Heading into 2018, NC State was considered by many fans and pundits to be a contender for the Atlantic Division. In light of returning their senior quarterback, a reliable starting running back, and a solid receiving corps, the Wolfpack ended the regular season at 9-4 despite starting 5-0. To make matters worse, they ended their season with a 39-point loss in the Gator Bowl against Texas A&M. Heading into 2019, the Wolfpack might be poised to take another step back despite Dave Doeren’s continued attempts at credible progress.
Last season, NC State bolstered a roster that featured an experienced senior quarterback in Ryan Finley, an experienced running back in Reggie Gallaspy, a solid cast of receivers in Jakobi Myers and Kelvin Harmon, and a pretty good cast of offensive linemen. However, NC State largely struggled to run the football last year, so Finley was relied on to produce much of their offense. With him gone, the starting spot will likely fall to one of three players: redshirt sophomore Matthew McKay, Florida State transfer Bailey Hockman, and redshirt freshman Devin Leary. McKay, who served as the primary backup last season, mostly saw reps in garbage time, and is likely to get the first crack as the starter.
All isn’t lost for NC State, as they do still have some interesting options at receiver in Emeka Emezie, CJ Riley, and another transfer in Tabari Hines, who has made previous stops at Wake Forest and Oregon. What will likely make NC State’s journey difficult will be its run game, which was already not efficient with Gallaspy and its decorated line last season. Barring surprises from sophomore Ricky Person or Trent Pennix, the Wolfpack may find themselves giving their new quarterbacks an even heavier load. With new co-offensive coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald, the offense could see itself take a step back in 2019.
If there’s one thing to credit Doeren for, it’s the improved athletic talent on defense, which has has seen seven players drafted since 2017. Last season was a similar case; NC State was effective in containing the run and applying pressure on the quarterback, particularly in blitzing situations. Their back end, however, fell short of the mark, ranking 118th in passing downs. Heading into 2019, NC State has a bit of good and bad. They return every member of their defense, sans linebacker Germaine Pratt and safety Dexter Wright. Their defense has the ability to make teams relatively one-dimensional, but unless their secondary improves, they will continue to routinely give up big plays in the passing game. Doeren has to hope the mix of veteran and blue-chip talent at his disposal can improve last year’s glaring holes.
NC State looks to be in for a transition on offense as they look for a quarterback to replace Finley, and hopefully settle on one sooner rather than later. Only time will tell which quarterback is able to both separate in practice and perform, as all of the candidates share relatively little experience. The Wolfpack may find themselves to be more of a defensive team with an offense in transition, though if they are unable to fix their secondary issues, times will be long and hard for Doeren in 2019.