NC State vs. North Carolina
Saturday, October 24, 2020 – Noon ET at Kenan Memorial Stadium
NC State’s Quarterback Situation
Starting quarterback Devin Leary suffered an injury that will keep him out of this game. It amazes me to see people react as if this mattered as if Leary’s injury dealt any kind of a meaningful blow to the Wolfpack offense. Both quarterbacks have started at different points this season because they are essentially even.
The Wolfpack have scored at least 30 points in three straight contests, not so much because of Leary but because of the offense’s newfound creativity in play-calling. So any praise being accorded to Leary should be reconstituted as strong expectations for his replacement, Bailey Hockman.
I suspect that improved (although misguided) public perception of Leary is creating a false impression of NC State’s offensive status without him, which is motivating people to bet the “under” at top sportsbooks.
Establishing The Run
Hockman’s start against Wake Forest generates a lot of promise because it was efficient — as measured by completion percentage — and productive as it helped the Wolfpack produce 45 points. One thing that helped Hockman is the focus that the opposing defense placed on limiting NC State’s ground game.
The Wolfpack feature two running backs who have approximately the same number of carries. While Ricky Person Jr. averages 4.7 YPC, Zonovan Knight averages 6.1. They will absolutely force a Tar Heel defense that ranks 99th in opposing YPC to remain honest.
The past two weeks inspire pessimism about UNC’s run defense, which is repeatedly allowing multiple opponents to accrue over 100 yards on the ground. In particular, UNC is paying the price for the offseason losses of multiple stalwarts from its defensive line. Currently, the unit is significantly younger and less successful.
North Carolina is also feeling the pain of its losses in the secondary. Before the season began, it had three members of the secondary opt-out. Plus, Myles Wolfolk was an important loss, since he was the team's highest-graded player in its opener against Syracuse. Wolfolk was a playmaker and a veteran leader who made the entire defense better. His absence, plus the additional injury to cornerback Storm Duck, help create vulnerability in UNC’s pass defense.
The Tar Heel coverage prerogative has enjoyed some easy satisfaction against run-heavy teams like Virginia Tech. However, it has also struggled to stop tougher tests like one from Boston College’s transfer quarterback, who produced over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in a very efficient performance.
Right now, UNC ranks middle-of-the-road in terms of opposing passer rating, but shows regression as a consequence of its mounting absences.
Sam Howell + Dyami Brown
Howell loves to throw the deep ball and he does it extremely well thanks to his very strong arm and accuracy. Last year, he led the FBS in number of touchdown throws both of 30+ yards and of 40+ yards. We also just saw the significance of deep passing for Howell, as it provided the greatest impetus to the Tar Heels’ comeback effort last week, in which they accumulated 21 second-half points. He is helped by the loaded talent of UNC’s receiving corps, which brought back two 1,000-yard receivers this year.
Especially Dyami Brown is a vertical threat. He is amassing 17.4 YPC and leads the team in receptions (17), yards (296), and touchdowns (three). Besides having nice size for contested catch situations, he is known for the blazing speed and quickness with which he burns opposing defensive backs and gains quick separation.
Brown’s skill set is helpful for Howell not just because he loves throwing deep, but also because he has a go-to guy, especially when pressured, in case he needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Last year, Howell ranked third in throwing 16 touchdowns against the blitz.
NC State Pass Defense
In itself, the Wolfpack secondary has issues that have been exacerbated by injuries to guys like Teshaun Smith. The Wolfpack rank bottom-half nationally in opposing passer rating.
To be fair, NC State’s renewed emphasis on aggressiveness results in the fact that its secondary has less help. While NC State’s sack rate is up, this stat reveals more of a negative reality for the team’s defense that will be transparent on Saturday.
Last year, Howell threw the third-most touchdowns when blitzed. He can rely on guys like Brown when NC State indulges its aggressive proclivity.
Carter is known for his speed, which helps him average over eight YPC. NC State’s run defense has already been gashed repeatedly, which is why it ranks 93rd in allowing over 150 yards per game.
In addition to Howell’s, Carter’s big-play ability will help the Tar Heels accrue more scores. Carter will also keep the defense from focusing too much on Howell.
Both defenses will struggle to get stops. In particular, losses and other deficiencies in the opposing secondary will allow both quarterbacks to sustain high levels of productivity. Both offenses also maintain the running prowess to unsettle the opposing defense with two-dimensionality.
For the above reasons, take the “over” with your College Football Betting Picks.