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Summer Scheming ‘23: NC State Wolfpack

Miami will head north to Raleigh to face NCSU on November. The ‘Canes have to stay focused in what could be dreary NC weather against a tough defense.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Maryland v NC State Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes and the NC State Wolfpack will face off on Saturday, November 4th at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC. Miami hosts UVA the week before while NCSU gets the ‘Canes a week after a home game against the Clemson Tigers. Miami holds an 11-5-1 lead over the Pack all-time, including a four-game win streak.

Dave Doeren is heading into his 11th season as the head football coach at NC State. Doeren has a 72-54 overall record in Raleigh, but a 38-44 record in the ACC. The Pack have qualified for (COVID) eight bowl games over Doeren’s 10 full seasons in The Triangle. NC State has only finished the season ranked twice in his decade long run.

Prior to NCSU, Doeren was the head football coach at Northern Illinois where he posted a record of 23-4, including a 15-1 record in the MAC. As a player, Doeren played TE at Drake in Iowa, before starting on a coaching career at the high school level. Since then, Doeren has GA’d at USC, and coached at Montana, Kansas, and Wisconsin.

Per Bill Connelly’s SP+, the Pack are the 46th overall team in FBS heading into the 2023 season. NCSU is ranked 67th on offense and 22nd on defense.

Summer Scheming SWOT Analysis

This year’s Summer Scheming will look different than in years past by featuring a SWOT Analysis on each opponent the Hurricanes will face in the 2023 season. SWOT in this iteration will stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Traditions* (not Threats). We’ll discuss one cool tradition from each of the football programs on the ‘23 schedule.

Strengths: DC Tony Gibson

Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense was once seen as a gimmick when he was the DC for Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia. Gibson cut his teeth coaching special teams and defensive backs for Rich Rodriguez at WVU, Michigan, and Arizona.

2022 was the opus year for Gibson as the Pack allowed only 19.2 PPG, good for 12th in all of FBS. They’ve also found success without high draft picks Alim McNeil, a defensive tackle, was a 3rd round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Outside of McNeil no NCSU defender has gone in the 3rd round or higher since a linebacker in the 2019 draft.

UDFA Drake Thomas is now trying to make an NFL roster, and took his 19 TFL’s with him. DL Davin Vann (4.5 sacks), LB Payton Wilson (12.5 TFL), and CB Aydan White (nine PBU’s) all return for ‘23.

Weaknesses: Speed, RB

While NCSU has done a great job of turning two and three star prospects into starters, they disappear when it comes to long-term development. The Pack don’t send a lot of skills to the NFL Draft, and OL and DL have been their most drafted positions.

The state of North Carolina has always been known for basketball, where are some of those speedy, long hoopers that get passed up by Duke and UNC? NCSU isn’t getting a ton of Blue Chip prospects to Raleigh, they need to develop speed as well as they have the lines.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Since losing Zonovan “Bam” Knight (NFL) and Ricky Person, Jr. (USFL) to pro football, where have the stud NCSU running backs gone? Jordan Houston returns but averaged only four yards per carry in ‘22. They did sign a four-star RB in the ‘22 class in Michael Allen.

Opportunities: New QB/OC

The NCSU offense was 94th in the FBS in PPG with 24.3 in 2022. NCSU has had a top-25 type defense, they need this offense to wake up. The big ‘opportunity’ in ‘23 is a new OC and a new quarterback. Former OC Tim Beck and QB Devin Leary are on to new things, and the transfer portal found two old friends from UVA reuniting in Raleigh.

OC Robert Anae and QB Brennan Armstrong have come back together for one more season, this time at NCSU. The duo put together a dominant offense at UVA in 2021. Anae then went to Syracuse, while Armstrong stayed on with the new staff at UVA.

Armstrong’s data drop after Anae left was stunning. His yards per attempt dropped from 8.9 to 6.5, and his TD from 31 to seven, while his iNT’s increased from 10 to 12. The team PPG dropped from 34.6 to 17. Syracuse on the other hand jumped from 92nd to 70th in PPG under Anae.

Traditions: Too Sweet

From the website The Crunch Zone:

North Carolina State’s teams are nicknamed the Wolfpack. Fans form their ring and middle fingers downward against their thumb while extending their pinky and index fingers up to form the head of a Wolf. The nickname comes from 1921 when a supporter of the football team was upset with it’s players and described the gridiron’s participants as “an unruly pack of Wolves”. NC State’s mascot is shared by Mr. & Mrs. Wuf who were actually married in 1981 by Wake Forest’s Demon Deacon who presided over the wedding.

The Wolfpack also has a “LIVE” mascot named “Tuffy” who is a purebred Tamaskan Dog.

Because who doesn’t like pictures of dogs?

