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Heel Tough Blog: NC State Preview

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Carolina-NC State has quietly become one of the better rivalry matchups in all of college football and on Saturday, it will be renewed for the 112th time in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels will be looking to not only enact some revenge for last season’s heartbreaking loss in Raleigh, but to turn things back in the right direction this season after a dejecting loss to Georgia Tech that has some questioning the direction that the season may go. The team will hope to quiet those concerns and reach the ten-win mark for the first time since the 2015 season.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels are coming off of their worst game of the 2022 campaign against Georgia Tech and hope to get the season back on course. It all starts with quarterback Drake Maye, who enters off the worst performance of the season that likely eliminated him from Heisman contention. The Tar Heels need him to bounce back and look like the quarterback that has the nation buzzing for much of the season against a team that he grew up hating as a Tar Heel legacy. He will need help from his offensive line which has started to show some cracks over the past few weeks, especially on the right side with tackle Spencer Rolland and guard William Barnes. The unit desperately needs Asim Richards to return to form over at left tackle after two rough outing pass protection-wise in the last three games. The wide receiver also need to recover from a rough outing, led by star slot receiver Josh Downs who may have had the worst game of his career in the loss to the Yellow Jackets. Antoine Green will return to the lineup after missing last week's game, a big boost for the receiving group that struggled to create separation without him. Bryson Nesbit looks to be back to full strength and the tight end group will be fully stocked behind him with John Copenhaver returning for this game after missing the last game himself. At running back, Elijah Green continues to lead the way, but it seems like there will be an effort to work in D.J. Jones and Omarion Hampton back there as rotational options. One of the most important things for the running backs will be how much they can help in pass protection moving forward because of the struggles that the offensive line unit is starting to have.

This Tar Heel defense remains an inconsistent one and this past week they weren’t able to make the plays in the 4th quarter like they had all season long. They have to find a way to close out the season strong and it all starts up front. The defensive line has had one of the worst seasons in program history, as they have just eight sacks since conference play began, but the group had at least found a way to make plays when it mattered. Guys like Kaimon Rucker and Jahvaree Ritzie have shown some nice things at times, but it simply hasn’t been enough and it is evident that they missed the three starters that are out for the season. Their struggles have put a ton on the plate of the linebackers who have handled about as well as they can. Power Echols hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was early in the season in the past few weeks, but he is still making stops for this team. Meanwhile, Cedric Gray leads all Power 5 players in tackles and is clearly this defense’s best player right now. In the secondary, there are still a lot of yards being let up, but the outside corner tandem of Storm Duck and Tony Grimes have stepped their games up in the second half of the season. The issues remain in the middle of the field and in the slot, where the unit still doesn’t seem to have many answers.

The Tar Heel special teams are having a special year. Noah Burnette has proven the staff right for going with him over Jonathan Kim and Ben Kiernan has become one of the nation’s top punters. Josh Downs has been very solid as the team’s punt returner and the team has found their solution at kick returner with George Pettaway, who has shown a lot of promise in these past three weeks since taking over the duties. The only areas that remain questionable are the coverage units, which have ranked in the middle of the country for the majority of the season.

NC State

The Wolfpack enter this game in a similar spot to where the Tar Heels were a year ago in what has been a difficult season after an offseason of expectations. Just like Georgia Tech, this is a team that is beat up at quarterback with starter Devin Leary out since midseason and freshman phenom M.J. Morris’s status is a confusing one. That means that Ben Finley, who took over for the struggling Jack Chambers last Saturday against Louisville, will likely make his first career start in this one. He’ll have the challenge of trying to lead an offense that has struggled to move the ball all season long. He’ll have a solid group of receivers at his disposal with Thayer Thomas in the slot and Devin Carter and Keyon Lesane on the outside, one that will test the Tar Heels a little more than the group they faced a week ago. The running backs got off to a hot start to the season, but have struggled since with veteran Jordan Houston and freshman Michael Allen now leading the way. In the trenches, the Wolfpack are not nearly as strong as they have been in past years and they will likely be without the anchor of this year’s unit, center Grant Gibson, on Friday.

Defensively, this is the best group that the Tar Heels have faced this season. The linebacker trio is the best in the ACC this season with Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson all having strong seasons. The secondary has let up some yards so far this season, but they are an opportunistic group that Drake Maye will have to be careful with. The defensive backs alone have created 14 interceptions so far this year, led by four from cornerback Aydan White. Just like on the offensive side, the Wolfpack haven’t been nearly as dominant as they have during the Dave Doeren era. Still, guys like Davin Vann and Corey Durden are guys the Tar Heel offensive line needs to be able to neutralize.

