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Syracuse vs. NC State football preview: Q&A with Backing the Pack

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We’re in the same frustrating place for different frustrating reasons.

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-North Carolina State vs Mississippi State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange got dealt a beating last Saturday against Clemson, and now head back home at 4-5, and in need of a win. Visiting the Carrier Dome are the NC State Wolfpack — also 4-5, and desperately in need of another win to get closer to bowl eligibility. Let’s talk about it.

Below, Will Thompson from Backing the Pack (who you should follow on Twitter) joins us to discuss everything you’ll need to know about NC State. We answer some questions over there too, which you can find here.

Obviously this season hasn't gone as NC State fans would've liked. What's happened, especially in light of the four consecutive losses since beating Notre Dame?

Recently a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Pack has just been abysmal in the red zone the last several weeks. My colleague at BackingThePack, Akulawolf wrote that over the last four games, NC State is scoring on just 50% of its redzone trips, and to make matters worse, only 20% of those red zone trips culminated in touchdowns. Not exactly a recipe for success.

The Pack has been able to move the ball pretty well, but they just for whatever reason can't score right now. They had over 400 yards of offense against Florida State and still only managed 20 points. It's frustrating as hell, because there are a lot of talented players on this team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

Despite the recent rough patch, Matt Dayes is still pretty good. What differentiates him as one of the conference's better running backs?

Simply put, Dayes is one of the strongest backs in the conference. He takes a lot of pressure off of Ryan Finley in that when he is running well, there are very few defenses that can contain him. His performance in the loss at Clemson was particularly dominant in the second half, when he was picking up a lot of huge first downs.

He has a lot of versatility in that he can line up in standard I formations, but he can also catch passes in the flat and turn up field pretty quickly. He's also one of the strongest guys on the team, so it takes a lot to bring him down. For State to have any success the rest of this season, they have got to keep feeding him the ball.

The Wolfpack's defense seems fairly capable. What have they done well for much of this year?

State's size on defense gives them an ability to be very physical. They hit really hard, and can force pressure on opposing quarterbacks very well. I felt like they did a really great job not letting Dalvin Cook beat them last week against FSU. Holding him to just 65 yards rushing felt like a minor miracle even though the outcome was (again) not what we wanted.

Have you watched any of Syracuse this year? Anything stand out with regard to the new offense?

I have not been able to see much of Syracuse play this year, only in highlights. I know the game last week against Clemson was a total aberration, so I'm going to ignore that. I have been impressed on what I've read about Amba Etta-Tawo, who sounds like an absolute force of nature on the field. State's secondary is not all that great, so I imagine he will see a lot of passes thrown his way, whether or not if Dungey is able to play.

If there's one Orange player that concerns you, who might that be?

Kind of piggybacking off of the above, it's definitely Etta-Tawo right now. I'm really concerned about the ability to stop big plays of this defense, particularly if Syracuse scores early and takes control of the game. I think the psyche of the team is a bit fragile at the moment, so any adversity early in the game could spell doom for the Pack.

Rank the bottom four programs of the Atlantic Division in terms of how well-situated they appear in the future.

Let me rank these starting with the least worst:

  • Right now I'd have to put Wake as the least worst, as they're now bowl eligible and Dave Clawson has them playing really well. NC State beat them handedly and that feels like a lifetime ago, honestly.
  • Next I'd say it's a toss up between Syracuse and NC State. I really like what Babers is doing with Syracuse, he seems to have the Orange pointed in the right direction and the players seem to love playing for him. NC State on the other hand seems to be trending in the opposite direction, but they still are recruiting fairly well despite the mediocre success the last few years, so I'd call this about even, but the ‘Cuse are definitely trending upwards, whereas State is not.
  • The worst program right now without a doubt is Boston College. I'm still wholly embarrassed that the Pack was the team that ended their winless streak, but they're clearly heading for a coaching change in the offseason, and their outlook just appears hazy for now.

Is Dave Doeren's job safe? Honestly curious here, since we can see the case to be made on both sides.

I think it probably is barring some complete disaster (which, after losing to Boston College, anything is possible). This schedule on paper at the beginning of the season seemed incredibly daunting with very little margin of error to make a bowl. While some of the opponent's outlook changed somewhat (cough cough, Notre Dame), there still ended up being a very slim margin where the Pack absolutely could not afford to lay an egg in a winnable game like they did against Boston College. So now they have three games left, two of which are on the road, and it just seems like it's going to be too much to overcome to make a bowl.

NC State wins this game by _____.

Finding their identity on offense again. They need to get the ball to their playmakers and find a way to get the ball consistently into the end zone. Twenty points or less again isn't going to cut it on the road. Stop overthinking things in the red zone and play to the strengths.

Syracuse grabs its second all-time victory against State by _____.

Striking early to demoralize the Pack. They need to take control of this game and get the ball to Etta-Tawo often.

Prediction time: What happens Saturday and why?

Given how most of State's games have gone recently, I think this will be close, but I don't have a lot of confidence in the Pack's ability to close out a game right now, particularly given the red zone woes and the especially rough patches in the kicking game. I'll say Syracuse wins, 28-24.

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Thanks again to Will for taking the time out to answer these. And be sure to follow him on Twitter, and head on over to Backing the Pack to read more about NC State.