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

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Let’s learn more about SU’s upcoming opponent.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 NC State at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whether you’re thankful for the Syracuse Orange football team or not, the team is back in action on Saturday to close out the home slate against the N.C. State Wolfpack. I’d say we’re hoping for a better-looking game than last year’s disaster, but... you all know how 2020’s gone.

Since we’re not NC State fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Backing the Pack’s Steven Muma joins us to talk about NC State. You can check out those responses below. We also provide some notes on Syracuse over there, which you can check out here.

NC State had moderate expectations, but from a W-L perspective, things appear to have gone much better than that in Raleigh. What’s the biggest reason for this season’s success so far?

Some of it is not being hit quite so hard by injuries, some of it is things like turnover margin regressing back toward average, but the main reason for NC State’s return to respectability is the offense.

Dave Doeren opted to promote from within and go with co-offensive coordinators after Eli Drinkwitz left for App State, and this, perhaps predictably, did not go well. (To be fair, there were factors outside anyone’s control, like the aforementioned injuries.) Doeren recognized the mistake and brought in Tim Beck this past offseason to run the offense, and his experience calling plays at this level paid off immediately. The offense is better organized, runs with a more coherent plan of attack.

But NC State’s quarterbacks — Devin Leary in particular — also got better. The passing game was abysmal in 2019: 52.7% completions, 5.9 yards per attempt. Gross numbers. This year those averages are 60.9% and 7.7 YPA. Hardly elite, but even this leap to above average makes a big significant difference afte last year. And Leary was averaging 8.1 YPA before he went down.

Amazing what can happen when opponents actually have to worry about you throwing the ball!

Unlike Syracuse, the Wolfpack actually beat Liberty. How’d you guys keep Malik Willis in check?

I admit I’m surprised at the degree to which NC State was successful in thwarting Willis, since this defense doesn’t exactly make a habit of forcing good quarterbacks into bad days. But hey, I’ll take it. Partly I think he was just off his game. He didn’t ever look all that comfortable in the pocket, though, and NC State helped that along with some pressure early that seemed to snowball on his psyche.

Devin Leary was having a solid season before he went down with an injury. How do you feel about Bailey Hockman’s performance as a replacement?

The Hockman experience remains a roller coaster, but he deserves lots of credit for stepping up this year and putting together some strong efforts in Leary’s absence. Against Liberty he was bad — that was 2019 Bailey making an appearance — but against Miami and FSU he was good.

His ceiling clearly is lower that Leary’s, and Hockman is also more mistake-prone. He’s thrown an interception in four straight games and averages one pick every 23 attempts, which ain’t great. He needs to be better there.

But he’s been good enough to actually win games this year, and we’ll take that considering it was not the case a year ago.

Last year’s SU vs. NC State game was one of the most unwatchable football games I’ve ever had the misfortune of attending live. Despite winning, did Pack fans feel similarly?

I don’t think anybody came away from that game feeling like they enjoyed themselves. I certainly didn’t. That game was disgusting.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 North Carolina at NC State Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The run game’s been great this season. Is that more due to an improved offensive line? Or are Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. just that good?

Knight is just that good. He was one of the few bright spots in 2019—after doing what he did under those circumstances, as a true freshman, I’m not surprised he’s building on it. Person has never had a stretch like this one where he’s been able to stay on the field. The talent’s never been in question, but he’s been less than 100% basically his entire career prior to 2020.

Notre Dame: Fine with part-time ACC membership, or do they need to pick between being all the way in or all the way out?

Without knowing what Notre Dame would do to boost the ACC’s media deals, I’d say the current setup is fine. From a practical perspective, I’d rather not have to face the Irish more freqently than NC State already does, given that the Irish are well ahead as a program. Not that NC State would for sure play Notre Dame more frequently if it were a member in football, but still. I’m good with the rotation as it is.

From the outside, what does Orange football look like right now?

A big ol’ mess of a disaster. I watched a chunk of the Louisville game and dang, man. What’s harder to tell as someone who doesn’t follow especially closely is how much of this season has to do with injuries/opt-outs. I know y’all have had a lot of attrition, and after going through what we did in 2019, I can definitely sympathize.

Any Syracuse players that concern you? It’s okay if the answer’s no.

I WOULD have said Andre Cisco — especially going against Hockman — but, well. In all honesty, though, if your quarterback has a functioning arm then he concerns me. Just your normal healthy arm capable of completing the process of throwing a football. That’s all it takes for me.

Name one unsung Wolpfack player that Orange fans should get more familiar with.

His contributions can be sporadic still, but I like what wide receiver Devin Carter has brought to the table this year. He was quietly pretty solid in 2019 and has made some big plays for NC State this year. He can be a tough matchup because of his size (6’4, 216).

Prediction time: Who wins this game and why?

If Hockman plays poorly for the second straight week, then this may be another all-around unpleasant game between these teams. NC State has been impressively resilient this year, though, and it’s more likely that Hockman bounces back. I’ll go with NC State 30, Syracuse 17.

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Thanks again to Steven for taking the time out to answer these. Follow Backing the Pack on Twitter and check out the site too, for all things NC State.