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So What Do We Know At This Point?

September 24, 2015

It’s hard to believe a full quarter of the season is already in the rear view mirror. We’re three games into the season and yet, in a lot of respects for NC State fans, it feels like the season hasn’t even begun.

North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett throws a pass against Old Dominion during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Norfolk, Va. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett (Hyunsoo Leo Kim/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

I certainly don’t want to unfairly disparage State’s opponents thus far. To imply the games played against Troy, Eastern Kentucky and Old Dominion have been virtually meaningless is not true. They did happen and we have the box scores to prove it.

That said, it feels like we’re still trapped in the midst of something akin to that break-in period for new cars. I sense that when we get the chance to actually punch the throttle on this baby, we’ll have a better idea of just what’s under the hood.  For now, we’re stuck in a four-week long traffic jam on the way back from the dealership, counting the miles down to the nearest interstate on-ramp. Episode 4 of State’s roundly criticized (some fairly, some unfairly) non-conference schedule is this weekend against South Alabama. While the Jaguars might pose the best test to the Pack yet, they’re no conference foe, so hitting the open ACC highway will have to wait one more Saturday it seems.

I have more questions than answers at this point. How will this young(ish) team respond to adversity when it finally comes? Are we to make anything of the absurd discrepancy in time of possession other than State’s simply been the better team on both sides of the ball? Should fans be concerned about the secondary suffering lapses of effectiveness? Does State possess an effective vertical passing attack?

Weaker non-con opponents or not, there are a few things I’m prepared to say definitively about this team:

  1. I really like watching this team operate on offense. It’s been fun watching Matt Canada devise a variety of ways to smash and grind teams down. It feels like he’s relied not nearly as much on jet sweeps and reverses as he had to in years one and two to create opportunities for the backs…it’s been more north-south than east-west. Perhaps that’s a function of better line play up front or maybe just that we’ve had a talent advantage in the trenches to this point. The blend of backfield tools Canada has in Matt Dayes, Jaylen Samuels and Shadrach Thornton seems ideal for what he wants to throw at opposing defenses–a shifty guy, a power guy and a do-everything guy–and I can’t wait to see how he utilizes them the rest of the year.
  2. Jumichael Ramos is a completely different player. Losing Bo Hines was a blow to State’s receiving corps that could’ve really set back that entire unit, but Ramos–after catching all of one pass last season after a promising freshman year–has really stepped into Hines’ void and excelled. He’s second on the team in targets, first in yards and first in yards per catch. His fellow junior receivers Johnathan Alston and Bra’Lon Cherry have both added solid production, as well, so State’s receiving ranks don’t seem as worrisome as they did over the summer. The redemption/revitalization angle to Ramos’ story is heartening and makes it easy to root for the guy.
  3. Jacoby Brissett seems more at ease than I’ve ever seen. There were times earlier last season where you could tell Jacoby was pressing, even during periods of prosperity–understandable for a guy who had been sitting on a shelf for so long and eager to prove his worth. By the end of last season, he’d settled in and become a pretty stable entity behind center, but he’s taken that level of “chill” up (down?) another notch. This is an observation that feels difficult to quantify…I’m not sure how one measures units of “chill.” He just seems relaxed out there. I think that will translate into fewer instances of fleeing the pocket prematurely and hopefully better downfield accuracy. Since he played so sparingly at Florida, his playing career has been compressed into two short years, really. He had a freshman, sophomore and junior season smushed into last year, and now Jacoby seems to be playing like the 5th-year senior he is.

I wish I had some things definitively I could say about the defense, but there are still too many questions about the line and the secondary for me. Shutting down Lawry last week was fantastic, but how much of that was the talent differential in the trenches like I mentioned earlier? Will our defensive line have a harder time generating pressure against conference opponents, thereby making the secondary’s jobs even more difficult?

The early returns are positive on the new specialists, but they haven’t been asked to produce in critical situations thus far.

This early block of lesser opponents may prove beneficial in the long run as the team notches Ws and works out some kinks, but it’s made it difficult to accurately gauge just how good this team is. I’m getting impatient, I suppose, and I’m eager for October to finally arrive so we can put this team through its paces.

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