Well folks, the easy-breezy start against a trying-to-rebuild Navy squad and a not-good FCS team is officially over, and it’s now officially time for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team to begin playing Power-5 competition, beginning this Saturday in Raleigh with the first road trip of the season. The opponent, obviously, will be the NC State Wolfpack — who are fresh off a 24-14 victory over the Jim Mora Jr.-coached UConn Huskies in their season opener.
So what should we know about these guys heading into this first real challenge of the season for the Irish? How much can we glean from a sluggish start against UConn, and what else is there to learn from insiders who follow head coach Dave Doeren’s program much closer?
For a lot of these ACC opponents whom the Irish have played previously in my time covering the Irish for One Foot Down, I have contacts from certain opponent sites I reach out to for these Q&As. For this week, I was a bit delayed in reaching out to folks due to the long weekend, and that long weekend also delayed response time. So, panicking that I wouldn’t have a Q&A at all for this week, I reached out to a few other NC State sites to see if anyone else could help shed some light on this opponent.
Boy, did I hit the jackpot — I got responses from multiple folks, meaning we’ve got ourselves a 2-part Q&A this week with two separate writers taking on the challenge of answering questions about wolves, off-campus facilities, mascot marriages, and The Andy Griffith Show (you know, the typical lineup of OFD Twitter follower FAN QUESTIONS).
So, here’s Part One, courtesy of Essad Malik, Co-Founder of and Columnist for Trinity Road Times. Essad and fellow SB Nation and NC State alum Alec Lower have built an awesome site designed to be “a community for NC State fans, by NC State fans” that covers all things Wolfpack athletics, and so it was a no-brainer to swap Q&As with Essad in order to get the skinny on NC State and also see how many people Pat Rick can piss off with his responses over there. It’s the perfect site for any and all NC State news and insights and a great partner for something like this.
So, let’s not wait any longer — time to dive in and check out Essad’s excellent answers so we can know as much as we could possibly need to know heading into Saturday’s early kickoff time!
1. Dave Doeren has been at the helm of the program for over a decade now — how do NC State fans feel about him as head coach? Is he the guy for the foreseeable future, or are the Wolfpack faithful looking for a change sooner rather than later?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Depends on who you ask, honestly. We’re mostly okay with him because based on the last two decades of Wolfpack football, winning 7-9 games is the historical average. He rarely dips below that number, but still has yet to really have that 10+ win win season either.
NC State generally gives their coaches (across all sports) long leashes as long as they perform at an above average level. That being said, fans are starting to get a bit restless wondering if he’ll be able to compete for an ACC title. That’s the primary goal. The next season or two with the new division-less ACC will tell a lot about fan temperament towards him.
2. NC State opened the year with a 24-14 win over UConn — did that go as expected, or was that a sluggish/disappointing opener? After seeing that game, what’s the season outlook for the Wolfpack?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Expectations were higher that new OC Robert Anae and transfer QB Brennan Armstrong would be able to inject a downfield attack into the offense. That didn’t materialize in part because the offensive line struggled against UConn’s front four. This was a bit of a surprise, and has us a tad nervous about competing in the conference now, but we’ll need at least one more game before panicking.
OL Lyndon Cooper was a projected starter and he was out with injury. The team hopes to have him back this week vs Notre Dame to shore up the line. It sounds boring to say the season outlook is still in that 8-ish win range, but we don’t have evidence yet to expect Doeren to land much outside of that median value.
3. How’s Brennan Armstrong looking so far for the Wolfpack, and who are the key weapons he has to work with this season? Do you think the NC State offense will be able to consistently move the ball against a pretty deep but untested ND defense?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): The buzz in the offseason is that Armstrong came into the team and immediately started carrying himself as the leader of the team, and quickly assumed the presumptive starting role. We expected someone to look polished and a turnkey fit to pick up the new offense. We don’t have any reason to wave us away from that yet.
