NC State football: 7 things we've learned about the Wolfpack after 3 weeks
After an impressive defensive showing during a 27-14 win Saturday against Texas Tech, NC State is 3-0.
The Pack started the year with a nail-biter at East Carolina, and it followed that with a drubbing of Charleston Southern. Then Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, the Pack got its 1st nonconference win against a Power 5 opponent in a long time.
It has been a tale of 2 sides of the ball for the Pack, though, as NC State’s defense has been as dominant as its offense has been disappointing. Still, NC State is 3-0 and likely will make it 4-0 heading into ACC play with lowly UConn coming up.
Here are 7 things we’ve learned about the Wolfpack through 3 weeks:
Defensive front is elite
NC State is allowing just 69 rushing yards per game. Texas Tech managed just 54 yards on the ground, averaging 2.1 yards per attempt.
In the pass rush, the Wolfpack was all over the Red Raiders with 10 quarterback hurries and 4 sacks, and it also did a good job of getting in the backfield against both East Carolina and Charleston Southern.
NC State’s defensive front is absolutely elite. The linebacking corps probably is the best in the ACC, and arguably among the best in the country. The defensive line, while young, is playing really, really well.
Nobody is going to be able to run effectively on the Wolfpack. A mobile quarterback in the Red Raiders’ Donovan Smith didn’t have success on his feet, and none of the 3 teams the Pack has played has established a running game.
The linebackers are the No. 1 strength of NC State’s team. That was known coming into the season, but it has been on full display through 3 games. It’s a unit that’s going to dominate football games all year long.
Pack maybe has its best secondary ever
The defensive front still is NC State’s staple, but this Wolfpack secondary maybe is as good as NC State has ever had.
It’s definitely the best group the Pack has had during coach Dave Doeren’s tenure that began in 2013, as NC State is allowing about 227 passing yards per game and already has intercepted 7 passes.
The secondary is deep, and everyone is talented. Tyler Baker-Williams has forced 3 turnovers, and he’s looking like one of the best defensive backs in the country, though he did get hurt against Texas Tech. Aydan White had 2 picks, including one returned for a touchdown, against Texas Tech, and he’s technically the Wolfpack’s 3rd option at cornerback.
Tanner Ingle and Cyrus Fagan are an electric duo at safety, and their backups of Jakeen Harris and Devan Boykin have been really good as well. We knew what the Pack had in the secondary coming into the season, and so far they have done nothing but live up to lofty expectations.
Devin Leary has room to grow
There’s no sugar coating it. Devin Leary has not been good in NC State’s 2 games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.
Against ECU, he went 17-for-33 with 211 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Then against Texas Tech, he was 15-for-23 with just 121 yards and no scores. His passer rating was 109.2 and 109.4, respectively, in those 2 games, compared to his season-long passer rating of 157.0 in 2021.
He was good against Charleston Southern, but that doesn’t tell you much. So far, Leary just hasn’t seemed on the same page as his receivers. He isn’t hitting deep balls, and the Pack’s passing attack has yet to find anything resembling a rhythm.
Leary has to be better if the Pack wants to accomplish its goals this season. But 2021 told us he can be, and there’s certainly room to grow. The Wolfpack has a tune-up game Saturday against UConn, and Leary needs to start connecting more before ACC play.
Emeka Emezie was vital to offensive success in 2021
The biggest disappointment so far for NC State has been the collective performance of the receiving corps.
Devin Carter, who was expected to be the Pack’s top receiver, has just 4 catches for 54 yards. Thayer Thomas has been his normal reliable self, but nobody else has really done anything impressive. In the Pack’s 2 FBS games, its wide receivers apart from Thomas have combined for just 10 catches, 102 yards and no touchdowns.
Emeka Emezie was Leary’s go-to wideout in 2021, and his absence has been painfully obvious through 3 games. His impact on the 2021 team was no secret, but it’s becoming very clear just how valuable he was to the Wolfpack’s offense. So far, nobody has really stepped up to fill the void.
Demie Sumo-Karngbaye is a star in the making
If there’s been a standout player on the offensive side of the ball for the Wolfpack, it has been running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye.
The redshirt freshman garnered a ton of praise last fall and during the spring, but he hadn’t played as a running back in a game until this year. Against East Carolina, he rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
After a cool 70 yards rushing and average of 10 per carry against Charleston Southern, he racked up 147 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns in the victory over Texas Tech.
But more than just the stats, Sumo-Karngbaye has shown he has the makings of a star back. He has had multiple carries where he has dragged a handful of defenders, and he has shown he’s shifty and agile. His skill set suggests he can really do it all, and so far he’s showing why everyone within the Pack’s program has been in love with him for the past 2 years.
Todd Goebbel deserves a raise
Through 3 games, NC State’s special teams have been spectacular, and special teams coordinator Todd Goebbel deserves the credit.
Against ECU, the Wolfpack blocked a punt and scooped it up for a touchdown, and that was the difference in the game. Against Texas Tech, NC State long snapper Joe Shimko recovered a fumble on a muffed punt from the Red Raiders, and the Wolfpack dominated in kickoff coverage. Texas Tech started 4 drives inside its own 20-yard line thanks to the Pack’s coverage unit.
Chris Dunn is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and 13-for-13 on extra point tries. Newcomer Shane McDonough has punted the ball well, with an average of 41.1 yards and no touchbacks. Collin Smith has done everything needed from him kicking off.
Special teams are an important, often overlooked part of the game. For NC State, Goebbel’s units have been near perfect through 3 games.
NC State can win the ACC
If defense truly does win championships, NC State should feel pretty good about where it’s at.
Obviously the Wolfpack’s offense needs to come along, but the Pack has shown through 3 games that it has the ability to shut down even the best of scoring attacks. Texas Tech scored just 14 points and had less than 300 passing yards. East Carolina had just 20 points and was aided by a short field a couple times.
When looking around the ACC, nobody has looked unbeatable. Clemson’s offense looks as pedestrian as NC State’s does, and Miami scored just 9 points against a No. 24 Texas A&M team that lost to Appalachian State. Wake Forest barely survived Liberty. Florida State looks good early, but the Noles still have a lot to prove.
The Pack has a lot to fix on the offensive side of the ball, but nothing that has happened this season has suggested NC State can’t win the ACC.