Before the NC State Wolfpack do battle with the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Belk Bowl this postseason, let’s take a look at how the Wolfpack got here.
NC State finished the regular season 7–5 with an ACC record of 3–5.
NC State Regular Season Review
It seems all of college football was affected by injuries this season, and the Pack did not escape this. Running back Matt Dayes filled in for Shadrach Thornton for the better part of the schedule until a foot injury sidelined him. Dayes played in eight games and rushed for 865 yards and twelve touchdowns.
Without Thornton and Dayes the Wolfpack lost key elements of their ground and pound offense. Without a stable run game, the time of possession that carried their early season wins was a non-factor down the stretch.
Thornton played in just two games this year before being dismissed due to disciplinary issues. NC State gave him ample opportunities to stay aboard, but he wasted them, and has likely played his last football. Perhaps he’ll wind up in an NFL camp someday, but he’s got some growing up to do.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett
Brissett once again proved invaluable to this team. He stayed healthy, took care of the ball, used his legs, and made good decisions.
He threw for 2,448 yards and 19 touchdowns, while throwing only four interceptions. This was good for fourth in touchdowns and a tie for third in interceptions in the conference.
Brissett carried the ball 113 times, second to only Dayes in volume. In 113 carries he amassed 303 yards on the ground.
Brissett has led this squad to back-to-back bowls, and now has a shot to compete against fellow quarterback Dak Prescott in the Belk Bowl, an individual matchup I can’t wait to see.
Either of those two players could be on the NFL’s radar come next year’s draft, and Brissett would make a great addition to an NFL roster. Standing 6’4” and weighing 235 pounds will get you noticed. Being mobile and accurate will get you drafted. If he’s a late rounder, I’d call it a steal, and I believe he could be a real weapon someday.
Best Game A
Let me get the rough patch of this analysis out of the way. NC State did not have a win over any team that is going bowling this season. Considering there are 40 bowls, there’s not a lot of meat on the seven-win steak that the Wolfpack are boasting this year.
State beat one team with a winning record; that would be the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, who finished their campaign with a 6-5 mark.
The reason there is a part B below in this superlative is that I can’t let a win over a 3–9 Wake Forest be considered my “best” game of the year, but I also take issue with calling a loss a “best” game. So I give the Wolfpack a solid A grade in their road win on October 24.
Throw in a home win over Syracuse as a worthy effort as well. The Orange went 4-8 so it’s on the same plane as the Wake win for me. The Pack beat the Orange in Raleigh so I’ll give the road win the nod.
The Wolfpack jumped out to a 28–0 lead in the first quarter, and were never in danger against the Demon Deacons. Matt Dayes topped 200 yards on sixteen carries and took the ball in for a touchdown twice in this one. Brissett was solid as usual, and completed 58% of his passes for 227 yards through the air.
If I’m not going to give the Wolfpack a ton of credit in their opening four wins against non-Power Five teams, then this solid win on the road is the game that stood out to me as the glimmer of where I thought NC State could go in 2015. If not for untimely injuries and other circumstances, the Wolfpack might have gotten a few more wins.
“Most complete” game would be the road win over the South Alabama Jaguars. The Wolfpack dominated the game and won 63 – 13. NC State left no doubt against a Sun Belt foe, and piled on their most points of the season.
Best Game B
I know it was a loss, but this was to a team that is now number one in the land, and has been for a long time. They have had a choke hold on the one seed in the College Football Playoff for the entirety of the rankings. Losing to the best team in the land is nothing to hang one’s head about.
Just like last season the Wolfpack gave a Final Four team all they could stand. They lost both games by the same score: 56 – 41. Last year it was eventual undefeated Florida State that came back and outlasted the Pack.
This season eventual undefeated Clemson took the Pack’s best shot in Raleigh and escaped. It was the Wolfpack playing catch-up with the Tigers for the majority of this game however, and NC State just could not stop Deshaun Watson.
I think this game is far more impressive than a win against a struggling Wake Forest, but again, I hesitate to call a loss a good game. Given that NC State won seven games, is going bowling in a higher tier bowl against a good SEC team, this season still felt void in some areas.
There is no shame in losing to the number one team in the land with a Heisman bronze medalist as their star player. NC State should root hard for Clemson to complete their run and become the first ever team to go 15–0. If the Tigers do this, years down the road their season will include tales of close calls against Notre Dame, Florida State, bitter rival South Carolina, and that crazy shootout against NC State.
I’ll take that hard fought good effort over a lay up win against a cupcake any day. The Wolfpack took it to the top dog in the country for four quarters, but just didn’t have the ammo to hang in.
I know Blacksburg is a tough place to play. It was a Friday, it was rainy, and NC State was barely into the “real” leg of their schedule. Things sure got real when they lost consecutive games to open ACC play to Louisville and VA Tech. The offensive performance against the Hokies was anemic to say the least. The defense took a nap too and the Pack lost 28-13.
If NC State can somehow get a win in their bowl game versus Mississippi State, it would put a whole new spin on this season. Given the abysmal non-conference slate the Wolfpack played, and the tepid ACC wins, they need to show up in the Belk Bowl. Competing with an SEC West team would send this season out on a high note, while a win would erase any ill effects the losses had. While there were only five of those losses, they overshadowed the wins, especially when four were gimmes.
I thought NCSU would get to 8-4, but they went 7-5. NC State needs to take a page out of the Big 12’s new scheduling action item. Playing at least one non-conference Power Five team this season would have at the very least helped NC State’s strength of schedule. Their non-conference games put them behind the eight ball before they even got going.
NC State put forth a good effort, and got the wins they were supposed to this year. If they can steal one from Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl, and get eight wins, it will be a fantastic spring board into 2016.