Notebook: Quick start, ground game puts away Syracuse

Jacey Zembal, Editor
The Wolfpacker

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NC State controlled the trenches to start off fast in its 33-25 win over Syracuse on Saturday.

NCSU controlled 10:50 of the 15-minute first quarter to race out to a 13-0 lead. The Wolfpack could have made it even worse, but had one drive stall at the nine-yard line and lead to redshirt junior kicker Carson Wise to make a 26-yard field goal.

Syracuse trailed by as much as 26-7 with 2:21 left in the second quarter. NC State’s rushing attack controlled the game, rolling up 47 carries for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Nyheim Hines rushed 19 times for a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown to lead the way.

“If you know the kid, the young man, he is so competitive,” NCSU head coach Dave Doeren said. “When you think about a track guy, they are all about their personal best. ‘Did I get my P.R., my P.R.?’ Each game is a measuring stick for him.

“That is why he is such a good football player. His competitiveness is elite.”

Syracuse’s passing attack lived up to its billing — 385 yards passing by redshirt junior quarterback Eric Dungey — but the Orange mustered just 59 yards on 30 carries, and 44 of it came from Dungey.

“That offense is a pain in the butt and Dungey is a hell of a player,” Doeren said. “We had them down in the first quarter and made them come back, which they hadn’t had to do this year.”

NC State senior defensive tackle Justin Jones was proud but tired after battling the Orange’s hurry-up Air Raid offense. Jones had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two quarterback hurries. The Wolfpack finished with three tackles and nine tackles for loss for minus-43 yards against the Orange.

“We were prepared for it,” Jones said. “In practice, Coach KP [defensive line coach Kevin Patrick], we pride ourselves on stopping the run. Our DNA is to stop the run.”

NC State had defeated Florida State 27-21 last Saturday, and wanted to show that the victory wasn’t a surprise, nor would there be the vaunted hangover from it.

“Our main goal was to come out here and start fast, and that is what we did,” Samuels said. “They jump out pretty fast and have a fast-paced offense. We knew they were going to score points because they have a good offense.”

“Because we went up there and beat Florida State, that we were going to come back down and lay an egg. We didn’t want that to happen.”

If NC State was worried about enjoying the FSU win too much, that won’t be as much of a concern over defeating Syracuse. NCSU hosts Louisville on Thursday night, so preparation starts Sunday morning.

“We’ll have fun tonight, but tomorrow morning, we’ll have to go back at it,” Jones said.

NC State is 2-0 in the ACC for the first time in 11 years, and understand the hype that will go into playing Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who is 2-0 against the Wolfpack.

“We aren’t done yet, but to start 2-0 in the conference play is big for our program moving forward,” Samuels said.

Senior Running Back Dakwa Nichols Out For Season

NC State fifth-year senior running back Dakwa Nichols suffered a season-ending knee injury against Syracuse on Saturday, ending his college career.

Nichols took a handoff off the right side and Syracuse linebacker Parris Bennett reached high and grabbed his facemask after a two-yard gain. Nichols’ knees buckled on the play, and he reached for his left one. The whip-like action was similar to a horse collar tackle. Teammates Nyheim Hines and Reggie Gallaspy came off the bench to be by their fallen teammate with 1:23 left in the first quarter.

Nichols was carted off the field and Doeren confirmed the news following the Wolfpack’s 33-25 win.

“It’s unfortunate that Dakwa Nichols is out for the season,” Doeren said. “I’m not sure the extent of the knee injury, but he’ll have surgery tomorrow [Sunday]. I feel for him.”

Hines was emotional in talking about his friend and teammates following the game, who he planned to go see.

“It hurt my soul,” Hines said. “It wasn’t a dirty play or anything. It was just unfortunate but the game of football.

“I held his hand until I couldn’t any longer. It really hurt me personally. I work with him hard. We practice together and we laugh and cry and joke together.”

The former Rockingham (N.C.) Richmond County High standout finished his Wolfpack career with 81 carries for 402 yards and three touchdowns. Senior H-Back Jaylen Samuels, who also plays running back at various points, said the team will play for Nichols from here on out.

“It’s tough,” Samuels said. “To see a person who works so hard and puts so much in just to be out there with us. It kind of hurt me.

“It’s football and things are going to happen. I hate to see that happen to him. Hopefully, we can finish out the season for him.”

Senior defensive tackle B.J. Hill was also sad about what happened to Nichols.

“Prayers to him and his family, and I hope he has a speedy recovery,” Hill said.

Doeren was asked if the chippiness in the second half was related to Nichols’ injury, and he didn’t think so, which the Wolfpack players confirmed. The tempers started flaring only after NCSU star defensive end Bradley Chubb was pushed after a play ended.

“It isn’t that we don’t like Syracuse, but we are brothers on our team,” Jones said. “Like anybody in a family did wrong to the family, the whole family will take up for it. That was my brother and my blood, and Chubb and I grew up together.”

Special Teams Still Work In Progress

NC State’s special teams continues to be a mixed bag.

The good included junior punter A.J. Cole having a terrific afternoon, averaging 51.8 yards on four punts, with three of them landing inside the 20-yard line.

Another positive was redshirt junior kicker Carson Wise drilled a 48-yard field goal, plus 26-yarder, as part of the Wolfpack’s big first quarter.

Wise was also part of some of the head-scratching concerns. He missed an extra point for the second time this season and also a 31-yard field goal. Doeren said Wise has been accurate in practice from 47 yards and in.

“I was really proud of him when he hit a really long field goal early in the game, but then he missed an extra point,” Doeren said. “I don’t know if it got in his head or what. We are making progress, but we stubbed our toe a bit.”

Syracuse punt returner Shawn Riley also has a 34-yard return, though the Wolfpack was strong on kick return coverage.

Doeren also pointed out that junior Kyle Bambard mishit a kickoff that led to strong field position for the Orange.

“That was a bad kick,” Doeren said.


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