Behind Enemy Lines: NC State Wolfpack

Zach Lentz

 Head coach Dave Doeren returns for his seventh season in Raleigh and is still looking to climb to the top of the ACC's Atlantic Division.

Doeren's teams have earned five consecutive bowl appearances (2014-2018) and recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons (2017 and 2018). NC State's 11 league wins during the last two seasons rank second among ACC institutions.

His teams have qualified for five consecutive bowl games, the second-longest bowl streak in school history, and he is only the second coach in school history to take teams to five straight postseason bowls. Doeren, a candidate for several coach of the year honors in 2017, has now coached bowl eligible teams in 13 of his 16 years in Division 1.

However, sitting at 1-4 in the ACC and 4-4 overall, the Wolfpack's hopes of repeating their back-to-back nine-win seasons are gone. But they can still play spoilers for the No. 5 Clemson Tigers — who are hoping to possibly secure a berth in the ACC Championship, depending on the outcome of Wake Forest's game against Virginia Tech.

"This week the challenge is obviously a great one when you're playing a team that's done what Clemson has done," Doeren said. "I can go through their statistics, but you all know where they are at. They do a really good job ... they are well-coached with good players, and we have to go out there and be the best that we can be with what we do.

'It's really fundamentals. It's executing as 11 guys at the same time ... it's catching, blocking, finishing ... one more step on a block, getting your hand inside versus outside. How you leverage the football, how you tackle. I'm excited about that challenge."

Wolfpack on offense: The Wolfpack has new offensive coordinators for 2019, as Eliah Drinkwitz is now the head coach at Appalachian State. 

Des Kitchings, who has been on staff since 2012, and George McDonald, who joined the Pack in 2015, are now co-offensive coordinators.

In addition to having offensive coordinator duties, Kitchings will continue his work with the Wolfpack's running backs. In each of the last three seasons, the Wolfpack produced three straight 1,000-yard rushers for only the second time in school history (1976-78).

McDonald will also server double-duty, as his responsibilities will also involve coaching the wide receivers.

Under his guidance, the Wolfpack became the first team in ACC history to have two wide receivers named first-team all-conference performers, as Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers were both honored in 2018. Harmon has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving campaigns, and he and Meyers have both reached that milestone this season.

However, the explosive nature of their offense has gone away in 2019.

The Wolfpack has struggled at times to come up with big plays on offense this season — particularly in the passing game. Prior to the Syracuse game, NC State was averaging just 1.6 explosive passing plays per game (20+ yards). Against ‘Cuse and Boston College, however, the Pack upped that average to 6.0 explosive passes per game. Last week against Wake Forest, QB Devin Leary completed just one pass of more than 20 yards.

"They are really good. They have experience, they are well-coached, they have staff continuity. All those things. Their kids know how to win," Doeren said.

Wolfpack on defense: Seventh-year defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has helped the Wolfpack to become a force on the defensive side of the ball.

The Wolfpack ranked second in the ACC, and 13th nationally in rushing defense (109.1 yards per game) in 2018.

NC State finished the 2017 season third in the ACC in rushing defense, yielding 131.0 yards per game. The Pack also ranked fifth with 2.31 sacks per game.

Four Wolfpack defenders were taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, including No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb (Denver Broncos); NC State ranked eighth in the FBS in rushing defense in 2016, allowing just 108.6 yards per game on the ground. That mark ranks fifth in school history.

This season, NC State ranks eighth in the FBS in sacks this season (fourth in the ACC), even after having none at BC (the Eagles attempted just 15 passes) and two at Wake Forest. The Wolfpack is still averaging 3.71 per game. 

The Pack accomplished that feat in five of its first six games. In the first six games of 2019, the opponents averaged a paltry 66.7 rushing yards per game (making it more surprising that the Wolfpack gave up 429 yards to Boston College- the second-highest total allowed in school history).

However, the challenge this week is one of the most difficult one that his team has faced.

"They are good. They are No. 1 in the conference in everything, almost. They are good," Doeren said. "I also know anything can happen on a Saturday. That's why you put the ball down and play. We have nothing to lose in this football game. Just go play as hard as we can, be better than we were a week before, finish plays better than a week before."

The line: The Tigers are favored by 32 points