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Summer Scheming: NC State Wolfpack Football

Can NCSU stay competitive with UNC on a meteoric rise?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina State has been playing football since their 1-0 undefeated season way back in 1892 under head coach Perrin Busbee. The Wolfpack joined the ACC in 1953 and picked up seven 1st place finishes over the year, with the last being in 1979 under head coach Bo Rein. Earle Edwards guided the Pack to five ACC Championships from 1957-1968, and Lou Holt won the conference in 1973.

I had hardly even thought of NCSU until Chuck Amato became the Wolfpack head coach in 2000. After winning his second National Championships with Florida State, Amato headed north to Raleigh for his first stint as a head coach. For Amato, it was a return home to where he played linebacker in college (1965-1967) and where he broken into the business as a college football coach as a graduate assistant in 1971. Amato stayed on with NCSU from ‘71-1979 where he had worked up to defensive coordinator.

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl - Florida State v West Virginia Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Amato’s best season in Raleigh came in 2002 with an 11-3 finish and a Gator Bowl win over Notre Dame. He was subsequently fired after a 3-9 season in 2006. Tom O’Brien took over and never finished better than 9-4. He was fired and replaced by Dave Doeren.

Doeren came to NCSU from Northern Illinois where he was 23-4 in two seasons including an Orange Bowl appearance. Since arriving in Raleigh, Doeren has a 47-42 record including 3-2 in bowl games. However, the 2019 season ended in a fizzle with a 4-8 season and six straight losses to end the year. Doeren might be on the hottest seat in the ACC after replacing most of his coaching staff this off-season.

The Wolfpack are the preseason 62nd overall team per Bill Connelly’s SP+, with the 76th best offense and 53rd best defense. Coach Doeren is going to have to prove that he can still win games and recruit with Mack Brown making noise just a short drive away in Chapel Hill at UNC. Miami is the preseason 23rd team per the SP+, predicted to finish 63rd on offense and 9th on defense.


How bad has the talent gotten at NC State lately? The Wolfpack don’t have a single player on the Athlon preseason All-ACC first team, and only three players on the second team. Offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu made the 2nd team offense, while punter Trenton Gill and punt returner Thayer Thomas are also on the 2nd team for special teams. Gill averaged 47.6 yards per punt, while Thomas averaged 13.7 yards per punt return and brought one back for a touchdown a year ago.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On the 3rd team, the Pack have offensive lineman Joe Sculthorpe, defensive lineman Alim McNeill, and placekicker Christopher Dunn. Note: Special Teams Coordinator Todd Goebbel deserves a raise. McNeill logged 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2019. Dunn was a perfect 28-of-28 on extra points and 21-of-24 on field goals.

Skill player Bam Knight made the 4th team offense while linebacker Payton Wilson made the 4th team defense. Knight ran for 745 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Wilson led the team in tackles with 69 while adding five TFL’s in 2019.

Scheme on O

New offensive coordinator Tim Beck comes to NC State from the University of Texas where served in the same roll with the Longhorns from 2017-2019. Beck followed Tom Herman from Ohio State to Texas after working together on the offense at OSU from 2015-2016.

Beck’s offenses have been known for using the quarterback like a battering ram. Under Beck, Sam Ehlinger emerged as a star in 2019 throwing 32 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions and adding 663 more yards on the ground with seven rushing scores. The ‘Horns averaged 35.2 points per game, good for 17th in the country but not good enough for Beck to stay in Austin, TX.

Expect from Beck what you saw from Urban Meyer, and in his stint at Nebraska with QB Taylor Martinez, too. Multiple sets from different personnel groups but a healthy amount of 10 (one running back, no tight ends) and 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) groupings and all types of formation pictures for the defense to digest. Below UT is lined up in what looks like 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end).

Two plays later (below) the Horns are in an empty set on 3rd and long.

Below- later in the game, UT is lined up in a 10 personnel picture.

