The Wolfpack have earned back-to-back bowl trips under coach Dave Doeren, but the program is still looking to take the next step. Earning a third consecutive postseason appearance won't be easy without quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and the schedule is tougher in 2016. The strength of Doeren's offense is in the backfield, as Matt Dayes headlines a deep stable of promising running backs.
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Previewing N.C. State’s Offense
NC State has questions at quarterback and the offensive line but has a good stockpile of versatile running backs. Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels, who is officially a tight end, combined to score 28 touchdowns last season.
Dayes was on track to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 before a foot injury sidelined him for the final five games, leaving him with 865 yards. The addition of redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier should take some pressure off Dayes and add a power element to the running game.
The skill players will have to help sophomore Jalan McClendon, who steps in for two-year starter Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. McClendon has a huge arm and good size (6'5", 212) but has only 14 career passing attempts.
Senior Jumichael Ramos had the most catches by a receiver last season with 34 for 457 yards. Freshman tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of NFL legend Randy Moss, has a chance to help the Wolfpack offense right away.
The offensive line, a strength for the past two years, is in for a makeover with only two starters back. Junior Tony Adams is the best of a mostly unproven bunch, though keep an eye on center Joseph Scelfo, a grad transfer from South Alabama.
Previewing N.C. State’s Defense
The strength of coordinator Dave Huxtable’s defensive unit, which ranked No. 29 in the country in total defense in 2015, was the defensive line. It should be again with junior tackles B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street returning and Bradley Chubb and Darian Roseboro, who combined for 9.5 sacks, back at defensive end.
At linebacker, Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore are a pair of juniors who have taken their lumps and learned on the job. NC State needs to get more production from its linebacking corps, and coordinator Huxtable is hoping that a healthier, more experienced Fernandez can help on that front. Moore led the team with 77 tackles last season.
A little change in the secondary might not be a bad thing. The Wolfpack struggled on pass defense last season and lose their best cover corner in Juston Burris. Junior Shawn Boone, who was slowed by a hamstring injury in the second half of the season, will be counted on to rejuvenate the safety group. Fifth-year senior Niles Clark ended up splitting duties with Dravious Wright at nickel by the end of the season, and the staff is bullish on his coverage skills.
Previewing N.C. State’s Specialists
The Wolfpack made major improvements in the return game, ranking in the top 20 in the country in both punt and kickoff returns. Bra’Lon Cherry ranked third in the ACC and 12th nationally with 13.3 yards per punt return. Nyheim Hines ranked fifth in the ACC and 23rd nationally with 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Both scored a touchdown in the return game. The kicking game took a step back with Kyle Bambard, who struggled through his freshman year, going 7-of-14 on field goal attempts.
NC State can’t worry about the schedule or the personnel losses on offense or what North Carolina and Duke have done in recent seasons. The only thing coach Dave Doeren wants NC State to worry about is NC State. “My goal for this team is to be the best version of us that we can be,” Doeren says.
Last year, the best version of the Pack was only good enough for a 7–6 finish, a step back from an 8–5 mark in 2014. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track in 2016 but have to do so against a tougher schedule and with some major holes to fill on offense. With a new quarterback and a reworked offensive line, the Wolfpack face an uphill challenge for progress.