Well guys and gals, we #BeatSC, and that is in the most devastating and aggressive and visceral sense of the word, “beat.”
Now, after lots of deserved celebration, praise, media hype, etc., Brian Kelly and his #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish have to turn around and host the #14 NC State Wolfpack, who are also 6-1 and are currently 1st in the ACC Atlantic Division.
This would be another big resumé-booster for both teams, and a loss will absolutely eliminate the loser from College Football Playoff contention (never in a million years did I expect to be able to say that about this game when this season began).
So, to help you guys get to know the somewhat under-the-radar Wolfpack, I reached out to Will Thompson at Backing the Pack, SB Nation’s fantastic NC State site. I worked with Will on this very same kind of article last season, and so he was very ready to answer even the stupidest questions I had to ask, all while providing some fantastic and crucial info on what this Wolfpack squad is all about.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into Will’s thoughts on NC State head coach Dave Doeren, the Wolfpack offense’s incredible efficiency, the NC State defensive line’s imposing nature, the best all-time Wolfpack players to pick for Family Feud, Dave Doeren’s karaoke song of choice, and much more.
1. The past couple years (prior to this year) of NC State football haven't shown too much progress after Dave Doeren righted the sinking ship he took over in 2013, but so far this year the team is off to a fantastic start.
What do Wolfpack fans think of Doeren and how do you think NC State will do in the 2nd half of this season?
Right now there's definitely a lot of cautious optimism. This is the best start NC State football has had since the Philip Rivers days. There's just a different air about this team than in years past, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to Doeren's steadiness.
Prior to this year, there had been some difficult spots the football team went through, and it was one of those things where NC State could never quite get over the hump against a more talented team. They'd come close, then fall just short.
That's changed this season. In the last game, NC State played a pretty awful first half against Pitt (with the exception of Nyheim Hines). In years past, that's a game that NC State would have 100% lost. It's different this season, and I think Doeren is one of the main reasons why.
The team really believes in him, and the fans do too right now. So does AD Debbie Yow, as contract negotiations are reportedly ongoing with Doeren. The next two games are going to be really telling about where this season ends up for NC State. There's a lot on the line — just have to take it one game at a time (in my best cliché coach voice).
2. NC State QB Ryan Finley appears to be a paragon of efficiency at QB, considering his stat line of 1,968 yards, 69.4% completion, 11 TDs, and 0 INTs.
Do you see him continuing that kind of turnover-free performance against Mike Elko's Notre Dame defense, which sits at 7th in the country in defensive efficiency and has pushed ND to a turnover differential of +10?
That's going to be a major factor in this game. Finley really has been incredible at managing the offense, limiting mistakes and keeping the offense on the field.
I'm fairly certain this is the best defense to date that NC State will have faced, so the offensive line is going to have their hands full. They've been pretty incredible at keeping Finley upright as well, which has helped him limit mistakes as well.
Finley doesn't get quite the praise as some of the more notable quarterbacks out there, but he's just as good. He's having a break-out season, and it's been really fun to watch.
3. NC State RB Nyheim Hines has 648 yards and 6 TDs while averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Considering his small stature, what makes him so effective running the football, and how well do you see him and the Wolfpack offensive line performing against the Irish front seven, who have been pretty stout against the run this year?
What really helps Hines are his speed and elusiveness. He's really versatile in a lot of different run schemes, which makes him difficult to defend.
It's interesting — prior to the season, I wasn't really sure what the Pack was going to get from the run game. We had seen flashes of it from Reggie Gallaspy last year playing behind Matt Dayes. With Dayes now gone, none of us really knew what to expect, especially when it was announced Hines would play more of a prominent role in the run game as well.
It took Hines a little bit to get going this season, but ever since the Florida State game he's been the primary back and is definitely in a groove right now. He's also explosive in special teams returns, as within a short span against Pitt he broke an 80-some yard touchdown, and then scored on a punt return the next series.
Notre Dame presents his toughest challenge yet, and if he can't break loose into the open field, it's going to limit what NC State can do offensively.
4. Who are the NC State receivers that the Irish need to be worried about? Think the ND defensive backs will be able to lock them down?
The Wolfpack has a lot of versatility in the receiving corps as well. Kelvin Harmon is leading the team in receiving yards, he's got a great ability to break free for long downfield passes in one-on-one coverage, and he can also beat you in the shorter passing game. Look for Harmon a lot in third and five type situations.
The biggest weapon NC State has in the pass game, however, is Jaylen Samuels. And truthfully, his game is not limited to that area, either. He's listed as a TE, which is really a misnomer; Samuels can line up anywhere on the field. Out wide, in the slot, in the backfield - he can really do it all. He is the Pack's most important player, and any key to Notre Dame winning will involve trying to stop him.
5. The NC State defense has been fantastic so far this season, particularly against the run (6th in rushing defense).
Considering that's what Notre Dame does best (7th in rushing offense), how do you think the matchup of the Wolfpack front seven vs. the Irish offensive line and backfield will play out?
This is the other major determining factor for who is going to win the game. NC State's defensive line is the strength of that defense, and Bradley Chubb and co. put immense pressure on offensive lines.
Not to beat a dead horse, but this too will be their toughest matchup of the season. Josh Adams is simply sensational, and has been a big reason the Irish are having such a stellar season.
