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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: N.C. State Wolfpack

Can the Orange make it two straight against the Pack?

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

Last week, we discussed the Syracuse Orange’s week five opponent, Holy Cross. The Crusaders are SU’s most likely win this season (on paper), and provide for a nice palate cleanser before the first bye week and then the ACC slate starts in earnest.

Perhaps you’re not as excited about looking at this year’s opponents, since it’s only May. But since Syracuse football won 10 games last year, and I run this place, we’re talking about them anyway. The Orange have plenty of challenges ahead — some of those greater than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s week seven foe:

N.C. State Wolfpack

School: North Carolina State University

Mascot: Wolfpack

#BRAND Slogan(s): #1Pack1Goal

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #1TenWinSeasonEver OR “Home of ‘this is going to be the year’ since 1902.”

Recommended Blog: Backing the Pack

Conference: ACC

Coach: Dave Doeren, seventh year. After departing from DunderMifflin wrapping up his playing days at Drake, Doeren coached in high school for a year, then went right back to his alma mater from 1995-97. He took a grad assistant gig at USC in 1998, then was Montana’s defensive backs coach from 2000-01. Doeren spent 2002-05 as a member of Kansas’s defensive staff (he’s originally from the state), before serving as Wisconsin’s DC from 2006-10 and then earning the head coaching job at Northern Illinois. Two seasons and 23 wins later, he was off to NC State. He’s just 43-34 with the Pack, but has won nine games each of the last two years while also losing to teams with far less talent on their rosters.

2018 Record: (9-4) (5-3)

Recapping Last Season:

State started the season strong, with five straight wins that got them all the way to 16th in the polls before serving as sacrificial lamb to Clemson, 41-7. The Pack would lose to Syracuse the next week too, and Wake Forest two weeks after that in stunning fashion. They won three straight to close out the regular season, however, tallying win No. 9 before the bowl game. But that bowl game did not go as planned. NC State lost to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl, 52-13.

Offensively, NC State was a top-30 team, averaging over 456 yards and 33.8 points per game. The passing game guided the ship, and was top-10 in yards per game. Senior QB Ryan Finley accounted for most of that production, completing 67.4% of his throws en route to 3,928 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air. Reggie Gallaspy was a significant bright spot for the run game, amassing 1,091 yards and 18 scores on the ground. But the team didn’t have much going beyond him and Ricky Person (471 yards on 112 carries).

Replacing a lot up front last year, the Pack defense took a bit of a step back, finishing 54th overall in defensive S&P+. NC State allowed a respectable 24.9 points per game, but also let up over 392 yards per as well. They were pretty questionable against the pass, ranking among the 30 worst teams in the nation at stopping opponents through the air (in terms of yards allowed per game). Still, the Wolfpack rushed the passer well, tallying 35 sacks. They also had 83 tackles for loss on the year.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

2019 Season Outlook:

State loses Finley, which could make for a step back in the passing game right off the bat. Matthew McKay’s the lone experienced passer remaining, though the other contenders for the job could be better talents. Making the eventual QB’s job harder is the fact that top passing targets Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers (combined 173 catches last year) are gone, as are three of five starters from the offensive line, plus Gallaspy at running back. To say the Wolfpack hit reset on the offensive side of the ball is an understatement.

Over on the defensive side, NC State brings back a lot, though notably loses DE Darian Roseboro (7.5 TFLs), LB Germaine Pratt (79.5 tackles) and safety Dexter Wright. There’s a good deal of seniors still on the roster, however, so that could better situate them to cope without those key players. Bringing back most of last year’s sacks and interceptions, while also adding USC transfer Levi Jones could actually yield a much improved group compared to 2018.

This year’s schedule is not too far off from last season’s in terms of difficulty, which could help deal with the influx of youth on the offensive side. State opens East Carolina and Western Carolina before heading on the road to visit a rebuilding West Virginia squad and then getting a home date with Ball State. Having extra rest before both Syracuse and Boston College in October could be helpful as well, though neither the Wake Forest nor Clemson games after those should be all that easy. Manageable finish with Louisville, Georgia Tech and UNC, however.

Syracuse Game Date: Thursday, October 10

Location: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.

Odds of Orange Victory: 50 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

While NC State gets some extra rest, so does Syracuse coming into this Thursday night matchup on ESPN. The Orange will likely be the only ranked team in the matchup, and weird stuff happens in Raleigh during night games. Despite the overhaul on offense, the defensive improvements should be able to fix some of the issues that plagued the Pack last year when they allowed 51 points to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. It’ll be close regardless, and I’ll go with SU for now on the basis of the offense being able to outscore State. But Carter-Finley’s not the easiest place to play, and the Orange haven’t won there since 2013.