NCSU Offensive Scheme

While at UVA, Anae used players everywhere on the field he possibly could. Keytaon Thompson was an “athlete” who went to Miss. State as a QB and wound up playing a hybrid role at UVA. They had their thumper backs, almost like B-Backs or FB in the old days. And they had TE/H-Back type guys.

True WR’s were out wide, but slots were going in motion and used as ball carriers, too. It was a very fun, “high school,” style offense in the Urban Meyer mold from Meyer’s days at Florida. Armstrong even lined up at WR at times, using his athleticism and Thompson’s throwing ability- making a versatile “personnel” pictures from the typical 11p sets.

Above- Armstrong is reading the overhang LB instead of the BSDE. As the DE pinches inside, the TE picks him up.

Above- Because the LB shuffles down to play the run, instead of hitting the flat on the slot, Armstrong gives to the RB.

Above- What does a mobile QB do for the run game? Freezes two guys on one play.

Above- When a defense isn’t gap sound guys don’t take up every hole the offense creates. Anae takes advantage of sloppy defense by having so many athletic weapons on the field at once and spreading you out.

Above- 20 personnel (two backs, no TE’s) picture here. Using a twins set keeps the bubble RPO alive on the split zone. The end gets kicked out, the safety in the box takes a horrible angle on his scrape-to-replace and Mike Hollins scores.

Above- Stretch to Thompson- using your weapons! Thompson is six-foot-four and doesn’t cut on a dime but he shakes Bubba Bolden for an explosive play. Also how willing typically non-blockers are willing to block in Anae’s offense as Hollins is his lead blocker. That allows you to keep the same group on the field and be less predictable to the opposing DC.

Above- And this is what I mean in the Canyonero Keys about turnovers. Armstrong is prone to making some bad throws, TAKE ADVANTAGE of them.

Above- Armstrong with the almost an INT but not quite TD throw. When guys ‘gunsling’ this is what happens. Either those ugly Brett Favre INT’s or some crazy TD you can’t explain.

NCSU Defensive Scheme

Let’s take a look at NC State defending against an offense similar to what Miami will look to run in 2023 under new OC Shannon Dawson. That offense is Phil Longo’s ‘22 Tar Heels.

Above- One complaint regarding running the 3-3 even at the high school level is... are you ever actually in a true 3-3 picture? 1st and 10 with on LB as a true ILB.

Above- If you put 1 12 LB’s in the box with three down linemen you’re going to get gashed by GT counter. Longo runs GTC a ton (ask Jaelan Phillips) and OL kicking smaller LB/Safety types is just too easy.

Above- How do you stop the Air Raid on a sure passing down? Drop 8. The -24 isn’t usually four down territory so you catch UNC trying to hit the sticks at 14 yards and Drake Maye is sacked.

Above- How do you combat pattern match defenses dropping 8? Longo dials up Curl-Dig-Flat and WR Josh Downs does the rest.

Above- Gibson’s 3-3 has always sacrificed the slant or glance to protect against the fade. An easy slant turns into an explosive when you force DB’s to tackle in space.

Above- So what’s open? The Flats. And who has a rangy TE named Jaleel Skinner? Miami. Use him or lose him to the transfer portal. Skinner should be abusing CB’s in the flats trying to tackle him in space.

Above- NCSU goes cover 0 and brings the house, why have a mobile QB? Maye escapes the pressure (thanks to his RB being a willing blocker in pass pro) and picks up the touchdown to make it a one point game in the 4th quarter.

Above- Miami needs to pick up pressure. Tyler Van Dyke against a LB with a head of steam is a shoulder injury waiting to happen. Van Dyke was turnover prone in ‘22, and a much less turnover prone Maye throws a bad pick here because of pressure.

Above- 4th and goal with the game on the line, Longo doesn’t go red zone fade. Instead UNC attacks the FS in the middle of the end zone. Maye looks him off with his shoulder to open space and then drills the throw into a small window.

Canyonero Keys to Victory

1- Where are the turnovers? Great defenses produce takeaways. Miami hasn’t been a turnover happy team since the 2017 season. After Golden’s players left and Diaz’s players came in, the turnover chain became a joke. Thankfully that thing has been melted down into a dinner wear set, but the team needs to take the ball from a QB that plays loose with it.

2- Establish the run game. NCSU runs a 3-3 defense. That defense typically has to ‘slant’ into a gap. If you catch Gibson guessing wrong, it’s an explosive if not a touchdown. Once that defense has to get out of what they want to do (blitz your ass), you can pound the rock on them. They’re undersized and Miami wants to maul, okay, then maul!

3- Win the kicking game. Miami has a good kicker and what I think will be another top of the line punter in ‘23. Where The U has fallen off is in the kick and punt return game. Miami needs to win the kicking game against a team like NCSU that will play you tight all game long. Where are the big time KR and PR touchdowns? Man times have changed.

Prediction: NCSU by 6.