The issue with the first game was he wasn’t always given enough time to let plays develop and had to make something happen with his feet. During his breakout season in 2021 at UVA, he was that team’s leading rusher, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something similar here. We just worry about his durability if he will be running a lot. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 155 yards yet ran 19 times for 96 yards. Nobody is expecting him to reach 400 yards/game like he did two years ago, but we’d like the ratio to be more heavily pass to run moving forward.
As far as weapons, we do think he has a lot of options around him...more than he had at UVA in our opinion. Receivers Kevin Concepcion, Keyon Lesane, Terrell Timmons, Porter Rooks, Bradley Rozner and Julian Gray are the primary targets in the passing game. Doeren has preached “complementary football” for years, so I’d expect the ball to be shared across those guys, along with running backs Jordan Houston, Michael Allen and Delbert Mimms.
Will they be able to move the ball against Notre Dame, though? Hard to tell since ND has played two less than elite teams in the first two games. Regardless of opponent it’s impressive that the Irish defense has only allowed two total field goals. That being said, Notre Dame will not yet have faced the level of athlete that NC State has. On paper, this is the fastest team Doeren has had based on reports of times coming out of camp. Whether they’ll be able to score consistently can be debated, but we do expect them to at least be able to move the ball whether on the ground or the air.
4. What are the strengths and weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball for NC State, and if you had to pick 2-3 guys whose performances will determine how successful the Wolfpack are at stopping Sam Hartman and co., whom would you choose?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): It’s funny that Hartman faces NC State for the last few years, he leaves Wake Forest and comes right back to Carter-Finley with his new team. He was always right at the top of the best QBs in the ACC, and he’s looked just as sharp so far. However, NC State has mostly been able contain him from going off. I’d expect that to likely continue, even if the previous times facing him were in the mesh offense (*shudder*).
NC State’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme puts more emphasis on the linebackers and secondary than trying to create sacks from the defensive line. Because of this, if I had to pick a few names, I’d say team leader LB Payton Wilson would be the one to keep eyes on. He had the option to go pro, but came back this year since he’s fought injuries the last few years.
Apart from Wilson, CBs Aydan White and Shyheim Battle will likely be given the assignments against the top Notre Dame receivers. With a talent like Hartman, it becomes more about managing the onslaught rather than trying to shut it down completely. We expect Notre Dame to be able to score, so it’s up to the defense to just limit that output while the offense needs to keep up.
5. FAN QUESTION:
Is there any desire among the students/fans to move football and/or basketball to on-campus facilities? As a student, taking a bus to sporting events seems like it would get old quick.— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) September 3, 2023
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Ah, you’re opening a can of worms with this debate. To quote Ken, it would be “SUBLIME!”
Yes, on campus facilities would be great. Football has always been at Carter-Finley, though, so we’ve never known it any different. There’s too much heritage and history in that stadium, they would never leave. I also don’t think there would be much appetite for wanting to move football, since tailgating is ingrained in the culture and the current stadium has the most amount of space for it. The team will be premiering a new huge scoreboard at this week’s game vs Notre Dame, everyone is excited to see that, so that’s fun.
Now, with basketball, it’s been an ongoing debate since the Pack left on-campus Reynolds Coliseum at the turn of the century. Essentially, they signed a century long deal with the current arena (currently called PNC Arena, but it’s gone through different names). Reynolds is where Wolfpack legends David Thompson and coach Jimmy V presided, so there’s a lot of history in that building. The women’s basketball team is still there, and the men’s team plays 1-2 “heritage” games there every year.
Long story short, yes, it would be great for the men’s team to move back there, but the economics don’t line up given the capacity of the gym. There’s always pockets of the fanbase that debate on which other spaces on campus could be used to build a new basketball arena, but in reality whether we like it or not, PNC is the home for good.
