NC State aims for consistency on D, rebound on offense

Coach Dave Doeren enters his 11th season in Raleigh

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who transferred to NC State from Virginia during the offseason, responds to a reporter's question during ACC Football Kickoff last week in Charlotte. (Jeff Siner / The Charlotte Observer via AP)

NC State had a volatile football season last year, starting four different quarterbacks in an 8-5 record that included wins over rivals UNC and Wake Forest.

“I think we performed really well last year considering four quarterbacks had to play,” said coach Dave Doeren at last week’s ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte. “There’s never been a team in the history of college football that’s won eight games with four quarterbacks. When we sat in this meeting a year ago, we’d have all said that eight wins was not what we were hoping for.

“The team changes a lot when you lose a quarterback, another quarterback and another quarterback. I look at last year as a huge success with the difficulties we faced. Would have loved to not have those challenges and been at the championship game and all that, but it’s not the reality of sports.”

NC State will be hoping for a bit more stability this season with 11 starters returning and the infusion of some new blood too.

A key question for the team though will be how the quarterback room shakes out. Last season, freshman MJ Morris was forced into action and showcased his talent, but the Wolfpack brought in former Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong from the transfer portal this offseason.

“From my standpoint, I liked how he just came in, put his head down and went to work,” Doeren said of Armstrong. “You see how he cheers on his teammates when they win things, his excitement level for that, how hard he competed in spring ball and seeing him coaching guys and just the way he goes about his business is where the respect for me is.”

The Wolfpack made another addition from the Cavaliers during the offseason, bringing in Robert Anae as offensive coordinator.

“[Anae] just lets me be me,” Armstrong said of his former coordinator at UVA. “I don’t feel confined or that I’m locked up at all. I’m just allowed to play how I want to play. I think that he’s got a good idea on how I play and my thoughts, and I have a good idea on how he thinks. Everyone talks about the running quarterback and he lets me run the ball, he doesn’t care. He designs things for those things too, and I think I’m at my best when I’m able to just play free and not worry about those types of things.”

While the offense is hoping to bounce back, NC State was again carried last season by its defense, led by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

“[Gibson]’s system is unique,” Doeren said. “Not a lot of people run the 3-3-5. He understands the ins and outs of it really, really well. He knows how people are going to attack him, he knows what the answers are before they happen. He has a good progression, not just in teaching, but when to add things in and when it’s time to change things up.

“He’s a great chemistry guy, not just with players but with staff. The chemistry on that side of the ball, Tony deserves a lot of credit for that. When he was promoted four years ago to defensive coordinator, he changed a lot of things, and those things have paid off for us.”

Isaiah Moore, Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas made up one of the best linebacking groups in the country, but with Moore and Thomas having moved on to the NFL, the defense will have to rely on the experience of its backfield more this season.

“I expect our defense to be No. 1 in passing defense throughout the whole league,” said cornerback Aydan White. “We just have a lot of depth coming back and experience. For example, our corners, safeties and nickels, we all watch film together and keyed in on things that we need to do for the season. Definitely having that experience all around can help. If a man goes down, we have that next man coming up.”

Even though NC State is looking for a more balanced approach this season, the odds are that it will once again be the defense leading the charge.

“As a defense, everyone said it was a good year, but we didn’t meet our requirements,” said Wilson. “We didn’t win every game and we put that on ourselves because people were able to score. So just getting back to that mentality of nobody scores a point on us. It doesn’t really matter what happens on the offensive side of the ball because if our opponents can’t score, they can’t win. Just trying to carry that intensity and violence over the year that we played with last year.”