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NC State Needs New Offense to Make Noise

By Dave Holcomb
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The Wolfpack will feature practically an entirely new offense in 2019.

It’s been a long time since N.C. State was a national player in college football as the program has been the last two seasons. The Wolfpack finished 9-4 during 2017 and 2018, giving them 18 wins over the last two years.

N.C. State hasn’t posted that many victories during a two-year span since 2002-03.

But expecting N.C. State to reach that level for the third season in a row, which is something the program has never done, might be unrealistic. That’s because the Wolfpack will feature practically an entirely new offense in 2019.

To win nine games and take that next step as a program in what’s being called a rebuilding year, N.C. State will likely be counting on sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay and many other inexperienced youngsters stepping up to replace talented skilled players that have departed for the NFL.

Obviously, veteran quarterback Ryan Finley left the biggest hole in the N.C. State offense. Unfortunately, he wasn’t permitted to return for a seventh college season (that’s sarcasm), so at 24 years old, he’s onto what he hopes are bigger things with the Cincinnati Bengals.

N.C. State doesn’t have an obvious successor to Finley, but according to Athlon Sports, McKay possesses “the inside track” to replacing him. McKay played a small role as a runner in the Wolfpack offense last season, rushing for 36 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Should he win the starting job, McKay will bring a dual-threat ability behind center on a full-time basis.

Under normal circumstances, McKay would have a distinct advantage over his competition, sophomore Bailey Hockman and freshman Devin Leary, due to the number of years he’s spent in the N.C. State system. McKay is a third-year sophomore, so he’s in his third offseason with the team.

But again, this won’t be a normal spring and summer for the Wolfpack, who in addition to replacing Finley, promoted new coaches to serve as offensive coordinator.

Former OC Eli Drinkwitz left to become head coach at Appalachian State. As a result, in December, N.C. State promoted assistants Des Kitchings and Georgie McDonald together to become co-offensive coordinators.

The good news for McKay is there likely will be a lot of continuity. That’s honestly why N.C. State decided to promote from within rather than seek out a more experienced offensive coordinator. But it’s still yet to be determined how similar the offense may be, and how much new material McKay and the other quarterbacks must learn.

With new signal callers and perhaps changes in offensive play calling, it would be nice if N.C. State could rely upon a running back or outside playmaker. But running back Reggie Gallaspy II along with wide receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers are all gone.

Those three playmakers each accumulated more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, finishing first, second and third on the team. Gallaspy led the team with 19 touchdowns, and Harmon was second with seven scores.

Adding to this incredible list of offensive transitions, N.C. State will also have three new starting offensive linemen. That doesn’t leave much of anything the Wolfpack did last year that they can count on again this season.

Fortunately, they do have some emerging playmakers that will probably make life easier on McKay or whomever starts at quarterback.

Junior-to-be Emeka Emezie was fourth on the team in scrimmage yards and third in receiving, posting 53 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns. He will need to be this team’s Harmon if N.C. State is even going to come close to averaging 30 points per game again. N.C. State posted more than 32 points per contest in both 2017 and 2018.

Rising sophomore Thayer Thomas will need to play a significant role as well. He caught 34 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman last fall.

On defense, N.C. State returns eight starters. While that’s significant, especially with considering all the changes to the team’s offense, the Wolfpack defense is still pretty inexperienced in a lot of areas. It’s not as if the offense should expect the defense to be able to carry the team this fall.

Coach Dave Doeren certainly doesn’t sound like he believes that’s what will happen. Instead, he’s placed the lofty expectations on his offense to produce as Clemson did with a freshman quarterback last year.

“The national champion just won it with a true freshman quarterback,” Doeren said according to The Athlon Sports. “So for any of us to put boxes on how good we can be at this point is premature. There are a lot of unknowns right now, and that’s the part that is exciting and unsettling.”

It’s unfair to expect McKay (or any other quarterback for that matter) to be anywhere near as good as Lawrence was as a first-time starter in 2018. But he’ll probably need to seamlessly transition into becoming a starter in order for N.C. State to avoid a terrible setback in 2019.

There’s just very little continuity everywhere on the Wolfpack offense.