As far as scheme goes- Beck runs what Urban Meyer and Tom Herman did at OSU. You’re going to see a healthy amount of inside zone read, outside zone, and power as well as QB power- all tagged with RPO’s. In the passing game, expect the flood concept as well as shallow cross, drive, smash and levels. Something I noticed watching their games is that Texas rarely kept the back in to block, he traditionally ran swing routes on every passing concept. Miami has to be aware of the swing but also that means four versus five on the pass rush which should work out in Miami’s favor.

What does this mean for Miami?

Oklahoma DC Alex Grinch brought pressure against the Horns and it flustered Ehlinger. He was sacked nine times and the Sooners came away with 15 tackles for loss and held Texas to only 5.5 yards per passing attempt.

For Miami, this means Blake Baker and Manny Diaz will have to do two things. First- they need to simplify their calls and create some auto-checks by formation and motion. Rather than rely on total communication from the sideline, with the amount of formations and motions, plus Beck’s desire to play up tempo at times, the ‘Canes will have to be ready for anything.

That means you can’t call the came strictly from the press box; the calls will have to be easy and fast- and the safeties and linebackers need to be making the adjustments on the fly. I hope that Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall are ready to make coverage checks and that Zach McCloud’s redshirt year was useful to learn the scheme and improve his football IQ and on field awareness in space.

It also means that Quincy Roche and Gregory Rousseau can have a field day against a good NC State offensive line, but in a new scheme that gave up a ton of sacks in its last destination. Texas has far superior talent to NC State and Beck struggled at times to keep Ehlinger upright. Unlike Oklahoma, Miami has an elite set of defensive ends, at least according to press hype, and that has to show through in 2020. Let the linebackers help in coverage rather than have to blitz them.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Scheme on D

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is in his second season at NCSU, 1st as full-time DC. A year ago he split the duty with journeyman DC Dave Huxtable. Hux is out and is now serving as an analyst at Texas (of all teams) for the 2020 season. Gibson brought his 3-3 stack defense from West Virginia. Miami fans are familiar with his scheme as the ‘Canes faced it in the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2016. I wrote extensive previews of the game, and how to beat the 3-3-5, back in 2016.

Gibson uses a slant-angle defensive line scheme that’s called pre-snap. When he guesses right it’s a tackle for loss. When he guesses wrong it’s an explosive play. Miami will have to suffer a few TFL’s but stay patient and know the home run is coming, don’t abandon the run game.

I have seen extensive amounts of All-22 film of the NCSU defense from 2019. They love to line up in their odd front and blitz teams while rolling into cover 3 and hoping for the best. It’s a really high risk, sometimes high reward scheme for Gibson.

Below- the Wolfpack brings pressure and leaves their cornerback on an island. He’s burned and Georgia Tech gets a big gain.

Below- Like I said above, guess wrong, slant to the wrong place or blitz to the wrong side (both here) and you get gashed for an explosive play against a non-explosive offense in the Yellow Jackets.

Again- Gibson brings pressure, leaves his CB’s 1-on-1, gets burned. In the GIF below, it’s in the red zone.

If you remember how Miami broke the game open in the Russell Athletic Bowl it was on a quick hitch post-snap RPO from Brad Kaaya to wide receiver Ahmmon Richards. Gibson tries to blitz away his bad coaching (sound familiar?) and especially bad tackling.

As you can see above, Richards makes Gibson’s scheme and poor tackling pay. Below, watch a video of me describing how to attack the 3-3-5.

Canyonero Keys for Success

The keys to success for Miami start with the defense. With the formations and motions Beck likes to use Miami needs to keep it fast by cutting down on the calls and letting the safety and linebackers make the adjustments on the field.

The offense can’t get impatient. Against Gibson you’re going to take a sack or two and a few TFL’s. What you have to do is stick to your game plan, use his slanting and pressure against him, and start to hit the deeper throws against 1-on-1 coverage. It worked for Miami in 2016, and Georgia Tech in 2019. Gibson has been fairly static on his defense whether at WVU, Michigan, Arizona, or NC State.

The final key is to be able to get pressure against the Pack QB without having to blitz. NC State doesn’t have a dynamic QB on the roster, they have a bunch of guys. Miami needs to use Roche and Rousseau to get after their QB and let the linebackers help in coverage on deeper concepts Beck likes.