Strength in the Pack is a slogan you hear a lot from the NC State athletic department. That strength was stronger than ever during the 2020 season. From program shutdowns to injuries, this year’s NC State football team faced it all and still managed to set program records along the way while improving on last year’s win total.
While there were positives, there are a few things that need to be addressed for the Wolfpack to make the ACC Championship next year. Here are a few of those as well as what to look forward to next season.
What Went Well:
The Wolfpack finished their 2020 campaign 8-4 overall while finishing 7-3 in the ACC. The eight wins are a four-game improvement from the year before. Seven ACC wins set a new program record for most conference wins in a season.
Linebacker Payton Wilson lead the ACC in tackles per game with 10.8 and finished third in the FBS with 108 total tackles. Christopher Dunn broke the school record for career field goals connecting on his 56th field goal in the Wolfpacks win over Georgia Tech on December 5.
Quarterback Bailey Hockman proved to be a good safety net at quarterback as he was thrown into the starting lineup in the season opener versus Wake Forest and also the rest of the season as Devin Leary was lost for the year after a leg injury versus Duke. Hockman finished the season with 2088 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns in relief duties.
What Needs To Improve:
Penalties. NC State totaled 96 penalties on the season with many of those coming at the absolute worst times. For example, during the Packs Gator Bowl loss, while driving inside the Kentucky 20 yard line a costly personal foul penalty knocked them out of the red zone which resulted in a longer field goal attempt that was no good.
Those three points would prove costly as NC State fell to the Wildcats 23-21. While some penalties are judgment calls from the officials, most of the flags on the Wolfpack were self-inflicted mistakes that can be corrected moving forward which is promising.
Another fold with the penalties is eliminating the targeting flags. While this call lines up with the judgment area of penalties, the rule book is pretty clear cut on what targeting is. The Wolfpack had over four games where a defender was ejected for a targeting call, while also losing a player for the bowl game due to receiving multiple ejections. Discipline in that area will be key going forward.
Looking forward to 2021:
With the NCAA granting this year as a free year of eligibility, the Wolfpack will be experience heavy at all positions next season. All-American Alim McNeil has already announced his plans to enter the draft along with tight end Carey Angeline, but even with those players not returning, NC State should be returning near double-digit starters on both sides of the ball. Zonovan “Bam” Knight and Ricky Person Jr should form a very potent rushing tandem along with leading receiver Thayer Thomas, while younger receivers Devin Carter and Porter Rooks showed promise.
The quarterback situation will be one to watch as Leary is scheduled to be healthy at the beginning of the season with Hockman slated to return along with Ben Finley, who saw action versus UNC this season. NC State also signed four-star recruit Aaron McLaughin to add even more depth at that position. While Hockman was solid in his backup role, most fans assume Leary will be the sure starter heading into the 2021 season. Will all the quarterbacks stay put with the new transfer rules?
If all of the key pieces return, 2021 could be the year NC State gets over the hurdle into double-digit wins with a non-conference schedule that isn’t top heavy including USF, Furman, and Mississippi State.
It’s safe to stay Coach Dave Doreen has the Pack on the right track.