NC State Wolfpack: The Season So Far

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 02: Teammates Dylan Autenrieth #42, Ryan Finley #15 and Kelvin Harmon #3 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack react after a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 02: Teammates Dylan Autenrieth #42, Ryan Finley #15 and Kelvin Harmon #3 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack react after a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Old North Banter takes a look at how the North Carolina State Wolfpack got to its 3-1 record in 2017 thus far.

North Carolina State entered the 2017 season with many pundits praising how the Wolfpack would make waves in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic division. Much of said praise is attributed to the team’s returning seniors, especially all-purpose offensive back Jaylen Samuels and defensive end Bradley Chubb. However, losing the season opener to South Carolina seemed to dissuade those from holding the Pack as highly as they had previously.

Three games later, NC State sits with a 3-1 record and a 1-0 in conference play. Here’s how the Wolfpack got to this point:

South Carolina 35, NC State 28

When the first play of the season results in a touchdown for the opponent, chances are the game is going to slip away quickly. Deebo Samuel returned the opening kickoff 97 yards to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead before the Wolfpack offense responded with a 14-play drive that nodded up the score.

The Cocks and Pack traded touchdowns again before South Carolina scored again following a fumble by Stephen Louis. Despite missing a field goal attempt following that drive, the Pack tied the score right before half with a touchdown pass from Ryan Finley to Jakobi Meyers.

The Gamecocks forced a three-and-out and a fumble on State’s first two drives after halftime and created separation with two touchdowns following those drives. After that, the Pack defense shut the door on South Carolina, including an interception by Johnathan Alston.

A touchdown pass from Finley to Samuels cut the deficit to seven, but the Pack’s final drive ended with a fourth-down incomplete pass from the South Carolina 10-yard line.

NC State 37, Marshall 20

The Wolfpack opened its home schedule against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Up until 25 minutes into the first half, it appeared as though all the hype going into the season for State looked to be misguided. However, after Marshall took a 20-10 lead over the Pack, NC State’s defense appeared to lock into place as Finley finished the rest of the half with touchdown passes to Samuels and Kelvin Harmon, giving the Pack a 23-20 lead at the break.

The Thundering Herd was held scoreless the rest of the way, and the Wolfpack got two more touchdowns off of the legs of Reggie Gallaspy II. Finley finished the game 29-for-36 through the air for 341 yards and three touchdowns with Harmon catching nine passes for 121 yards and the 34-yard score toward the end of the first half.

NC State 49, Furman 16

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With ACC play looming, the Pack got a relatively easier opponent with FCS foe Furman. Even then, the Paladins drew first blood with a field goal. However, Finley and company took hold of the reins and didn’t look back. Samuels rushed for three touchdowns in the first half, and Finley found JuMichael Ramos for a 30-yard strike for six points to give the Pack enough separation to cruise ahead with a 28-13 lead going into halftime.

Nyheim Hines and Dakwa Nichols joined in the parade of rushing touchdowns with a score each in the second half. Meanwhile, the defense held Furman’s offense to only a field goal in the second half while Shawn Boone intercepted a P.J. Blazejowski pass for a 47-yard pick-six.

Finley continued his impressive start to the season with 231 yards through the air on 22-for-27 passing. However, it’s generally easy for a Power-5 conference to light up an FCS. Would that translate to success against a ranked Florida State team?

NC State 27, No. 12 Florida State 21

One of the Wolfpack’s biggest highlights of its game against the Seminoles was a pass from Finley to Meyers in which Meyers juked past highly touted Florida State safety Derwin James en route to the goal line where he front-flipped into the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown. That strike, at the time, gave the Pack a 17-7 lead following Carson Wise‘s PAT. State would carry that momentum throughout the rest of the game.

Finley continued his commanding dominance behind center with a 22-for-32 performance with 230 yards and two touchdowns, but the defense, despite giving up 21 points, stole the show. Chubb sacked Seminole true freshman quarterback James Blackman, filling in for the injured Deondre Francois, twice while forcing a fumble on one of those sacks. Even without hitting the quarterback, Chubb and the defensive line pushed the FSU offensive line to the limit where their presence was felt throughout the game.

One of the few hiccups in the Pack’s offensive possessions came after an FSU punt put State on its own 3-yard line. Two plays later, Finley missed a snap and, upon chasing the ball down, batted it out of the end zone for a safety. The ensuing Seminole possession led to  a field goal which cut the NC State lead to six with three minutes left in regulation.

The Wolfpack fans who have followed the team for the last few years expected a last-minute collapse that would result in a Seminole win. After only gaining three yards in two rushing plays by Hines, that seemed to be the case. However, Hines moved the chains with a 15-yard rush to seal the game for the team from Raleigh.

Moving Ahead

The Wolfpack started the year shakily, but now it seems to have reached stable footing for a solid season. Finley looks to be one of the best Wolfpack quarterbacks in history. He is averaging 304.25 yards per game, which puts Finley on pace to finish with the third-most passing yards in a season behind Philip Rivers‘ 2003 season (4,491) and Mike Glennon‘s 2012 season (4,031). He’s also remained interception-free on 159 attempts, the most for quarterbacks without a pick.

Samuels and Harmon are tied for fifth in the ACC in receiving yards (284) while Samuels is tied with Clemson’s Kelly Bryant for the second-most total touchdowns with seven behind Georgia Tech’s TaQuon Marshall with eight.

The defense appeared to have a slow start as well, giving up early leads to South Carolina, Marshall, and Furman before kicking into gear for the rest of those respective games. Against Florida State, though, the defense looked impeccable from start to finish. Head coach Dave Doeren needs the defense that showed up in Tallahassee to show up the rest of the season.

The pieces for NC State to have a dominant season appear to be in place. The rest of the season will determine if Doeren and company can put those pieces together for an ACC Atlantic Division title.

Next: Carolina Panthers: The Season So Far