Our Boston Globe style look at today’s game between North Carolina State and Boston College.
#23 North Carolina State (6-3 overall, 4-1 ACC) at Boston College (5-4 overall, 3-3 ACC)
When: 12:00 Noon EST, TV: ABC, ESPN2, WatchESPN app (dependent on location)
Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA (44,500)
Series history: Boston College leads 9-5, in Chestnut Hill - Boston College leads 6-2
Last game vs BC: Boston College 21 at North Carolina St 14 - 2016
Last game at BC: North Carolina St 24 at Boston College 8 - 2015
Last BC win: Boston College 21 at North Carolina St 14 - 2016
Series Win Streak: Boston College - 1
My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 5-4
My 2017 record straight up: 7-2
Last week: Boston College BYE, #6 Clemson 38 at #20 North Carolina St 31
When North Carolina State Runs:
Advantage: Boston College
NC State run offense: 160.6 ypg, 70th in the nation, Boston College run defense: 206.2 ypg, 113th in the nation
The Pack offer a multi option approach running the ball. The lead back is sprinter Nyheim Hines. A football player who happens to run track, Hines is only 5’9, 197, but strong and versatile between the tackles. Named a midseason AA by several media sources, should he get space, he is a home run threat and averages nearly 5.5 yards a carry. He has however been nicked with an ankle injury and health is a concern.
Backing Hines is junior Reggie Gallaspy and the uber versatile, Jaylen Samuels. Gallaspy is more the every down back, while Samuels operates mostly out of the Wildcat set, getting about 6 carries a game.
The State offensive line is massive and experienced. They have however essentially been shut down running the ball the past two weeks against Clemson and Notre Dame and gone heavily toward the pass.
Watch QB Ryan Finley. Although it won’t happen often, NC State will run Finley by design at key times and he is more than adequate in that role.
Offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz keeps fantastic balance and creativity in play calling and that has made a good but perhaps not great run game, generally more effective.
When North Carolina State Passes:
Advantage: NC State
NC State pass offense: 286.8 ypg, 25th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: 197.1 ypg, 30th in the nation
QB Ryan Finley has taken a major step forward this year behind center. His reads are quick, his ball placement precise and outside the past two weeks, where he threw three INTs in the losses to the Irish and Tigers, had not thrown a pick all season.
Despite throwing the ball nearly 40 times a contest, the Pack have allowed just 12 sacks all season, tied for #12 in the nation, so the offensive line has done it’s job protecting Finley.
NC State has a plethora of options for receivers. They pretty much all have size and Finley spreads the wealth around well.
Four Pack receivers have in excess of 30 catches on the year and three have four touchdowns. The key though may be RB Jaylen Samuels. Playing that hybrid TE/RB position, Samuels leads the team in catches with 59 and is second in yards. He is the go to guy when the Pack needs a first down, with 23 of his catches resulting in first downs.
BC has done well against immobile quarterbacks, particularly when teams line up in traditional, non spread formations, allowing the linebackers to cover the middle of the field. NC State though does just enough with Finley a threat to run and the diversity in the passing game to move the ball through the air.
How the weather may impact the throw game is interesting. In general, weather has become less and less a factor for offenses over the years, but this is something that most State players have not experienced or have limited experience with.
When Boston College Runs:
Advantage: Boston College
Boston College run offense: 199.0 ypg, 36th in the nation, NC State run defense: 131.2 ypg, 31st in the nation
Much like the Florida State game two weeks ago, if Boston College is to win the game, they are likely to do it on the ground. Against the Noles, the Eagles ran for 241 yards but on 55 carries. A solid but unspectacular 4.4 yard average. The key was though, BC played from in front and made those yards with everyone in the building knowing the run was coming. They are going to need to do that again this week.
While you clearly can’t take numbers away from a team, the last two games have skewed the State rushing defense in a major way. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Pack was allowing just 91 yards per game on the ground and had held South Carolina, Pitt and Syracuse all under 100, with the Gamecocks and Orange both under 60.
The last two weeks have been a different story, one that calls out the quality of the offensive lines they have seen up to that point.
The BC offensive line has been clicking on all cylinders and I would expect to see a major dose of AJ Dillon right at All America DE Bradley Chubb.
When Boston College Passes:
Advantage: NC State
Boston College pass offense: 171.1 ypg, #108 in the nation, NC State pass defense: 256.0 ypg, 103rd in the nation
The Eagles have gone on their three game win streak essentially without the benefit of a passing attack. While it’s true that Anthony Brown was named ESPN’s quarterback of the week for his performance against Virginia, a bit more inspection shows he completed almost nothing that went more than 7-10 yards downfield. He did hit a big play to Michael Walker and then the short inside throw that Kobay White turned into a 76 yard TD, but outside that he has exceeded 50% completion in a game just once against Power five competition and managed just 88 yards on 33% against Florida State.