They did announce recently that they will be upgrading the area outside the stadium to create more of a fan experience, similar to what’s being done with professional arenas around the country. This is one of the ways NC State benefits from the partnership of sharing the building with the Carolina Hurricanes. You get more professional level production surrounding the experience, though college purists will lament the vintage charm that’s lost from not playing in the “Old Barn” anymore.
6. FAN QUESTION:
When Andy and Barney used to run up to Raleigh, what was their favorite diner? pic.twitter.com/lpY2i0G0hd— ND1n93 (@nd1n93) September 3, 2023
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Here’s a bit of a history lesson for y’all. In the run up to the 2003 Gator Bowl, columnists from the local South Bend newspaper and the Raleigh News & Observer traded columns. The pro-Notre Dame reporter used this as an opportunity to make several Mayberry jokes about Raleigh while turning his nose up to NC State as a lesser opponent than Notre Dame deserved.
This naturally rubbed the fanbase the wrong way, leading to the fans being in a frenzy heading into that matchup with one of the best traveling turnouts ever en route to a convincing win. It’s funny how things like that can happen in print in a pre-digital age, but can be lost to time now. That’s the great thing about college football, stories get turned into legends. These days, Andy Griffith references will get a chuckle since the number of people who still remember that show are dwindling as the years pass.
7. FAN QUESTION:
What does it say about the NC State program that it accepts a fake poser (Tamaskan dog) masquerading as a ferocious wolf for its mascot?— poz (@push_to_poz) September 4, 2023
Is the Wolfpack perhaps not as ferocious as some would have us believe? Does the Wolfpack actually just want to roll over for belly rubs?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Careful, haha, this question is treading on thin ice.
After fan favorite Tuffy II tragically passed away three years ago, he was replaced by Tuffy III. Tuffy III has a 1,000% approval rating. He is not only a good dog, but the goodest dog.
Also, do you want to try taming a legit wolf?
8. FAN QUESTION:
Do you consider yourself a one-man wolfpack?— Mike Marchand (@irishmikecomedy) September 3, 2023
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): No one is. The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
But also, thank you for spelling wolfpack as one word.
9. What’s the story on Mr. Wuf and Mrs. Wuf — do they ever go on double dates with Mr. Met and Mrs. Met? Should Notre Dame look into getting a Mrs. Leprechaun to go with their seemingly lifelong bachelor Mr. Leprechaun?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): Here’s some more history for you. In 1981, Mr. and Mrs. Wuf got married during halftime of a home game against Wake Forest, and the Deacon officiated the proceeding. They’ve been committed to one another for over 40 years now, and to my knowledge they’re the only mascot couple in collegiate sports.
I doubt they’ve ever met Mr. or Mrs. Met, but that’d be fun. I can’t speak for Mr. Leprechaun, depends if he feels like that he isn’t feeling fulfilled with the bachelor life as the years go along.
10. Alright, let’s get down to it — who wins the game, what is the final score, and why do you think that?
Essad Malik (Trinity Road Times): I think it’ll be a fun game, but I do think Notre Dame is a bit stronger at many positions.
The game will likely be close for a while, but ultimately I think the Irish pull it out, 28-20.
Okey dokey artichokies, I’d like to pass along a gargantuan message of appreciation and recognition to Essad for throwing together a superb array of responses via a very quick turnaround, providing some excellent insights and analysis to inform us heading into this game and also teach us a few fun facts about NC State fans and their beloved program.
Furthermore, make sure you toss both Essad and Trinity Road Times some follows on Twitter, as they will be excellent sources for late-breaking news and instantaneous analysis as we head into, exist during, and react afterward to the goings-on in Raleigh on Saturday.
Otherwise, that’s it for this Q&A — as I mentioned, this is just Part One, meaning you should also click that “<—” button on your browser to go back to the OFD home page and click on Part Two.
As I always say: GO IRISH, BEAT WOLFPACK (suck it Wolfpack, go Irish go — real ones who were freshmen at the ND/Nevada game in 2009 will feel me on that).