The bye week has come and gone for Syracuse. The Orange have had their time to rest. They’ve had their time to heal and they’ve had their time to improve. And that’s a really, really good thing, not only for SU’s psyche, but also because the heart of the season is on the way and playing in the ACC (usually, maybe not this year), is not going to make it easy.
It all starts on Thursday when SU heads down to Raleigh to take on a 3-2 NC State squad that is also coming off of a bye and a disappointing 31-13 loss to Florida State. Similarly to SU, the Wolfpack have had a bit of an up and down season that includes wins over inferior opponents (East Carolina, West Carolina and Ball State) and a few debilitating losses against upper-echelon teams (West Virginia, FSU).
This is a huge game for SU not only because it’s the true beginning of conference play and could set the tone for the remainder of the season, but also because the Orange have to show that their 51-41 win over the Wolfpack last year in the Dome wasn’t a fluke. Keep in mind, prior to that NC State had won the previous four matchups with the ‘Cuse. So with that added importance to this matchup, what do you need to know about Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack?
New Year, New Look
The look that Syracuse will be getting from the 2019 Wolfpack is almost entirely different from the loaded roster the Orange saw a season ago. NC State had a conference-best six First-Team All-ACC members last year in QB Ryan Finley (Cincinnati Bengals), WR Kelvin Harmon (Washington Redskins), WR Jakobi Meyers (New England Patriots), C Garrett Bradbury (Minnesota Vikings), OT Tyler Jones (Denver Broncos) and LB Germaine Pratt (Cincinnati Bengals) and all six of them are gone. That’s not to mention losing third-team running back Reggie Gallaspy Jr.
In total, an NC State squad that went 9-4 last year lost a nearly 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard wide receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher and a top-20 pick in this spring’s NFL Draft in Bradbury. I’m not sure there’s a team in the country that lost more on offense than the Wolfpack and that’s not to mention the fact that Pratt led the team in tackles a season ago with 104. They are going to look completely different come Thursday night.
Replacing who many thought may have been the best quarterback in the ACC last season in Ryan Finley was always going to make the signal caller position a storyline for NC State in 2019, but heading into this week, it’s even more of a story than people thought it would be.
The season started with redshirt sophomore Matthew McKay at the helm and after he completed 68% of his passes for more than 300 yards and a score while also running for another 35 and two touchdowns in the season-opening win over ECU, it looked like NC State had their guy. But after disappointing performances against Western Carolina (200 yards), West Virginia (207 yards on less than 50% completion) and Ball State (175 yards, interception), head coach Dave Doeren only had him throw seven passes in the loss to Florida State a few weeks ago before replacing him with fellow redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman (an FSU transfer) who had a solid game (21-40, 208 yards, TD). Redshirt freshman Devin Leary also played in the game to complete a QB triumvirate for the Wolfpack.
When the depth chart for this Thursday’s game against Syracuse came out earlier this week, Hockman had officially superseded McKay as the starter with Leary listed as the backup, jumping over McKay who all of a sudden finds himself buried at the bottom of the depth chart. It’s been a wild ride for the QB position for NC State this season and with all three ready and willing to play, we’ll see exactly what combination they throw at the Orange on Thursday.
Game Wrecker Wreturns
James Smith-Williams is a special guy. He’s already graduated from NC State with a degree in Supply Chain Management and had a paid internship with IBM over the summer. That supergiant corporation has already offered him a job when he’s done with college. He’s been given the privilege to wear jersey number 1 at NC State which recognizes a member of the team for his work ethic, character, leadership and accomplishments.
He’s also a freakish athlete and the defensive end position and has the potential to be a game-wrecking pass rusher at the next level when all is said and done. He was set to be one of the best edge rushers in the conference before the 2019 season but after a quiet first two games against the directional Carolinas (3 tackles), Smith-Williams missed the next two with a foot injury before returning against Florida State when he again didn’t record a single tackle. Those numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of the kind of talent Smith-Williams has and the offensive line issues for Syracuse this season have been well-documented, especially at the two tackle spots. With an extra week of rest, relaxation and recuperation under his belt, watch out for Number 1 in red to possibly have a big impact come Thursday.