NC State has been vulnerable to the pass, but oddly, three of the four poorest opponent passing efforts have been in Wolfpack losses. So State’s success has been predicated on stopping the run.
Watch DE Bradley Chubb, who like the Eagles Harold Landry, has been talked up all season as a top 10 NFL draft pick. Chubb has produced, recording 7.5 sacks on the year, good enough for T11 in the nation.
BC though has been exceptionally good in protecting Brown, allowing only 7 on the season, T6 nationally.
The edge goes to NC State here, primarily because it is unlikely the Eagles will rely much on the pass. That said, it is not a crazy idea that BC will need to win the game by throwing it, something we have yet to see this team be able to accomplish.
Advantage: Boston College
Boston College: punting: 40.54 - 89th, punt return: 14.83 - 12th, kickoff returns: 22.5 - 39th, punt coverage: 4.77 - 30th, kickoff coverage: 20.4 - 55th, Kickoffs: Touchback % - 69.57 - 16th , FG: 62.5% - 102nd
NC State: punting: 44.19 - 17th, punt return: 17.67 - 5th, kickoff returns: 22.6- 37th, punt coverage: 14.25 - 120th, kickoff coverage: 21.66 - 84th, Kickoffs: Touchback % - 58.89 - 94th, FG: 53.8% - 115th
While the Wolfpack have been explosive, returning 2 punts for TDs this season, despite only having 9 punt return attempts and despite having a real threat in Nyheim Hines as a kickoff returner. BC has been their equal on the offensive return side and superior on the coverage front and that tells the story.
NC State has given up over 14 yards per punt return and that is something that BC can take advantage of.
The State kicking game has also been a mess and they will continue what has been a musical chairs game with Kyle Bambard, who started 7 games in 2016, taking the job back from Carson Wise who had struggled.
Boston College Keys To Victory:
1. Rest or Rust? - Boston College needed a week off. After going for 9 straight weeks, with all the injuries on top of it, the Eagles needed a rest...but didn’t you just want to keep playing last week? BC had all sorts of momentum, to the point where if they could have played against Stonehill to keep that mojo going, that would have been great. Will the Eagles pick up where they left off or will the magic evaporate?
2. Handling the big receivers - The Pack receivers have both size and talent. Unlike many teams who rely on one main threat, NC State spreads the wealth around more than any BC has seen.
3. Win the Turnover battle - In BC’s five wins, the Eagles are a plus 1.6 in turnover margin while the Pack are a plus 1.5 in their six wins. As good as the Eagles have been recently offensively, NC State is too good and BC honestly not strong enough on that side of the ball not to control this stat and still win.
4. Run the Ball - it sounds so simple, but the thought is that Anthony Brown through the air cannot beat quality teams and who can argue, the stats bear that out. BC has done it through big plays in the air, quality over quantity, but to win and this probably should be the #1 key, the Eagles must be able to effectively run the ball, even when NC State knows it’s coming.
NC State Keys To Victory:
1. What’s left in the tank? - The past two weeks have been taxing on this team. The trip to South Bend where at the time, NC State could have kept themselves in the national title picture, followed by arguably the ACC game of the year last week vs Clemson. That has to take a lot emotionally and physically out of a team who now sees the vast majority of those aspirations gone. What will be left in their tank on a cold November day?
2. Keep Your Balance - The biggest difference between NC State and every other team BC has played so far this season is legitimate offensive balance. Playing calling has been diverse and in Ryan Finley the Pack have an accomplished and accurate QB who can make plays down the field in the passing game and when needed hurt you with his feet. They also present a good if not great run game with an explosive presence in Nyheim Hines and the versatile Jaylen Samuels. Balance and threats via that balance have been what’s made this offense so good. If BC can take one of those away, the Pack become far less dangerous.
3. What’s between the tackles? - The past two weeks, NC State has been gashed by Notre Dame (318 yards) and Clemson (224 yards) on the ground. In both games, the Pack has given up a huge run right up the gut for touchdowns. BC hasn’t hit the home run that way this year, but the vast majority of carries come in that area and you can be sure the Eagles will test the NC State front the way they tested Florida State. Will a State run defense that was so good prior to show up or have they been worn down?
Call this a pick of momentum. Statistically, NC State’s strengths offset BC’s strengths and the Pack are well positioned to attack the Eagles’ weaknesses. However, BC comes in rested and with a great deal of confidence, while NC State has seen their season come crashing down on them over the past two weeks and is beat up coming off two very physical games, traveling and coming to a cold weather venue.
It’s going to come down to whether BC can run the ball effectively, knowing that we have no evidence that if the Eagles need to win the game with Anthony Brown throwing, they can do it.
I am banking that is the case.
Boston College 30 North Carolina State 27