As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with NC State on Nov. 20 with three major storylines.
Can Devin Leary Pick Up Where He Left Off?
When redshirt sophomore Devin Leary came off the bench in week two at Virginia Tech in 2020, it’s safe to say no one expected the run he’d go on. He played well in relief of Bailey Hockman, going 12-16 for 125 yards and a touchdown, but really excelled the next week.
In his first career start against Pitt, he went 28-44 for 336 yards and four touchdowns. Leary then went undefeated over the next three games, throwing for 725 yards and seven touchdowns against only two interceptions.
Unfortunately, in his third game, a home win against Duke, Leary fractured his fibula in the second half and his season was over. However, those three straight wins set the Wolfpack up at 4-1 and they would continue to play well en route to an 8-4 record.
There’s no denying Devin Leary’s talent. All accounts are that he’s healthy and ready to go, so the only question will be if he can pick up where his brilliant sophomore season left off.
Young Cornerback Room Needs to Improve
The bigger question is in the cornerback room. Returning starters Shyheim Battle and Cecil Powell played well at times last year but overall the defensive back unit got torched, allowing 2,893 yards in 12 games (76th in the nation). That has to improve.
The bad news for the Wolfpack is their lack of experience. Battle and Cecil are a redshirt freshman and a sophomore respectively. Their longest tenured cornerback, Chris Ingram, hasn’t played a snap since the sixth game of 2019 due to a knee injury, and has so far missed spring practice as well.
The rest of the group sports only two players who aren’t freshmen, and they don’t appear on track to start.
One area of encouragement is this defensive backfield had 10 interceptions last year. If they can keep up their ball-hawk mentality, they may be able to overcome their lack of experience on the field.
Favorable Schedule Benefits the Pack
To end on an optimistic note, NC State’s schedule sets them up to potentially match their 8-4 record from last year, even stealing a game or two. Games against Mississippi State, Boston College, and UNC are tough but winnable; Florida State, Furman, and Louisiana Tech should at least be penciled in as wins; and with a quarterback playing as well as Devin Leary was, Miami and Clemson could even become upsets.
The defense will have to rise to match the offense’s ability, but in doing so their schedule as it stands today points to another year of bowl game eligibility. With Dave Doeren going into his ninth year as one of the current longest tenured college coaches in the NCAA, and the team returning 20 starters across offense, defense, and special teams, they’re in a good position to do just that.