SEASON OPENER PREVIEW: Q&A with “Backing the Pack”



FOOTBALL IS OFFICIALLY BACK. Did you catch that? Has it hit you yet?! Apologies if we can’t contain our excitement, but it’s been far too long since we’ve yelled at the top of our lungs for the Green and Gold on the gridiron. Another offseason has come to its conclusion, and with it springs hope eternal. W&M boasts solid pieces across the board this year, and is not without a few question marks. But one thing is for certain: this team has a huge chip on its shoulder, and is out to prove itself. You’d best believe the Tribe are ready this season.

Now we don’t think we need to get you any more excited for this game on Thursday night. But in case you can’t get enough pre-game coverage, we at the W&M Sports Blog teamed up with NC State’s SB Nation sports blog, “Backing the Pack” for an exclusive Q&A session. Shout out to Will Thompson of Backing the Pack for all the hard work and inside analysis below! So before you head down to Raleigh for the game on Thursday (don’t forget to let your Manager know about that PTO!), be sure to read up and understand the Wolfpack’s strengths and weaknesses, so that come gameday, you’ll know what to expect. Also be sure to check out our W&M Sports Blog answers to Backing the Pack‘s Q&A questions on their blog right here! See you in Raleigh. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

We W&M football fans are always asked about our Head Coach, Jimmye Laycock, and his 36 years with the Tribe. But can you give us a feel for NC State’s Head Coach, Dave Doeren, outlining his football philosophies, recent history, and future prospects with the team?

Doeren is a totally blue collar guy. He loves hard hitting defenses and offenses that can score in bunches. He’s never going to sugarcoat anything, and can be fairly blunt sometimes. His recent history has been a bit up and down. Doeren first became a hot commodity in the coaching world making a name for himself at Northern Illinois where he won 2 MAC championships and his teams lost a combined 4 games in two seasons. Since coming to NC State, his success from Northern Illinois hasn’t translated as well, but to some extent it’s not his fault. The first season he was leading the Pack, the cupboard was left pretty bare from his predecessor, Tom O’Brien. As such, the team struggled mightily and went 3-9. His second season was far better, leading the team to an 8-5 record and a win in the first (and last) Bitcoin Bowl in St. Petersburg. Last season, given NC State’s pretty weak schedule was disappointing, where the team finished at 7-6, and got blown out by Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl.


Moving on to this season and the future, I think given the ups and downs Doeren is still in pretty good standing with most of the fanbase. Doeren and his staff recruit REALLY hard, in particular in North Carolina, an area O’Brien was not successful.  In his fourth season now he still has somewhat of a young team, but there’s a lot of great talent he’s bringing in.


dave doeren
NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren marches in to a crucial season for the Wolfpack [photo:]
The schedule is wildly more difficult this season, so I think even going 7-5 and a trip to a bowl this year would still be considered an accomplishment. There’s a stretch of having to play Notre Dame, @Clemson and @Louisville in 3 straight weeks. Brutal. One blight on Doeren’s tenure at NC State has been his inability to win a big upset, but he’s certainly got plenty of chances this season to accomplish that.

We noticed that NC State hired a new offensive coordinator, Eliah Drinkwitz (formerly of Boise State). What do you know about the style of offense Drinkwitz likes to run, and what do you think of the hire?

I don’t know much about his specific style, but his offenses at Boise State were consistently among the best in the country in terms of scoring points, total yards and passing yard, so that’s hopefully going to be a boon to the Pack offense. To be honest, I don’t think many NC State fans thought there would be a change at offensive coordinator – most of us believed the defensive coordinator, Dave Huxtable would be let go if there was going to be a change made. Instead, Matt Canada was relieved of his duties, and here we are. I think it’s a great hire – Drinkwitz has a lot of positive press around him, and he’s also hit the recruiting trail in North Carolina very well. I suspect he will enjoy running plays for Jaylen Samuels quite a bit.

NC State has experienced some changes around the quarterback position this offseason, including the acquisition of graduate transfer Ryan Finley (also Boise State). Could you describe the QB transition, who you believe the favorite is, and his outlook for the coming season?


