Qualk Talk

What's new with N.C. State's offense?

Oct 8, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Findley (15) looks to pass during the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Carter Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack won 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson’s offense owns N.C. State. In three meetings with the Wolfpack since Dave Doeren became the head coach in Raleigh, the Tigers have averaged 41 points per game, winning all three matchups by an average of 22.7 points per victory.

Nothing to worry about there.

The N.C. State offense might be a bit of a different story for one particular reason: A new coordinator is at the helm. 32-year-old Eliah Drinkwitz joined Doeren’s staff prior to the season, replacing Matt Canada. This means the Wolfpack will have a different look on that side of the football.

But how different is it really? Here are three observations about what the Wolfpack are doing to score points this season:

  1. The new scheme isn’t new to the quarterback.

Drinkwitz did not come to Raleigh alone. He brought with him transfer quarterback Ryan Finley, a 6-3, 200-pounder with a solid skill set as a passer and some mobility. Finley graduated from Boise State in three seasons, so he still has two more remaining as a redshirt sophomore. An injury cost him his starting gig with the Broncos in the third game of the season back in 2015, so a fresh start with the Wolfpack was beneficial for all involved.

In seven career appearances with the Broncos, Finley threw for three touchdowns and five interceptions and completed 59.8 percent of his passes. He has been much more effective in his role for the Wolfpack so far this season, although the array of teams he has faced leaves a bit to be desired (more on this in moments).

  1. It’s a high-efficiency scheme.

Historically, Boise State’s offense has employed a good bit of West Coast ideology in its philosophy. Its quarterbacks take short drops and get the ball out quickly, nullifying a strong pass rush and allowing playmakers to maneuver in space. This doesn’t mean the Broncos don’t take shots down the field, but they utilize the short and intermediate passing game with greater frequency.

Drinkwitz has kept those principles intact at N.C. State this season. This makes sense given that his quarterback has spent three years learning the system in Boise. Statistically, there are several indicators that this system is being effectively employed by N.C. State this season.

Finley has completed almost 70 percent of his passes this season, ranking him inside the top ten nationally and second behind only North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky in the ACC. However, among the 13 quarterbacks who currently qualify for statistical titles, Finley ranks tenth in both yards per attempt and yards per completion. Finley also sits in eighth place in the league in attempts per game.

To summarize, Finley connects with his receivers at an abnormally high rate, but he is below average in terms of the way his throws eat up yardage. This means he’s making safe throws at a high level of frequency, just as we might expect from a West Coast-based offensive system.

  1. Even though N.C. State’s offense will be new, it should look more familiar.

This statement works in two ways. The first way has to do with the players who will be toting the rock in Saturday’s contest. Tailback Matt Dayes was on his way to a monster game before an injury knocked him out last season. Tight end Jaylen Samuels might be the most underrated skill player in the ACC. That tandem won’t be sneaking up on anybody at Clemson.

The other way has to do with formations. In years past, Brent Venables has been quick to point out the various alignments and personnel groupings the Wolfpack attack presented under Canada. I asked him specifically about this on Tuesday, and his response pointed out that there were some unique looks they might give, but it appeared that he wasn’t exactly losing sleep over how to combat a bunch of different formations this week.

The bottom line is this: N.C. State’s offense will look more like a traditional West Coast offense than it has in the past. That is probably a better use of the available personnel, but it also makes scheming against the Wolfpack a bit easier schematically. Favoring short and intermediate routes doesn’t exactly prey on Clemson’s primary weakness—coverage issues in the linebacking corps.

Oh, by the way, N.C. State’s strength of schedule isn’t looked at very favorably by analytics websites, either. Against a team like Clemson, good luck with that.

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