KENTON'S KEYS: Wake Forest
Editor's note: SI All Wolfpack deputy editor Kenton Gibbs was part of coach Dave Doeren's first recruiting class at NC State in 2013. He played two seasons for the Wolfpack, recovering a fumble that set up the winning touchdown against Syracuse in 2014, before an injury forced him from the field to the press box. Each Friday during the football season, he'll provide his expert analysis in identifying keys that could lead to a potential State victory.
Kenton's Keys to an NC State victory against Wake Forest on Saturday:
- Run the ball early and often: If the Wolfpack doesn't take advantage of an experienced and talented offensive line, it is doing itself a great disservice. State was among the top five in the ACC in yards per carry last season and pounding it at Wake Forest early could pay dividends by wearing the Deacons' defense down late.
- Get Devin Leary some early rhythm to get him in the swing of things: The junior quarterback has gained confidence since being named the Wolfpack's starter during the spring, but it's important for him to build on that once the game begins by getting off to a positive start. Taking advantage of veteran receivers Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas and tight end Cary Angeline underneath on the first few drives could also open things up downfield as the game progresses.
- Possess the football: Don't let last week's performance against Clemson fool you. Wake Forest can put points on the board in bunches. The Deacons have scored 400 or more points in each of the past three seasons and with veteran Sam Hartman doing the throwing, are a potentially dangerous opponent. Keeping Hartman and his offense off the field is the best way to keep them from putting up big numbers Saturday.
- Tackle, Tackle, Tackle: Tackling is always pivotal in early season games until defensive players get reaccustomed to full speed physical contact. It's proven to be even more tricky than usual so far this season because of changes in protocol that have limited contact in preseason camps. It's sure to be an important point of emphasis for defensive coordinator Tony Gibson's unit.
- Linebackers must lead: Even without Louis Acceus, whose career was ended because of excessive concussions, State's linebacking corps is the heart and soul of its defense and leaders such as Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson will be counted on to set the tone Saturday. If a defensive back has the most tackles against the Deacons, it's not a good sign.
- Prevent big chunk plays: This was a recurring problem for the Wolfpack last season. The defense allowed 88 explosive plays last season (defined as passes of more than 20 yards and runs of more than 10 yards), a major contributing factor to that disappointing 4-8 record. In addition to limiting big plays on defense, it's just as important to prevent them on special teams where they can be even more decisive.
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