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

Two teams that could really use a win talk about that fact.

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

The Syracuse Orange are 3-2 coming off the first bye week, and now the real test begins. They’re playing ACC foes the rest of the way, starting with a road matchup against the N.C. State Wolfpack. Last time around, SU beat the Pack, 51-41 to clinch bowl eligibility. A win this time wouldn’t get us to the postseason, but it would certainly help on the way to doing so.

Since we’re (thankfully) not NC State fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Backing the Pack’s Steven Muma (who you should follow on Twitter) joins us to chat all about the Wolfpack. And also check out our answers over there.

It’s been a rough last few weeks for NC State (bye week aside). What’s most concerning, and are those issues fixable over the course of the season?

Against Florida State it felt like every aspect of the offense broke at the same time, and while it’s not quite THAT bad, that entire unit is a bit of a mess right now. Changing quarterbacks in the middle of a season generally does not inspire a lot of confidence!

Everything depends on whether or not NC State can get more competent quarterback play from here on. About all we know is that it isn’t going to be coming from Matt McKay. This week it’s Bailey Hockman, but if he flames out, then we’re right back where we started. But most likely the offense will be some level of a struggle the rest of the season.

Obviously you guys have been around the ACC longer than we have. Where does 2019 rank in terms of weirdness/ineptitude for the conference at large (Clemson aside, clearly)?

This very well may be the most pervasive case of ho-hummery the league has ever endured. I mean, even the year when Wake Forest snuck up and won the league (2006), two-thirds of the ACC cracked the top 25 at one point or another during the season. This year it feels like two-thirds of the ACC only deserves a bowl game in Shreveport.

I can live with this as long as the conference isn’t going to make a habit out of it. There’s some novelty to the chaotic stupidity of the Coastal Division bleeding into the Atlantic.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

How’s life been without Ryan Finley?

The guy who began 2019 as the starting quarterback is now the third-string quarterback, so uh, y’know, life could be better. We’ve been spoiled with good quarterback play for years and years, which has made this year extra jarring. Some fans are not coping well at all, and I worry about them. There’s definitely a subset of fans who are on the knife’s edge with regards to their sanity, sitting in a dark basement corner, rocking back and forth as they stare blankly at a wall.

Our passing game has been brutal.

Possibly related: Why on earth is (former and very bad Syracuse OC) George McDonald still on this staff?

I see no reason why he shouldn’t be on the staff, though I suspect we’re going to look back and realize that making McDonald and Des Kitchings to co-offensive coordinators was a major mistake. McDonald isn’t the one calling the plays on game days, but neither he nor Kitchings have much experience in this role, which has been painfully evident at times. So I guess the answer to your question at this point is he’s here just to amuse you?

How glad are you to not be facing off with Eric Dungey this year?

[grumbling] I do not know what you are talking about. [/grumbling]

What’s the strength of this year’s team? Was that surprising compared to what was expected over the summer?

With the exception of the West Virginia debacle, NC State has done an outstanding job of stopping the run. I thought the defensive front would be the best unit on the team, but they might still be exceeding expectations a bit because they’ve been good despite some injuries. Senior defensive end James Smith-Williams was expected to be a standout this year but a foot injury really set him back. Other guys have stepped up nicely.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s an unsung Wolfpack player Syracuse fans should learn a little bit more about?

Running back Jordan Houston is a true freshman who made his first-career start at Florida State, and while his touches have been fairly limited (6.4 carries per game) up to this point, that might change this week. Ricky Person, who is second on the team in carries, will miss the Syracuse game with injury. Houston should see a bump in his workload, and anyway has been impressive in limited action (7.1 yards per carry). Maybe this could be a bit of a breakout week for him.

Any Orange position group or player that concerns you most for Thursday night?

Well, the punting and field goal kicking of course, but that really goes without saying. Please do not punt us into oblivion while you are guests in our home.

It’s also hard not to be worried about Syracuse’s passing game after Dungey’s performance in the Dome last year. I like Tommy DeVito, and NC State’s secondary is once again a problem. There wasn’t much depth there to begin with, and even less now that injuries have hit the group. The Pack’s best corner hasn’t played since Week 1.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?

I can’t decide if I’m genuinely optimistic about the game or in one of those we-really-need-this-game-so-we-will-win modes. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.

It’s hard to ballpark anything when you don’t know what you’re going to get out of the QB spot, but I am going to guess that Bailey Hockman adds some explosive plays to State’s offense while also turning the ball over a couple times. NC State’s defense will shut down Syracuse on the ground and this won’t be nearly the score-a-thon we got last year.

It’s tight in the fourth quarter, and NC State wins by a score of 27-24.


Thanks again to Steven for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow Backing the Pack and check out the site too, for all things NC State.