“It has been a long year for all of us,” head coach Dave Doeren said after his NC State Wolfpack were obliterated by the North Carolina Tar Heels 41-10 to finish a disappointing 4-8 (1-7) campaign. The Wolfpack got off to a good start against their bitter rival on Senior Day, leading 10-6 at halftime. But once again, they had trouble in the third quarter (outscored 28-0) and couldn’t put together a four-quarter game.
The Wolfpack entered the season coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, but injuries, inexperience, and inconsistency made 2019 the worst year in Doeren’s tenure since his first season in 2013 (3-9). Whether it was on the defensive or offensive side of the ball, the Wolfpack had very few positive moments. Consequently, Doeren has said that “there’s a million things” he needs to evaluate regarding the entirety of the season. As a result, he and his staff are already preparing and hoping for a “tremendous offseason” and anticipating better results in 2020.
NC State Already Preparing for 2020
Looking to Get Healthy
There’s no questioning the fact that injuries played an important role in the Wolfpack’s struggles this season. NC State used 45 starters in 2019, which was the most by any “Power Five” team. The injuries that stung the most were to the Pack’s veteran players and secondary. The injuries to their veterans included impact players like senior left tackle Tyrone Riley, junior right tackle Justin Witt, junior tight end Dylan Autenrieth, junior cornerback Chris Ingram, senior defensive end James Smith-Williams, and senior cornerback Nick McCloud. These injuries forced younger players to fill in, even though they weren’t fully ready to take the reigns. But even the younger players weren’t exempt from the injury bug. As a result, NC State was down to its fifth and sixth cornerbacks by the final stretch of the season.
“It’s really hard to have success when you have inconsistent lineups and different guys out there every week,” sophomore receiver Thayer Thomas said.
Getting healthy will be a major concern for NC State this offseason. The good news is that some of the injured veteran players will be back next season after taking medical redshirts. They will look forward to a good offseason that allows them to rest and rehab. And hopefully, it will allow the Wolfpack to have some consistency in their starting lineup in 2020.
Cleaning Things Up
Injuries played a significant role in the 4-8 season, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The Wolfpack struggled with turnovers and penalties throughout the season. NC State was a league-worst minus-16 in turnover margin in eight ACC games. The Pack’s defense went the first six ACC games without creating a turnover. After being one of the least penalized teams in 2018 (4.6 per game), they were flagged an average of 5.9 times per game.
“We made a lot of mistakes throughout the whole year,” redshirt freshman linebacker Payton Wilson said. “There’s stuff we’ve got to get fixed. We can’t really blame it on the injuries or how young we were.”
This is yet another area that Doeren and his staff are working to clean up in the offseason.
It didn’t take Doeren long to make a change on the defensive side of the ball, as he fired associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable shortly after the season ended. Huxtable had been Doeren’s primary coordinator since 2013. But after giving up 40 points in five of their eight losses and finishing the season ranked 101st in pass defense (255.5 yards per game) and 83rd in scoring defense (30.1 points per game), it was time for a change. Former West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson came to Raleigh before the 2019 season and implemented his 3-3-5 defensive alignment. After the dismissal of Huxtable, Gibson was promoted to defensive coordinator and will now be the primary defensive play-caller.
“I’m very honored and excited to be named the defensive coordinator,” Gibson said in a statement released by the school. “I look forward to helping continue the growth of these young men and to be a part of a great staff here at NC State.”
Another question is whether there will be changes to the offensive side of the ball. After Eli Drinkwitz left Raleigh to take the Appalachian State job, Doeren promoted running backs coach Des Kitchings and wide receivers coach George McDonald to be co-offensive coordinators. Unfortunately, their conflicting approaches seemed to have had a negative result on the offense. NC State ranked 86th in total offense and 106th in scoring in the first year of the new system. In the Pack’s eight games against ACC opponents this season, they only managed to score three or more touchdowns twice. If the Wolfpack hope to get back to their offensive success from the past, a change at the coordinator position might be the first step.
The Future is Still Bright
Although this past season was a tough one to swallow for Wolfpack fans, the future is still bright in Raleigh. Having to learn on the fly will help the young players develop quicker, and it will also allow them to evolve into leaders. But for now, Doeren and the Pack will focus on getting healthy and improving in the offseason.