There are a lot of eyes on Chubb especially these days, and I think he's going to have a huge game. He's going to need to if the Pack is going to stop this potent rushing attack of the Irish.
6. What makes Bradley Chubb, Darian Roseboro, and the rest of the NC State defensive line so imposing? How many of these guys do you expect to see drafted in the NFL in the next few years?
Definitely their strength, size and speed. Kentavius Street, for example, can squat 700 pounds.
Chubb has an incredible ability to beat his man on the offensive line to get to the quarterback. In the win against Florida State, time and time again Chubb got into the backfield to disrupt the play.
If his play continues like this the rest of the season, I find it hard to believe he won't be a high first round pick in this year's draft. The number of NFL scouts at Carter-Finley Stadium when Louisville was in town was by far the most I had ever seen.
7. NC State's defense is somewhat mediocre in defending the pass, while ND is also incredibly inconsistent through the air on offense.
Would you be more surprised by the Wolfpack secondary completely shutting down Wimbush through the air, or by Wimbush picking NC State apart with his arm?
Honestly, I'd be more surprised if they were able to completely shut down Wimbush. The secondary is the weakest part of the defense, and the fact that the Pack hasn't had to have too many situations where they leave the corners on an island has helped.
If Notre Dame is able to protect Wimbush and allow him to get the passing game going, it's going to be a rough day for the Pack.
8. How was South Carolina able to beat NC State in the season opener?
I still get frustrated by this game, because a few silly mistakes really cost NC State the game.
The most notable of these was giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the game.
If these teams were to meet again right now, there's no doubt in my mind NC State would win by 17.
9. What players are you most afraid of on Notre Dame?
Josh Adams, first and foremost. He's had a wonderful season so far, and stopping him is paramount if NC State is going to win. He's only been held under 100 yards twice, with one of those games being the loss to Georgia.
I also think that Wimbush provides a difficult matchup, as he is capable of beating you on the ground as well.
10. Who are the X-factors for NC State? That is to say, which players on offense and defense will be crucial and their best performances will be needed to get the W?
The Wolfpack need to have a big game from Jaylen Samuels for sure, as he is a major component of the offense every week. Nyheim Hines will also need another stellar performance to help take some pressure off of Finley.
11. ND has Equanimeous St. Brown and Greer Martini. What are the best/most ridiculous/funniest names on the NC State roster?
Whew, there aren't any names on the Pack roster that are quite that good, but I love Kentavius Street and Eurndraus "Big E" Bryant.
12. You're putting together a team of 5 NC State players to compete on Family Feud. Who do you choose and why?
Man, this is a great question. If we're going all-time, no question you have to include Philip Rivers. That dude is über-competitive with everything and would play to win.
Gotta also include both Torry and Terrance Holt for the same reasons. I'll also throw in Chuck Amato who would undoubtedly wear his bright red shoes, and we'll close by adding Jericho Cotchery, mainly because he’s one of my favorite Wolfpack players ever, and he’s clutch in crunch time situations. He’d be awesome in the final round!
Follow-up: You now have to choose just two NC State players to compete on the Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple. Who are you going with?
Definitely going to lead off with Nate Irving, mainly because I'd love to see him suplex one of those damn Temple Guards.
For his partner, I have to go with Mario Williams.
He'd just look at Kirk Fogg and Olmec with his red contact lenses he used to wear and they'd just give him the grand prize, no questions asked.
13. Brian Kelly and Dave Doeren in a dance-off — who wins, and what song does each coach dance to?
This is a tough one - I feel like we're talking about potentially two of the least likely people on planet earth that would ever be in a dance-off.
I think I'll take Kelly with this one, with him dancing to “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, mainly because the thought of Brian Kelly dancing to disco makes me laugh hysterically. That'd be the angriest disco ever.
I don't know why, but I feel like Doeren is secretly a big 80s guy. I could see him trying to break it down to some random song like “Take on Me.”
Follow-up: Same question, but karaoke instead of a dance-off
I'm going to take Dave on this one, mainly because I'm pretty sure Brian Kelly has some cracked vocal cords from all the yelling he's done over the years. I could see Dave going with some Garth Brooks and “Friends in Low Places.”
14. Prediction time: pick a winner, give me a score, and explain your reasoning.
I think it's safe to say Notre Dame is thankful they won't be playing this year's matchup in a damn hurricane, and even if the weather is bad this weekend (which it looks like it could be), the Irish are far better equipped to handle that this season.
The Wolfpack have shown this season they can get up for a huge game, and this is their biggest test to date. I see this being an incredibly close game, but I think Finley's steadiness and a pair of touchdowns from Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines will prove to be the difference for the Pack. NC State wins a nail-biter, 31-28.
15. Anything else ND fans should know about the NC State team, coaches, fans, program, traditions, etc.?
If you want some really great insight on the Pack's season, the team is doing a "Hard Knocks" style documentary series this season called "One." They're all available on YouTube, and they are extremely well done.
It's really rare to see this level of access into a college football team during a season, and I think you'll start to see more teams do similar type productions.
Huge shout out to Will for putting up with the laundry list of questions I tossed at him just a couple days ago and for cranking out such insightful responses in such a short amount of time.
Be sure to follow Will on Twitter, as well as Backing the Pack, for any and all breaking NC State football news and updates, and DEFINITELY head over to the Backing the Pack site in order to see a lot of great coverage leading up to Saturday’s game, including the Q&A I am currently doing with Will.