It does not matter if they are running it, throwing it or returning a punt or kick, no team in the ACC has been more explosive than the NC State Wolfpack.
So far this season, No. 20 NC State, who will host fourth-ranked Clemson on Saturday, has 13 touchdowns of 20 or more yards and 30 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
Of course it all starts with H-Back Jaylen Samuels, who plays tight end, running back and wide receiver as well. Samuel is third on the team with 210 rushing yards, but leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns. He also leads the team with 56 receptions and has three more touchdowns to go with 474 more yards.
NC State (6-2, 4-0 ACC) tries to disguise where he is lined up by using a lot of motions and shifts.
“They do a good job hiding him,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They’re doing different things. You would think he is the dude and he is, trust me.”
But Venables acknowledges the ‘Pack has a whole lot of other “dudes” too. Guys like wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, wide receiver Stephen Louis, wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, running back Reggie Gallaspy and of course Nyheim Hines.
Already this season Hines has returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and has an 83-yard touchdown run. He also has explosive runs of 45, 39 and 28 yards. So far this year he has ran for 654 yard and six scores, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He is the only player in the ACC to run for 100 yards or more in three games this year.
“He is very fast and explosive and runs with great power,” Venables said. “He gets to a hundred miles an hour in just a few seconds. He can fly. He changed the game a couple of times when we played up there last time.
“He took one to the house, changed the field and took it back to the twenty-five or so another time and past the fifty another time. That is how you give up a lot of points, too. You give up a few explosive plays and the next thing you know they have forty (points) on the board. He is a game changer.”
Venables blames a lot of NC State’s offensive struggles at Notre Dame last week because they lost Hines to a sprained ankle early in the game. The Wolfpack finished the game with just 50 yards rushing and just 263 overall in the 35-14 loss.
“You take our first or second best player on our team, on either side of the ball, off the field and see how that affects us,” Venables said. “When we lost Kelly (Bryant) … that was a big loss. So that’s a great player to lose in two different phases of the game and I’m sure that affected them.”
It definitely affected the play of quarterback Ryan Finley. Usually pretty steady and accurate, he finished the game completing just 17 of 37 passes for 213 yards, while throwing his first interception of the season, which was returned for a touchdown.
Prior to that third-quarter interception, he threw 339 passes without an interception, the second longest streak in school and ACC history. For his career, Finley has thrown just nine interceptions in 687 attempts for a 1.31 interception avoidance mark, which would be a school record.
Last year, Finley opened the year with 139 consecutive passes without throwing an interception.
“I think his track record speaks for itself,” Venables said. “A year ago, I think coming into our game, he had not thrown a pick and then whatever the streak was it was pretty incredible in this day and age. It’s not like they’re running the triple option.
“He is very smart, very accurate, great poise, patient and talented. He is very talented. This is easily their best group of skill (players) that they have had and the best group of skill that we have seen this year.”