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Wake Forest Football Preview: NC State Wolfpack

Week 10 has the potential to be the biggest game of the season for Wake Forest, as they travel to Raleigh to take on the NC State Wolfpack—a team that is currently ranked 13th in the nation. There’s a lot of football to play until then, but there’s a chance this game could have a significant impact on the Atlantic Division standings for the second straight season. Since 2017, the Wake-State rivalry has produced some of the most exciting games in college football, and I’m not just saying that because Wake is 4-1 in that span. Besides Wake’s resounding victory in 2019, the previous 5 clashes between the two teams have been decided by a score, and the teams have died even in the last two matches, which both ended 45-42. A potential matchup of two of the best quarterbacks in the nation should make this a pretty high-profile game.

Instantaneous

  • Opponent: NC status
  • Date: Saturday, November 5, 2022
  • Venue: Carter-Finement Stadium | Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 8.5
  • 2021 record: 9-3 (6-2)
  • Previous match: Wake 45—NCSU 42 (2021)
  • all time against WakeForest: 67-42-6

I’ll just go ahead and throw this out there – and I might look really stupid in a few months – but I don’t understand the hype behind the Wolfpack. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ll be pretty good this season, but number 13 in the country seems a little optimistic to me. They remind me a bit of last year’s UNC: a team with a very good QB who had a great season the year before but who lost a lot of their weapons in attack. I guess time will tell, but if they manage to run the table and make the playoffs somehow, feel free to call me a jerk.

I think everyone is probably aware by now that NC State has one of the best passers in the country with QB Devin Leary. The preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year finished last season completing 65% of his passes for 3,400 yards, 35 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. He completed over 70% of his passes twice in ACC play and threw for 4 touchdowns in 5 ACC games. Although Leary isn’t incredibly mobile, his quick decision-making allows him to get the ball off before the pass rush has time to approach him. He’s the main reason why, despite being one of the slowest teams in the NCAA last season with just 68 plays per game (72nd nationally), the Pack was 19th in FBS with 288 yards per game. passes per game and 8th in the country. with nearly 3 touchdown passes per game.

Alongside Leary, the Pack recovers 2 very good receivers in Thayer Thomas (51 rec, 600 yards, 8 TD) and Devin Carter (31 rec, 556 yards, 6 TD). Outside of those two, however, State isn’t returning a single receiver who caught more than 25 passes last season. They also lost their No. 1 clear threat Emeka Emezie to the NFL, which means Thomas and Carter are going to have to step up their work to replace his production. Emezie finished his Wolfpack career with over 200 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, so filling his shoes is definitely easier said than done.

The ground game for the Pack is something of a question mark at this point. NC State lost last season’s top two rushers in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr., who combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. State wasn’t a great rushing team last season, hauling in just 127 yards per game (98th) and 4.1 yards per carry (83rd), but those numbers could drop further this year because Jordan Houston is really the only one. guard with all playing experience. Some veterans on the offensive line should definitely help, though State will have to deal with replacement 1st team AP All-American and 6th overall pick in the 2022 draft Ikem Ekwonu.

Defense is where NC State could really prove itself as a top 10 team. The Pack is getting a ton of talent from a defense that ranked 14th in the nation with 19.7 points allowed per game and 19th in the nation with 332 yards allowed per game last season. Raleigh’s linebacking corps might be the best in the country, especially with Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore both healthy after missing a lot of injury time last season. Between Wilson, Moore and Drake Thomas (1st All-ACC team in 2021), the Wolfpack linebackers have a combined 632 tackles, 24.5 sacks and 73.5 tackles for loss in their college career. They also bring back 1st team All-ACC safety Tanner Ingle, who finished last season with 82 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1 interception. While Wake Forest scored 45 points on the Wolfpack last season, NC State’s defense held Wake to just 400 total yards, a season-low 42% completion percentage and 2.6 yards per ground race. If they can stay healthy, the Wolfpack defense could be one of the best in the country.

Prediction

NC State should be a great team this year, but I’m not convinced they’re in the top 15 in college football yet. That being said, they have one of the best pocket passers in the country and a defense that should be scary on opposing attacks. In a hostile environment with a very aggressive defense, having a veteran leader at quarterback is super important. Without Sam Hartman, I think NC State is probably getting away with this one. If Hartman is back, it’s still going to be a pretty tough game, but home advantage could tip the odds in favor of the Wolfpack. Time will tell if the hype was warranted for the Wolfpack this offseason.