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Summer Scheming ‘21: North Carolina State Wolfpack

NCSU had a bounce-back season in 2020, they could be a tough out in 2021 as well.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Doeren started his college football coaching career at Drake University back in 1995 as a linebackers coach. Doeren, a former Drake tight end, steadily climbed the coaching ranks eventually becoming the defensive coordinator at both Kansas and Wisconsin before becoming a head coach.

Doeren’s first head coaching stop was at the highly successful Group of 5 program, Northern Illinois. At NIU, Doeren compiled a 23-4 record including a 15-1 record in the MAC. The Huskies made an Orange Bowl appearance after the 2012 season and Coach Doeren was headed to Raleigh to take over the NCSU Wolfpack.

Coach Doeren started 3-9 in 2013 before steadily winning 7-9 games over the past decade. NCSU has had one other losing season, a 4-8 showing in 2019, which prompted staff turnover. The Wolfpack have finished 55-46 under Doeren with a 28-38 record in the ACC.

Info: NCSU @ Miami in Miami Gardens, FL

Day/Time/Channel: October 23, 2021 / TBD / TBD

NCSU hasn’t finished higher than 2nd in the Atlantic but are 3-3 in bowl games in Doeren’s eight years in The Triangle. 2020’s 8-4 record might have been even better had Devin Leary not been injured, but injuries are part of the game.

Miami has a 10-5-1 lead all time against NCSU, including a three game winning streak presently. The U and The Pack have been playing since 1939, and even faced off in 1998’s Micron PC Bowl, which Miami won 46-23.

2020 Record/Ranking: 8-4/Unranked.

2020 Data: 30.2 PPG scored (48th in FBS), 29.2PPG allowed (62nd in FBS).

Bowl Game: Lost the Gator Bowl 21-23 to Kentucky.


Key Losses: Alim McNeil, DT; Bailey Hockman, QB; Cary Angeline, TE.

The NCSU Wolfpack have 11 players on the Athlon Magazine All-ACC preseason team. They also return 17 starters of 22 on offense and defense. 76% of NC State’s production from 2020 returns for 2021.

On the first team offense, The Pack have RB Zonovan “Bam” Knight and OL Ikem Ekwonu. On the 1st team defense, NCSU has linebackers Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore. On the specialists, NCSU has PR Thayer Thomas, and Knight as the 1st team KR. Knight ran for 788 yards and 10 TD’s while averaging 26.6 yards per kick return in 2020. Ekwonu is one of four returning offensive linemen for Tim Beck’s offense.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-North Carolina State vs Kentucky Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson logged 108 tackles including 11.5 TFL’s in ‘20, while Moore made 94 tackles with 11 TFL’s last season. The duo combined for 6.5 sacks and two interceptions. Thomas a steady 10 yards per punt return last season.

The second team has WR Emeka Emezie and center Grant Gibson. Emezie hauled in 47 passes for 738 yards (15.5 yards per catch) and five TD’s in 2020.

The third team has two NCSU specialists in PK Christopher Dunn and punter Trenton Gill. Dunn was 43-of-43 on extra points and 12-of-17 on field goals. Gill averaged 44.9 yards per punt last season.

On the fourth team is RB Ricky Person. While sharing time with Knight, Person ran for 643 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and four TD’s and threw a touchdown as well. He also caught 18 balls for 7.6 yards per catch as a do-it-all athlete.

Pack Scheme on O

Under OC Tim Beck, NCSU runs a traditional spread to run 11 personnel (one RB, one TE) offense. The Pack were really cooking with QB Devin Leary behind center, but Leary was injured and Bailey Hockman took over. Hockman did a bang up job replacing Leary but it wasn’t quite the same offense. Leary threw eight TD’s with only two interceptions while Hockman threw 13 TD’s and 10 INT’s in 2020.

NCSU likes to use motions, shifts, screens, and does a good job of getting receivers involved in the run game while using both RB’s in the offense. They’ll line up with two backs in the back field or an empty set look depending on what Beck likes from the defense.

How do you lose to the NCSU offense? Miami gave up a ton of points to Hockman and the Pack offense last season. Beck is the former Ohio State and Texas OC under Urban Meyer and Tom Herman so he likes gadget plays, tough-athletic QB’s and utilizing jet sweeps and crossing patterns. You’ll lose to The Pack by giving their QB enough time to throw, and not being able to stop the run.

