1.) What happens at quarterback?
College football has never been more quarterback dependent. Despite that, NC State has won eight games this year with four different quarterbacks, who combined to complete 277 of 466 passes (57%) for 2,906 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. By today’s standards, these are average numbers.
Currently, NC State is expected to have three scholarship quarterbacks on its roster before Spring Ball: Redshirt sophomore Ben Finleysecond MJ Morris and Lex Thomas. Whether it arrives in time for Spring Ball or the first summer session, the Wolfpack will add another quarterback to the mix. The only target right now is Virginia’s transfer Brennan Armstrong. If Armstrong joins the program, the likely scenario is a two-way competition between him and Morris to be QB1 for the Pack in 2023. There are concerns with each.
I’ll start with Morris, who has seen action in just five games, including three starts. In his three starts, Morris completed 50 of 81 (62%) passes for 610 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He was excellent in two games, but Morris struggled in his last game. In all honesty, he was hurt against Boston College and continued to play. Either way, it’s a small sample size and a big risk to declare him a starter without being pushed into spring practices.
As for Armstrong, it is still unclear whether he will choose State. While some think it’s a done deal, I’m cautiously optimistic, especially considering what Auburn and Oklahoma State can offer off the field. He was sensational under NC State’s new offensive coordinator Robert Anae during the 2021 season, completing 326 of 500 passes (65.2) for 4,449 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But if you dig deeper, he was average under Anae as a freshman starter for UVA in 2020, passing for 2,117 yards, while completing 58.6% of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Last season (I realize it wasn’t entirely his fault) he played poorly, passing for 2,210 yards, completing 54.7% of his passes with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Armstrong’s familiarity with Anae’s offense is a plus, but if he joins the program, I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that he beats Morris. Either way, it will generate great competition for the most important position on the pitch.
2.) Is the defense regressing or recharging?
It’s probably unfair and unrealistic to expect State to be as good as they were this season defensively in 2023. Gone DrakeThomas, Isaiah Moore, Cory Durden, Tanner Ingle and Cyrus Fagan. However, several key elements such as David Van, CJ Clark, Savion Jackson, Payton Wilson, Aydan White, Battle of Shyheim, Devan Boykin and Jakeen Harris return.
More, Tony Gibson, one of college football’s top defensive coordinators, has signed a new three-year contract. Honestly, as long as he’s running the show on that side of the ball, I feel good on State’s defense. I believe he is this good coach.
I also think one of the silver linings to all of State’s injuries was that it allowed several other players to get valuable playing rep. So the combination of the aforementioned returning players, influx or young talent and the ability to add quality depth from the transfer portal should mitigate the loss of a handful of household names. There are definitely questions, but I don’t foresee a significant drop in defensive production next season.
3.) What should we expect from the offense as a whole?
Although we have a decent idea at the spring ball, I guess we won’t know the answer until next fall. What I can say is that I hope it’s not like anything we’ve seen in 2022. I know there have been injuries, but from the season opener to the bowl, State was a bad offensive football team. There’s no excuse for the Pack to be among the ACC’s worst offenses and finish 105th in FBS. If you step back, it’s unbelievable that State won eight games with their lack of offensive production.
To enter Robert Anae, which is one of the most respected offensive mines in the country. He has had success at every stage of his long career. The aforementioned Gibson has been Doeren’s top recruit since taking over the program and I think Anae has a shot at No. 2 ultimately. While some are young and unproven, I don’t think Anae had as much collective offensive talent in Virginia or Syracuse as he will have in Raleigh next season.
There are questions at multiple positions, including quarterback, offensive line and receiver. But there are capable players in every position who could make huge strides forward under Anae’s leadership, including the one who plays quarterback, Thirty Pennix, Michael Allen, Half Sumo-Karngbaye, Terrell Timmons Jr. and Julian Gray to name a few. There will likely be a learning curve, but I expect a much more dynamic and creative offense this fall.