NC State QB Ryan Finley is near the Platonic ideal of a game manager and can carry the ball a few times a game when a defense is caught napping. He was pretty similar in 2016. What’s changed for the Wolfpack is the talent around him. Nymien Hines has stepped into the shoes Matt Dayes left at running back. Jaylen Samuels remains a problem. The receivers have built on the potential they showed glimpses of in 2016. The offensive line is among the best in the conference. NC State doesn’t turn the ball over much and Clemson doesn’t generate many turnovers. For all the attention the defensive line gets, it’s NC State’s offense I’m most worried about.
The scheme draws heavily from Matt Canada and Boise State, which is to say it is a pain in the ass. Don’t be surprised when a trick play happens. NC State called a reverse flea flicker on their second play against Pitt, the Wolfpack will try anything. They go for it on fourth down.
Dave Doeren’s offense switches between 10, 11 with the receiving tight end, 11 with the blocking tight end, empty, 12, 21 and 20 personnel pretty frequently. They can operate from under center, in the shotgun or in the pistol. It’s like playing against the old “multiple” playbook in the NCAA video games. Heavier formations and a lot of motion are used to put players in favorable leverage and/or matchups.
The offense uses every trick in the book but at the end of the day is built around establishing the run. The offensive line is better on the right side than the left, particularly at tackle. They’re generally good at executing the inside zone, outside zone, power and counter schemes the Wolfpack run. With that said a lot of that success has been conditional on the health of Nymien Hines, a track star who runs with the mindset of Marshawn Lynch despite his small stature.
At their best, NC State is balanced enough to take what the defense gives them. Finley has strong enough of an arm to push the ball to the sideline, the coordinators make the defense defend the entire field. If NC State can establish the run they can keep you guessing. The Wolfpack have been efficient and unlike a lot of game managers Finley is nice to have in your pocket on passing downs.
No one knows what a tight end is anymore but Jaylen Samuels is only listed as an H-back because they have to call him something. There’s no simple way to describe a “tight end” who leads his team in touchdown rushes and receptions while returning kicks.
He is a man without a position and NC State uses this versatility against opposing defenses. Samuels is often motioning and lines up everywhere from the sideline to the backfield. Usually that ends in a small DB or slow linebacker getting exposed. Depending on who you’re rooting for he’s either one of the most exciting offensive players in the ACC or a constant headache.
Samuels (5’11” 223) is undersized for a tight end and while eager is a much better decoy than blocker. His significantly larger backup Cole Cook (6’6” 250) is listed as a TE and serves as a blocking specialist.
There’s nothing wrong with having a game manager at quarterback provided you have receivers around him who can make plays. NC State’s receivers let Finley and the running game down several times last year. The 2017 group are this offense’s most improved unit. Stephen Louis led the team in receiving yardage last year as a deep ball specialist they could rely on for two to three big plays a game. He’s managed to increase his production without losing much of his explosiveness.
The lanky 6’3” Sophomore Kelvin Harmon has broken out in his second year and leads the group in receptions (outside of Samuels, of course). Jokobi Meyers is never going back to quarterback. Meyers, having moonlighted as a receiver last year, switched to the position full time and has more than earned his starting spot. With that said the receiving corps, outside of Samuels, suffers from a case of hard hands.
Clemson’s secondary is excellent but between these three, Samuels, and Hines (a good receiver from the backfield or slot) NC State does not lack for weapons. NC State likes to run quick concepts, especially when they get into empty, to keep the chains moving and rely on receivers to pick up yardage after the catch. There’s a heavy mix of screens supplemented with play action passes and four verts. Clemson is going to have to play aggressively and give a variety of looks. That’s well within Venables wheelhouse.
Hines is coming back after what looked like a scary injury against Notre Dame and may not be 100%. Reggie Gallaspy gets a fair amount of carries but is the backup for a reason. Hines injury marks the point NC State started to fall apart against Notre Dame. The Wolfpack ended that game with four straight three and outs. Both times NC State have been held under 100 rushing yards they’ve lost. Taking what the defense gives you doesn’t work when defenses will happily concede a two yard run.
Making an offense one dimensional also takes away one of an offensives linemen’s precious few advantages, that the defensive lineman doesn't know what’s about to happen. Finley gets rid of the ball too quickly to be sacked all that much, but batted balls and rushed reads can add up quickly.
NC State could be forced to turn this into a shootout. Finley went down swinging in an inexplicable loss to South Carolina. He also disappeared in a loss against Notre Dame. This might get weird and both quarterbacks have gone out and laid a duck before. This is an away game against a team that’s well coached and on the rise. If NC State can run the ball — though they probably shouldn’t be able to — things will get ugly.
Clemson 31 - Wolfpack 21