freshman) and aggressive corners Jack Tocho, Juston Burris, and Niles Clark (combined: 21 passes defensed), and you've got a hell of a secondary. It just can't be asked to make all the plays.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Wil Baumann 60 45.4 4 17 23 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Niklas Sade 74 63.6 47 0 63.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Niklas Sade 46-48 6-8 75.0% 6-9 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Matt Dayes KR 5'9, 203 Jr. 21 18.3 0
Dakwa Nichols KR 5'9, 195 So. 11 19.7 0
Bo Hines PR 9 3.4 0
Bra'Lon Cherry PR 5'11, 191 Jr. 6 5.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 34
Field Goal Efficiency 40
Punt Return Efficiency 101
Kick Return Efficiency 65
Punt Efficiency 10
Kickoff Efficiency 42
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 85

9. A new set of legs

NC State ranked 11th in the country in points per scoring opportunity (5.08) and a decent 57th in field position margin (plus-0.8 yards per possession) despite a bad run defense and subpar return game. That tells you the legs did their jobs. State ranked 10th in Punt Efficiency, 40th in Field Goal Efficiency (which feels low considering Niklas Sade was 6-for-9 on 40-plus field goals), and 42nd in Kickoff Efficiency. Sade and punter Wil Baumann were among the most reliable players on the team.

Now they're both gone. Scary. The offense should still carry its field position weight by remaining efficient, but the defense will likely have to pick up the slack for lesser legs.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Troy 124
12-Sep Eastern Kentucky NR
19-Sep at Old Dominion 110
26-Sep at South Alabama 98
3-Oct Louisville 32
9-Oct at Virginia Tech 26
24-Oct at Wake Forest 89
31-Oct Clemson 15
7-Nov at Boston College 49
14-Nov at Florida State 17
21-Nov Syracuse 73
28-Nov North Carolina 44
Five-Year F/+ Rk 0.2% (57)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 39 / 51
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 5 / 4.4
2014 TO Luck/Game +0.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (7, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.5 (0.5)

10. A fast start, and then who knows?

NC State has a stratified schedule -- six opponents projected in the top 50, six projected 73rd or worse, and none in between. If we forecast slight improvement and assume they end up ranking between about 45th and 55th, then the schedule should assure a second straight bowl game and, with good home performance, perhaps an improvement over last year's 7-5 regular season.

Having that in your back pocket is nice, but if State fancies something greater, the start is key. You can't slip up against decent Old Dominion or South Alabama teams on the road, and you need to take down a potentially strong Louisville to start ACC play. Head to Blacksburg at 5-0, and you'll be getting "ACC contender?" hype.

* Seriously? State's playing at ODU and at USA? That's a Wake Forestish thing to do. Stop that.

NC State is most likely going to be the fourth-best team in a three-team ACC Atlantic race, but the gamble of replacing decent-not-great Tom O'Brien with hopes of something bigger started to pay off last year. And with just a little bit of improvement in the trenches, maybe it starts to pay off significantly.