The Wolfpack special teams group is a sound one. Christopher Dunn has been one of the best placekickers in the country this season, not having missed a single one of his 27 extra point attempts or 21 field goal attempts. Caden Noonkester is handling the punting duties pretty well after taking over for a struggling Shane McDonough. Julian Gray has been decent as the team’s kick returner, while Thayer Thomas has been solid as the punt returner.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 38.0 (13th)

Off. PYPG: 328.9 (6th)

Off. RYPG: 163.8 (57th)

Off. TYPG: 492.7 (T-8th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 49.3 (13th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 69.0 (T-93rd)

Sacks Allowed: 32.0 (T-102nd)

Def. PPG: 30.4 (T-105th)

Def. PYPG: 273.2 (116th)

Def. RYPG: 179.7 (98th)

Def. TYPG: 452.9 (122nd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 42.4% (102nd)

Tackles for A Loss: 42.0 (T-128th)

Sacks: 15.0 (T-119th)

Interceptions: 8 (T-72nd)

Turnover Margin: +2 (T-51st)

Penalties Per Game: 6.5 (T-79th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 57.8 (85th)

NC State

Off. PPG: 24.9 (87th)

Off. PYPG: 218.1 (85th)

Off. RYPG: 126.6 (101st)

Off. TYPG: 344.7 (102nd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.3% (T-79th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 66.0 (T-80th)

Sacks Allowed: 24.0 (T-74th)

Def. PPG: 18.7 (T-15th)

Def. PYPG: 222.0 (68th)

Def. RYPG: 101.4 (9th)

Def. TYPG: 323.4 (21st)

Def. 3rd Down %: 31.8% (18th)

Tackles for A Loss: 72.0 (T-35th)

Sacks: 22.0 (T-77th)

Interceptions: 16 (T-4th)

Turnover Margin: +6 (T-25th)

Penalties Per Game: 7.3 (T-114th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 57.5 (T-81st)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Sebastian Cheeks (upper body), Ja’Qurious Conley (lower body), Des Evans (upper body), Caleb Hood (upper body), Jahlil Taylor (lower body), Noah Taylor (lower body), Raymond Vohasek (upper body)

NC State

OUT- Savion Jackson (knee), Devin Leary (pectoral), Anthony Smith (undisclosed)

QUEST- Devin Carter (undisclosed), M.J. Morris (undisclosed), Demie Sumo-Karngbaye (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#21 Elijah Green, So.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. Defense

NOSE#98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

JACK#17 Chris Collins, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB# 1 Tony Girmes, Jr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#98 Noah Burnette, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LS K- #62 Spencer Triplett, So. P- #61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#23 George Pettaway, Fr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

NC State Offense

QB#10 Ben Finley, RFr.

RB# 3 Jordan Houston, Jr. OR #24 Michael Allen, Fr.

WR-X#88 Devin Carter, Jr.

WR-Z#15 Keyon Lesane, Jr.

WR-SL# 5 Thayer Thomas, Sr.

TE-Y# 6 Trent Pennix, Jr.

TE-H#29 Christopher Toudle, So.

LT#56 Bryson Speas, Sr.

LG#64 Chandler Zavala, Sr.

C#54 Dylan McMahon, So.

RG#53 Derrick Eason, Jr.

RT#52 Timothy McKay, So. Defense

LDE#45 Davin Vann, So.

DT#48 Cory Durden, Sr.

RDE# 5 C.J. Clark, So.

WLB#11 Payton Wilson, Jr.

MLB# 1 Isaiah Moore, Sr.

SLB#32 Drake Thomas, Jr.

LCB# 3 Aydan White, RFr.

SS# 4 Cyrus Fagan, Sr.

FS#10 Tanner Ingle, Sr.

RCB#25 Shyheim Battle, So.

NB#13 Tyler Baker-Williams, Sr. Special Teams

PK#32 Christopher Dunn, Sr.

KO#90 Collin Smith, So.

P#98 Caden Noonkester, RFr.

LS#91 Joe Shimko, Jr.

H#98 Caden Noonkester, RFr.

KR# 8 Julian Gray, RFr.

PR# 5 Thayer Thomas, Sr.

Senior Day Honorees

#68 Brian Anderson

#76 William Barnes

#70 Noland Brown

# 2 Don Chapman

#49 Parks Cochrane

#17 Chris Collins

#80 Will Crowley

#38 Val Edwards

#13 Obi Egbuna

# 3 Antoine Green

#45 Jake Harkleroad

#15 Ladaeson ‘Dae Dae’ Hollins

# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly

#91 Ben Kiernan

#61 Drew Little

#63 Ed Montilus

#55 Ty Murray

#83 Justin Olson

#72 Asim Richards

#29 Jeffrey Saturday

#51 Raymond Vohasek

Game Information

Location: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC

Time: 3:30 PM


Radio: Tar Heels Sports Network (check local affiliates)


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