How Different is This Wolfpack Team?

Kenton Gibbs

I hate overreactions that are published after a big win or sobering loss, so I’m not going to give you one today.

After NC State took a beating in Blacksburg to a skeleton crew Virginia Tech team whose third string quarterback played a large chunk of the game, some fans are abandoning hope on the season already. It’s much too early for that kind of talk, however.

This week will be much more telling of what the Pack are and are not, for a plethora of reasons.

For starters this team only resembles last year’s from a roster standpoint. What I mean by that is many of the same players are back but they’re a year older, a ton more battle tested and hopefully more mature.

When the schnide started for the ‘Pack in ACC play last year, the team seemed listless and lifeless at times until it played the boys in baby blue in the final game of the season. It can’t afford that again this year and the team is confident it won’t happen again.

“This year we’re a totally different team and we’re learning from our mistakes”, senior H-back Dylan Autenreith said earlier this week in response to a question about handling a loss.

State will need to learn fast, considering that Saturday’s opponent Pittsburgh is its second ranked opponent in as many weeks.

Running back Bam Knight echoed Autenreith’s sentiment when he was asked if the team had the same mentality as it did after a loss in 2019.

“Last year coming off the West Virginia loss you could tell the following practices the next week, people were kind of down,” the Wolfpack’s leading rusher said. “This year you even have freshmen who just got here motivating people and keeping the energy up.’

Another difference is the new coordinators and one drastically different scheme.

Offensively State wants to run the ball more and there’s a much greater emphasis on tempo and pace under Tim Beck’s leadership while still relying heavily on short rhythm throws that get the ball in perimeter players' hands in space and demands that the secondary and linebacking core make tackles.

Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme, however. is brand new to the Wolfpack and its success depends heavily on execution.

Execution, of course, is a key on both sides of the ball, as Knight points out. And State didn’t do what it needed to do last week in its 45-24 loss at Virginia Tech.

“I think last week it was just a matter of us not executing on game day.” Knight said.

One other difference between this Wolfpack team and one from a year ago is that it has a definite starting quarterback.

Devin Leary missed a ton of camp because of contact tracing, so it’s understandable that backup Bailey Hockman got the nod in the first two games. He did enough to get a win in Game One, but was dizzyingly ineffective last week. And he was given virtually the entire game to be ineffective.

Both quarterbacks threw exactly 16 passes in Blacksburg. Hockman completed seven for 82 yards, no TDs and two picks. Leary completed 12 for 165 and a touchdown with no interceptions.

The choice here is clear.

Team members insist that the only similarities between this year and the embarrassing 2019 campaign are some of the names and faces, and the logo on the side of the helmets they wear. 

How the Wolfpack responds Saturday at noon will go a long way into telling us how different it really is.

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