How do you beat the NCSU offense? It helped Miami and UNC that Leary was out for those ball games. UNC feasted on a mix of Hockman and Ryan Finley. Miami survived Hockman on QB D’Eriq King’s clutch performance. The ability to get to the QB and keep Leary from hitting deep balls. If Miami can play sound football and not give up throw back screens, jet sweeps, and play tough in the run game the ‘Canes can beat NCSU.

Pack Scheme on D

NCSU hired DC Tony Gibson to run the 3-3-5 defense he’s brought with him all over the country. Gibson shifted from special teams at Arizona to defensive coordinator at West Virginia and now NC State. A defensive back coach by nature, Gibson picked up the art of the 3-3 while at WVU and Michigan under Rich Rodriguez.

3-3-5 Defense from 247 Sports

NCSU returns two defensive linemen, all three linebackers, and four of five defensive backs. They also have injected some younger talent into the mix. This is a boom or bust type of defense, similar to the Manny Diaz style at Miami, even if it’s from a different base look. Gibson likes the odd front slanting front three, Diaz likes an even front, but both likes to bring pressure and both leave gaping holes in coverage. Havoc- tackles for loss, forced fumbles and PBU’s are at a premium in both schemes.

Above- From Summer Scheming ‘20, Gibson slanting the wrong way and getting his defense ripped apart by Georgia Tech.

How do you lose to the NCSU defense? You’ll lose to the Pack defense when you let Gibson dictate your scheme to you. Offenses need to attack defenses, not fold to them. Protecting the QB is at a premium versus every defense but especially against one that wants to bring six man pressure every down.

How do you beat the NCSU defense? Get your running game going, protect the QB, and hit the deep balls that the scheme leaves open. King exploited their weaknesses in the 4th quarter for a comeback victory in 2020. Miami RB Cam’Ron Harris does a hell of a job in pass protection, really throwing his body on the line which many backs aren’t fond of. UNC ran for big yardage against NCSU utilizing numbers at the point of attack, ie. pulling guards, tackles and wrapping TE’s around to have larger blockers against smaller defensive backs.

What concept can Miami use against NCSU? I really like split zone (GIF above) against a team like NCSU. It’s difficult to tell who is blitzing and who to read with their slanting 3-3 defense. The overhang safeties play a variety of roles which makes them a difficult team to game plan read options against. Split zone and a split zone “slip” and “Pop” RPO’s are great tools to utilize.

Above- You can see the simple zone-based blocking scheme of split zone (against an even front but still). The H blocks ‘back’ across the formation to pick up anyone who would slant across their OL. The OL blocks to the direction the back is designed to run, or the “bang” side of the play.

Above- The RB has three spots in split zone they can hit in the ‘bang’ ‘bend’ ‘bounce’ rules. While bang and bounce remain the same as in inside zone, ‘bend’ moves a gap further down the line to the back side b-gap instead of the back side a-gap.

Of course there are multiple RPO’s that can put the defense in conflict and keep those linebackers and up-safeties from screaming to the ball. I like bubble, smoke, and pop RPO’s.

Above- OC’s also run a slip RPO where the HB comes across the formation and leaks into the flat. The QB can read the overhang and choose to either throw to the H or give to the RB. It’s become an extremely popular concept at all levels of football.

Canyonero keys to victory

1- Stop the NCSU gadgets and deep chucks. Miami has to play a more sound defense and teach players when they’re being set up. The throwback screen vs. NCSU was eerily similar to the penalty-screen Clemson scored a TD on earlier in the season. Miami must have looked over aggressive and susceptible on film. I think it’s because Diaz, et al don’t teach sound, fundamental football and instead try to blitz their way through bad coaching.

2- Protect the QB. Pass protection is always going to be a key to victory, but even more so against a pressure happy defense with skilled pass rushers like the NCSU linebackers. Leaving Harris in on protection will be huge for Miami, and hoping guys like Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney can protect the QB, too.

3- Run the damn ball. Miami OC Rhett Lashlee has to avoid his sudden urge to become an Air Raid play caller and continue to pound the football. This is why I like Phil Longo’s (UNC OC) version of the Air Raid, he has no qualms about pounding the rock and does it with multiple styles (zone and gap). The O-Line needs to be improved run blockers in ‘21 or Garin Justice should be looking for a new job. There’s experience and ‘talent’ (per the recruiting sites) all over the line for Miami.

Way too early prediction: Miami by 4.