NC State has not been able to do much of anything on offense in their meeting with Louisville over the last few years. UofL has dominated those meetings for the most part and they’ve looked like they were much more talented and athletic in those games. This year looks different for the Wolfpack. They have weapons at wide receiver for the first time in years and they’re offensive coordinator knows how to use them.
The offense is led by Ryan Finley at quarterback. He is leading the ACC in completion percentage and he hasn’t thrown an interception since late last season. He’s a “game manager” who can complete way more passes than most with that title. Finley can run a little bit which Offensive Coordinator Eli Drinkwitz takes advantage of a couple of times a game. But, where Finley wins is between 7-12 yards down the field. He has really done well with just taking what is given to him and delivering the ball on time. He doesn’t have a huge arm but he can put the ball down the sideline well to his big receivers.
Louisville has been picked apart all year in the passing game and State is the game that worried me most after the Purdue game. Finley is very good when he has time and he’s very good on third and long. Louisville hasn’t done well defending third and long plays of ten or more yards while Finley kills on them. The Cards blitzed more over the last two weeks but they still mostly relied on their front four to get a pass rush. That is exactly why this game worried me.
Matt Dayes was the focal point of State’s offense for the last couple of years and his departure left some real concern for the Wolfpack running game. However, Drinkwitz has used a committee approach and it has worked out pretty well for them. They haven’t run the ball as well in their games against power five teams but they have done well on first downs and in short yardage. Their run success on first downs helps their passing game as well as their overall offensive plan because they can stay on schedule.
Nyheim Hines has become the feature back for the offense with Reggie Gallaspy as the backup and short yardage guy. Hines is a track star who also runs like he’s much bigger than he is. I’d compare his style to Brandon Radcliff with the violence in which he runs. But Hines never seems to run as fast as you’d expect from a track guy. Last week, Syracuse’s middle linebacker chased him down in the open field. But, Hines has been a strong runner for this team that doesn’t need a great running game. He runs tough and if he gets a seam, he will get a big game before you get him down.
I’ve written three breakdowns of NC State’s offense now and I’ve pointed out how good their offense could be if they had any good receivers each time. Now they have those guys outside that can make big plays for them. They can also just make the plays you need to move the football and that’s where they’ve really excelled this year. State flat out hasn’t had guys that can even get open with any consistency. Now they have four guys that can get them 4-5 catches a game and that includes a guy that can get them 15.
Jaylen Samuels is listed as a “H-Back” but he’s quite literally an “Offensive Weapon”. Samuels leads the team in touchdown runs as well as touchdown catches. You could make the argument that he’s the best offensive player UofL will face this year. What he allows this offense to do is also important. Samuels lines up all over the place and he motions into different alignments. It makes it nearly impossible to scheme to take any one player away. You can’t shade a safety to his side. You can’t really bring extra pressure because they can use motion to run jet sweeps and gimmick plays that will catch you off guard. They can even use Samuel and others to pass the ball. Samuel’s versatility creates a huge advantage for this offense because they use him so well.
The other receivers on this offense is where they’ve seen the improvement in my opinion. Kelvin Harmon has the potential to be a star for State. This is his second year and it seems like he’s finally getting the looks he deserves. Stephen Louis led the team in receiving yards last year as more of a deep threat, but this year he has rounded out his game into a guy that can do just about everything. Jakobi Meyers is a converted quarterback that made All-American Derwin James look silly on a long catch and run two weeks ago and then did a full front flip into the end zone. These guys are all big and they can all run pretty well. What really stands out to me is their catch rate. Outside of Harmon, each of these guys are catching 70-85% of the passes headed their way. That means they’re getting open or the offense is doing a good job scheming to get them open.
State doesn’t do a lot of things that take too long and that really helps them protect their quarterback. The offensive line has only allowed 8 sacks so far and that’s with a pretty statuesque quarterback. The sacks I saw were mostly coverage sacks and half of the sacks they’ve given up came in their first game when they didn’t have Will Richardson at right tackle. The line is a strength in my opinion and it really shows in short yardage run situations. They do a great job getting push and they love to run behind Richardson and Tony Adams on the right side.
This offense does a lot of stuff before the snap to keep you on your heels and sometimes it’s like Drinkwitz is a mad scientist of sorts with the things he comes up with. They put their running backs outside as receivers and have them run slants. They motion their wide receivers into the backfield and use them as the option man on run plays. They run double reverses and double passes. I compared it to the “global” playbook from the old college football video games. They do it all and that makes it very hard to prepare for them.
Honestly, UofL might have some success because they don’t do a lot of exotic things on defense. You don’t have to change what you do. But, Todd Grantham completely dominated this offense last year in Drinkwitz’s first year. The pressure worked and led to a lot of plays being made behind the line. The gimmicky stuff hasn’t always worked and that’s why they’ve given up 37 tackles for loss so far this year. That’s nearly 30 run plays or screen-type plays that they’ve run that have been blown up. Add in reverses and similar plays and there’s potential to make some big plays on defense. Unfortunately, that also leads to third and ten or more and that’s not advantageous for Louisville.