Wolfpack Rewind: Off and 'Running' in 2020

Brett Friedlander

NC State finished last season on a downer thanks to a rash of injuries that led to a six-game losing streak. Saturday, with many of those injured players healthy again and back in the lineup, the Wolfpack took advantage of its fresh start by beating Wake Forest in its 2020 opener Saturday.

Here's a look back at the good, the bad and the offbeat from State's thrilling 45-42 victory:


There are any number of positive aspects from which to choose, not the least of which are the the play of surprise starting quarterback Bailey Hockman and the way the defense rose to the occasion on Wake's final possession to the resilience the team showed after falling behind for the first time all night early in the fourth quarter. But by far the most pleasing and encouraging part of Saturday's victory was the performance of the Wolfpack's veteran offensive line and stable of talented backs. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck developed a game plan designed to take advantage of his team's strengths and it worked to perfection. Running the ball early and often, usually through gaping holes, the trio of Ricky Person Jr., Zonovan Knight and Jordan Houston combined to roll up 270 yards on the ground. Hockman also contributed to the haul by adding 30 yards and a touchdown of his own.


This one was easy. State had a golden opportunity to put the Deacons away midway through the third quarter after the defense put together three conseutive stops to begin the second half and the offense scored twice to open up a 35-21 lead. But after a short Wake punt gave the Wolfpack good field position again, Hockman made one of his few mistakes. His ill-advised pass into the near flat was picked off by the Deacons' Ja'Sir Taylor and returned 45 yards for the touchdown that dramatically shifted the momentum and allowed they to rally for the lead.


With the score tied at 21 and the Wolfpack knocking on the door at the 3-yard-line, Person took a direct snap and was stopped for a 1-yard loss. One play later, the Wolfpack lined up in the same formation. But instead of running the same play, as Wake's defense expected, Person stopped just before he got to the line, jumped into the air and dumped off a pass to Devin Carter for a touchdown.“We worked on it constantly during practice.," Person said after the game. "I played quarterback in middle school, so I used to tell them, ‘Just give me the opportunity.’ We practiced it at least four times in practice when we worked red zone days. It was great.” 

Person Jump Pass
Ricky Person Jr. rises above the crowd to throw his first career touchdown passACC pool photo


The aforementioned Person reminded Wolfpack fans what he's capable of doing when he's got healthy and fresh legs. He set the tone early by breaking off a 30-yard run the first time he touched the ball. He finished the night with 99 yards and two touchdowns  on the ground to go along with that touchdown pass and two catches as a receiver out of the backfield.


The Wolfpack had only 10 chuck plays on the ground -- defined as runs of 20 or more yards -- during the entire 2019 season. Saturday against Wake Forest, State's backs recorded seven of them. Person had three, Knight and Houston had two each.

Zonovan "Bam" Knight breaks into the open field against Wake forestACC pool photo


Rakeim Ashford was a late addition to State's 2020 recruiting class. He didn't commit until late July and has been in the program for only about a month. But the junior college transfer has made a rapid rise up the depth chart and was a major factor in the secondary for the Wolfpack on Saturday. Ashford was the second-leading tackler on the team with 10 from his strong safety position. He also broke up the fourth down pass that ended Wake's final possession and sealed the victory.


The Wolfpack appears to have come out of the game relatively healthy. Leading tackler Payton Wilson had to leave the game in the second half with what coach Dave Doeren described as dehydration. He isn't expected to miss any time moving forward. Cornerback Teshaun Smith also got dinged up making a tackle on Wake's Donovan Greene early in the third quarter, but returned later in the period.


"First, I’m just super proud of the resiliency of our team. They just kept fighting. They had a lot of fun tonight. It’s been a long time coming to play. I thought they started fast in the opening quarter, started fast in the third and had to overcome some adversity. But I’m proud of them." Coach Dave Doeren  

"I thought in some ways we grew up today. I loved how we competed. I loved how we fought. I don't like how we played run defense. Obviously, if you give up 270 yards on the ground. We really struggled with third downs in the first half. We got that cleaned up in the second half. They outplayed us and deserved to win the game." Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson

"We’re 1-0. We’re going onto the next game with a good record. We took the W. My mindset coming into the game was to focus, lock in and do my part, not try to be Superman, not try to do too much. I just needed to do my part, and I feel like I did that tonight. I feel like my teammates did a great job. The O-line blocked great. We got almost 250 yards rushing. It’s incredible.” Quarterback Bailey Hockman  


The Wolfpack will try to build on its winning start by traveling to Blacksburg, Va., for a game against Virginia Tech that was originally supposed to be the season opener for both teams. While State has already played again, it's still the Hokies' first game. Kickoff is once again at 8 p.m.