Finley’s transfer to NC State was also a bit of a surprise for me, as Jalan McClendon was widely viewed by many NC State fans as being the immediate successor to Jacoby Brissett. There was also a lot of hype around Jakobi Myers potentially making some noise. I’m sure Drinkwitz’s move to NC State helped convince Finley to also come to Raleigh. Another interesting tidbit about Finley is he received another year of eligibility from the NCAA, so as a graduate student he has 3 years of eligibility left. Not often you see something like that.


Still TBD as to who the favorite is for quarterback, but both Finley and McClendon are listed on the depth chart for Thursday’s game as potential starters, so I’d expect both will see significant time in that game. Seems like the staff knows who the starter is going to be though, but they aren’t sharing yet. As one friend of mine who has been to some practices described to me, Finley is a guy who doesn’t make all that many mistakes. He’s a steady, consistent hand that keeps the offense moving, whereas McClendon can make some absolutely mammoth throws and other highlight reel types of plays, so it’s an interesting contrast of styles to be sure.

Aside from quarterback, who are the Offensive players W&M should watch out for this coming week?

Jaylen Samuels first and foremost. Samuels, while listed as a tight end (and as a fullback on the depth chart), can line up literally anywhere on the field and make explosive plays. The below YouTube video shows just how versatile he is, and how he can score from a jet sweep, the option, a wheel route, etc. He is easily one of NC State’s most important players on the offensive side of the ball.

In addition to Samuels, Matt Dayes has to continue his strong play from last season if the Pack are going to be successful on the offense. He was lost for the season in the loss to Clemson last year, and his injury really derailed the variety of offense the Pack could run.

I’m also really excited to see what Thaddeus Moss can do – he’s the son of the legendary Randy Moss, and like Samuels he’s listed at FB on the depth chart, which is also a misnomer – I’m sure Moss will also lineup all over the field too.

Although losing leading sack-getter Mike Rose to graduation, NC State’s defense returns 6 of its front 7 from a year ago. With that being said, what do you see as the biggest weakness on defense? Who are some defensive players that W&M should keep an eye on?

NC State has always had a bit of a propensity to give up big plays on defense, particularly by the secondary. That squad is a bit thin in terms of depth, so if any of those guys go down, things could get dicey for that part of the defense. NC State’s strength on defense lies with the front seven, and W&M should definitely keep an eye on Kentavius Street and Jerod Fernandez, as both are capable of making huge plays in the backfield. Airius Moore led the team in tackles last season, so he’s usually in the mix on every play as well. My colleague at BackingThePack, Steven Muma is also excited about Eurndraus Bryant, who weighs a whopping 345 lbs. There’s a ton of size on the defensive line, and as you mentioned there’s a lot of experience here, so we’re all hoping they can continue to get better moving on to this season.


nc state line
NC State’s Defensive Line is one of the best in the ACC. [photo:]

What do you perceive to be the biggest strengths/weaknesses of this year’s Wolfpack team?

On the offense, it’s still TBD for me – there’s certainly a lot of talent there between Dayes, Samuels and others, but the quarterback position has been a big mystery all offseason, so I’m not really sure what to expect there. The front seven is going to be a force on the other side of the ball, but there were several games last season where they started to fall apart because the offense couldn’t stay on the field, so they’ll need the offense to be more consistent this season. I’m always wary of the secondary, but that’s just me – been burned too many times. Keeping big plays to a minimum will be one of the toughest challenges that unit has all year.

How do you predict NC State will do this year? Any bold statements or win-loss predictions?

Truth be told, I think this is going to be a pretty solid team that’s faced with a really challenging schedule. If they can get a few upsets under their belt while winning games they are favored in, that could really solidify Doeren’s tenure here. I’d like to think NC State can be 4-0 when Notre Dame comes to town, but we’ll see. Any sort of bowl game possibilities are largely contingent on that happening, as after those first four games is when the schedule really ramps up. NC State plays Florida State in Raleigh this year, which is always a wildly entertaining game. Having to end the season against Miami and @ North Carolina is also going to be super tough. All in all, I think a record higher than 7-5 is attainable, and if Doeren wants to be “the best coach ever at NC State,” as he recently said, this season certainly presents him a golden opportunity to take a giant step forward.

W&M Sports Blog Prediction: Tribe 27 Wolfpack 20

Because Roll Damn Tribe. See you Thursday.

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