With the season now half over, the Wolfpack football team has mixed grades and is at a crossroads: they can either improve and go on to a decent year for a still-rebuilding program, or they could have another shambolic finish that leaves huge questions not only about the state of NC State football but also questions about the ongoing tenure of head coach Dave Doeren and crew.
Starting Saturday against Boston College, the direction that the team will travel will start to become apparent.
The Eagles are going on the road for the first time, and have a young team. “I think our guys like to play at home,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said yesterday in his weekly press conference. “I don’t think you ever look forward to going out of town. It’s just what you have to do: You have to go on the road and win. It’s part of it. When you’re at home, you’re in your routine and in your element. When you don’t have a senior-laden team who has a lot of experience in that, it’s hard,” he added.
That doesn’t sound resoundingly confident, and perhaps the Carter-Finley faithful can add to the intimidation that Addazio expects his charges to face. BC will be rested and well-prepared, however, as they haven’t played since September 27th, when they lost 24-21 to Colorado State. Since then, they lost CB Bryce Jones, their fourth leading tackler, when he was kicked off of the team for violating team rules.
For the Wolfpack’s part, it’s a return to the friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium after being completely demolished by Clemson in Death Valley. There’s not much that can be pointed to from this game that could be labeled a positive — except perhaps that it’s over and done with. It was a 41-0 defeat that wasn’t even that close. In all phases of the game, State was thoroughly beaten, and now they must regroup quickly to face a team in a winnable game that would leave them one victory shy of bowl eligibility.
While this week’s game is winnable — BC has lost to the likes of Colorado State and a so-far pedestrian Pitt team — victory won’t come easily, as BC’s greatest strength will be matched against NC State biggest weakness. The Eagles are averaging 316.8 yards per game rushing after five games, with QB Tyler Murphy gobbling up an average of 115.8 yards per contest — something that NC State’s porous defense must be dreading after Clemson’s DeShaun Watson torched them for a “mere” 62 yards and 2 touchdowns. BC also has a solid running back in Jon Hilliman, who’s averaging 73.8 YPG on his own. Both players have scored six touchdowns, and together they present a dual threat that will present quite the challenge for a defense that has yet to stop anyone.
To win, obviously the Wolfpack defense will have to slow Murphy and Hilliman, and to get itself off of the field in order to give the Wolfpack offense a chance to move the ball and score. That will require fundamental execution, something that State’s defense has struggled with all year. The team has been plagued by arm tackling, by being out of position and by allowing receivers to be open in too many inopportune times. They’ll need to improve if they want to win, and if they don’t, Dave Doeren will have to keep looking for his first conference win as NC State’s coach.
Addazio also pointed out that his quarterback and State’s signal caller are quite familiar with one another. “[Murphy and Brissett are] buddies,” he said. They’re really good friends. Brissett’s a hell of a player. He’s making a ton of plays and I have a ton of respect for him. I’ve watched him a lot; I’ve watched every snap. He’s pretty darn good.” He’ll need to be good Saturday, as will the entire NC State offense. It will need to be efficient and it will need to convert on as many of its chances with the ball as it can. Boston College will have a decided advantage when it has the football, and when a team averages as many yards on the ground as do the Eagles, they tend to gobble up the game clock in large chunks — something that will lower the number of chances their opponents will have to be on offense themselves.
Fortunately, State has a solid running back corps, decent receivers and a QB who’s a lot better than what he showed against Clemson’s defense. The Wolfpack scoring unit will probably be fired up to demonstrate that the game last week was an exception and not the rule, and it may be them who limits BC’s chances with the ball, not the other way around.
In other words, this game has every look of a tossup wherre victory will be awarded to the team that executes its game plan the best, limits its mistake and has a better day on special teams. There is no glaring talent gap.
Overall, this looks like a good matchup, but one that will require the Wolfpack to play better than it did last week and in the first half of several other games this year. It will need a complete effort to secure victory, and if they can provide one, it will be a sign that the young team is maturing and improving. If they don’t, and squander a chance to secure a win at home before heading back on the road to face Syracuse and Louisville, the chances of another catastrophic campaign increase dramatically.
What happens is, of course, up to the players. Tune in Saturday at 3:30pm to see if they are up to the task.