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

Two teams that recently lost to Clemson exchange notes...

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (5-2, 2-2) are fresh off a thrilling double overtime win over one team from North Carolina, and now they hope for a similar result against another one when the N.C. State Wolfpack (5-1, 2-1) come to the Carrier Dome.

Since we’re not NC State fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Backing the Pack’s Will Thompson (who you can follow on Twitter) joins us to talk about NCSU. We also provided some responses over there, which you can find here.

Tier out the Atlantic Division: Which programs sit where in terms of hierarchy? (not necessarily limited to just this season) Related: Do you, like we do, wish you were in the Coastal all the time?

Focusing just on how things stand right now and looking towards the future, I’d organize it like this, starting from the bottom:

  • Dumpster fire: Louisville. They are nothing short of a disaster this season, and I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon (unless they’re able to pony up for Petrino’s buyout AND convince Jeff Brohm to leave Purdue and come back home). There’s a lot of money in that alumni base so that’s definitely possible, but if a change is not made, this could get really ugly for awhile.
  • Trying to avoid Dumpster Fire status: Wake Forest. I really don’t know what happened to Wake Forest, I thought they were going to be a pretty good team this year. I still think Dave Clawson is the right person to lead the program going forward because they could and should be a perennial dark horse team in this division.
  • *Shrugs*: Florida State was in the dumpster fire earlier this season, but they seem to be finally figuring things out. I think Willie Taggart can push them towards a contender tier within the next couple of years, but will FSU fans wait that long?
  • The we wish Clemson wasn’t in this division tier: NC State, Syracuse and Boston College. Clemson is damn good. I’m tired of them being damn good. As long as they keep this play up, it’s going to be impossible for one of these three teams to break through. NC State had the best chance they’ve had in awhile last week and got demolished. Just have to hope that Dabo will eventually leave for Alabama once Nick Saban gets bored.
  • Clemson: like I said, they’re in a space all to themselves right now. They’re absolutely loaded and the more experience Trevor Lawrence gets, the harder they’re going to be to beat.
NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

What were expectations heading into the Clemson game? Major upset? Close loss? Or did the result align with what Wolfpack fans were thinking?

I honestly thought State was going to keep it close. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Pack was going to get destroyed like that. We all knew Clemson was the best team, but our fans felt like State had a good chance. The run game had seemingly been figured out and Finley has continued to play well. Just picked the worst time to have our worst game in several seasons. All that being said, a special season is still on the table for the Pack if they take care of business in the rest of their games.

Ryan Finley’s clearly been the best and most consistent quarterback in the ACC these past two years. What is it that makes him so successful, other than the obvious point on accuracy (last week aside)?

His accuracy is definitely his biggest strength, so last week was hopefully just an aberration. He’s the smooth operator of the offense -- he keeps things running and he’s very good at long sustained drives picking up 3rd down conversions. I feel like he’s been under the radar a lot of his time at NC State, but an NFL team is going to love drafting him in the spring.

Do you think State would’ve beaten West Virginia had that game occurred as planned, or rescheduled?

Yeah I definitely think so after seeing how they struggled on the road in Ames. Everyone in Raleigh was super amped for that game, and the atmosphere would’ve been incredible. That would’ve been a fun as hell game to watch. Will Grier is a fantastic quarterback and I’m bummed we aren’t going to get a chance to see that match up.

NC State is clearly replacing a lot on defense, yet the results don’t show a huge dropoff. How much of that is due to early opponents, and how much is due to the program just being deep enough to withstand that level of NFL talent departing?

A lot of that in my opinion is the strength of the program itself. Bradley Chubb was a 3 star player coming into State, and developed into one of the top players in the draft and is having a great rookie season in Denver. The notoriety a program gets when all of the starting defensive line gets drafted in the NFL is huge, and it’s paid off on the recruiting trail, particularly here in North Carolina. But even with all those guys gone, there’s definitely a next man up mentality, and you’re seeing that with guys like Germaine Pratt, who’s having a really great season.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard, Syracuse might suddenly have a little bit of a quarterback controversy. If given the choice, which of Eric Dungey or Tommy DeVito would Pack fans prefer to see on Saturday?

DeVito sparked the offense against UNC this past Saturday, so I’m worried about that, particularly if there’s not a lot of tape on him. Dungey is the cagey veteran and I think the Pack knows more what to expect from him on paper, but he’s also capable of chucking the ball all over the place and scrambling as he did last year in Raleigh, so I’m not sure that either makes a difference for me, at least -- I’m concerned about both of them because the Pack’s secondary gives up huge plays a lot more often than they should (the end of the Boston College game being a troubling example).

Syracuse’s defense has generated a lot more pressure this season and that’s helped create turnovers and to some extent, hold opposing passing games in check (last week excepted). Is there any part of that Orange defense that concerns you? Any part that you think NC State can exploit really well?

Definitely. Syracuse is very talented at forcing turnovers with a plus-8 margin, so I’m absolutely concerned about that. There is some question as to whether or not Ricky Person is going to play, so that will hamper the run game somewhat and if Syracuse can put some pressure there, I think there will be some turnovers to have.

Which SU player -- either side of the ball -- worries you most?

Certainly Ryan Guthrie had a monster performance against the Tar Heels, and if he’s able to continue that Saturday I’m going to be pretty worried about getting a W. And while I think both quarterbacks will make an impact on this game, Dungey’s scrambling ability always concerns the hell out of me.

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

Who’s the unsung Wolfpack player that Syracuse fans should get a bit more familiar with?

Thayer Thomas is a name to keep an eye on, particularly if Steph Louis is unable to go. Thayer is a freshman, but has already demonstrated several times this year he is more than capable of stepping up in big plays and making incredibly tough catches. Steph was hurt in the Clemson game - initially it sounded like he had broken his leg, but now the team is being coy about his status. Still though I’d be surprised if he played Saturday night, so I look for Thayer to have more of an impact.

Prediction time; Which team is going to win this one and why?

We’re going to learn a lot about NC State and whether or not the stench from that ugly Clemson loss is going to linger. NC State has won four straight against Syracuse, and I know the Orange will be fired up for this game. They play really well at home and Saturday will be no different. The difference for me in this game is Ryan Finley, and the Pack will once again need him to bring home a W. This is going to be a nailbiter, but I’ll take the Pack, 28-27.


Thanks again to Will for taking the time here. Be sure to check out Backing the Pack for everything NC State, and follow the site on Twitter, too.