As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its ACC schedule when it travels to NC State on Oct. 10.
PLENTY OF CHANGES
Coming off two straight 9-4 seasons, the question around Dave Doeren and the 2019 NC State football team is whether this will be a rebuilding or reloading year for the Wolfpack.
For starters, NC State wasn’t immune to the offseason coaching carousel, as offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz left to take the head position at Appalachian State. Doeren named his replacements from within, promoting running backs coach Des Kitchings and running backs coach George McDonald to the title of co-offensive coordinators.
“I’m excited that Des and George will have the opportunity to oversee and develop our offense,” Doeren said in a release. “They have a great working relationship and respect for each other and their familiarity with our offense will provide us with great continuity for our players and recruits.”
Most Syracuse fans will remember McDonald from his lackluster season and a half run as offensive coordinator under Scott Shafer, but McDonald certainly found success in his current stint with the Wolfpack, mentoring a group of receivers that included current NFL players Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers.
“I’m extremely grateful to Coach Doeren for this opportunity,” McDonald said. “My family and I love N.C. State and I’m proud of what we’re building with Wolfpack football. Our staff has a great relationship and I know that will continue as coach Kitchings and I take on this role.”
It will be interesting to see how the roles of co-offensive coordinators play out, though Doeren has previously said that Kitchings will be up in the booth on game-day, while McDonald will be coaching from down on the field.
There’s also been a huge talent drain with six First-Team All-ACC performers all moving on to the NFL, including QB Ryan Finley, offensive linemen Garrett Bradbury and Tyler Jones, linebacker Germaine Pratt and the aforementioned Meyers and Harmon.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Finley left his mark on the NC State football program, ranking in the top five in school history in career passing yards (6,577), completions (555), and attempts (881). It’s anyone’s guess as to who will replace him.
The three leading candidates are Matthew McKay, Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman. There wasn’t much separation at the spring game, with each throwing a touchdown pass.
McKay went 14-of-24 for 182 yards. Leary was 12-of-23 for 104 yards. Bailey Hockman was also 12-of-23 for 135 yards.
CJ Riley was a favorite target of all three quarterbacks in the spring game. Leary hooked up with Riley for a 35-yard reception to set up the game’s first score.
Later on, Riley hauled in a 40-yard pass from McKay, which set up another touchdown.
Riley will be an important piece of a group that is looking to replace Meyers and Harmon, who each topped 1,000 yards in 2018 before bolting to the NFL.
Another part of that group will be junior Emeka Emezie, who hauled in 616 yards and five scores last year.
Keep an eye out for Thayer Thomas, as well. The former walk-on caught 34 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns, with a breakout performance against Georgia State for 114 yards and a score in being named ACC Rookie of the Week. He’s also an outfielder on the NC State baseball team.
Like Syracuse, the Wolfpack is looking to replace three starters on the offensive line. Right tackle Justin Witt, and right guard Joshua Fedd-Jackson are back, plus reserve Joe Sculthorpe, who was the sixth man in the rotation last season. The other projected starters are Tyrone Riley and center Grant Gibson, though none of the five appeared in the spring game.
Defensively, it remains to be seen who will fill in at linebacker for Pratt, who recorded 235 tackles, six sacks, four interceptions and a touchdown during his college career. Brock Miller and Payton Wilson are two candidates that come to mind, though Wilson was slowed by knee injuries in 2018.
It’s hard to get a read on NC State. On the one hand, they return all of their key players in the secondary and have experience and talent emerging on the front seven. But it’s hard to replace all of the offensive weapons that the Wolfpack lost if the offseason, and the quarterback situation likely won’t be resolved until late August.
Then again, Syracuse hasn’t won at NC State since 2013, so I see NC State holding off the Orange, 42-35 in a closely contested game.