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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | NC State

September 6, 2023

Dave Doeren has been the head coach at NC State for over a decade. I don’t care what program it is, if a coach is going into his eleventh season somewhere, he’s done a lot right.

That’s definitely true in this case with NC State having a winning season in eight of the last 10 and they are poised to make it nine in 2023.

They’ve never managed to get over the hump of winning more than nine games, though. Even when they’ve had plenty of NFL talent on the roster, the 2017 team had 11 future draft picks starting for them, they have never been able to make that jump from good to great.

This season doesn’t look much different.

They won 9 and 8 games in the previous two seasons, but lost a ton of production from those two teams through graduation and the transfer portal. They are 98th in returning production (56%), 77th on offense and 104th on defense. They recruit at an above average level and are 38th in 247Sports’ team talent index with 20 former four-star recruits on the roster.

It was an unimpressive start to the season for them with a win against UCONN on the road where the offense struggled. There was enough evidence from that game to suggest they aren’t a very good offense and aren’t likely to find success against the Irish.

The fact that they have won 16 of their last 17 home games is more than reason enough for Notre Dame to take this game very seriously and their defense will be the first true challenge of the season that Notre Dame has to overcome.

NC State is ranked 54th in F+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings). They are 79th on offense and 25th on defense.


NC State’s offense was flat out bad last season. They won eight games because of their defense.

The offense finished 99th in OF+ and they were 104th in points per drive.

Doeren’s solution for this was to bring in Robert Anae, the offensive coordinator at Syracuse last season. Prior to that he ran the offense at Virginia where his final season there was their best. They finished 15th in OF+ and had one of the most explosive passing games in the country.

That was the main impetus that saw them add former Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong via the transfer portal. Armstrong threw for over 4,400 yards in 2021 with Anae as his coordinator. Under a different staff in 2022, he threw for less than half that.

They are both looking to rekindle the magic they had in ‘21.

That may be tough to accomplish given the rest of the personnel on offense. It doesn’t help that they lost Oregon transfer Dawson Jaramillo, a projected starter at guard, who is out for the season. That combined with losing two All-ACC caliber players on the offensive line from last season leaves them weaker up front and they don’t have much distinguishable skill talent who are NFL prospects.

Anae has coached against Marcus Freeman’s and Al Golden’s defenses the last two seasons when he was at Virginia and Syracuse. Those offenses averaged 4.34 and 4.83 yards per play in those respective match ups and even though that game against UVa did not feature Armstrong (injured), those two offenses had more talent than the 2023 NC State offense.

It will be interesting to see what Anae does in this game. They threw seven screens, barely threw the ball down the field, and were reliant on Armstrong’s running ability against UCONN. At Virginia they could spread the ball around quite a bit because they had so much talent at receiver and at Syracuse last season it was all about their top guys. It’s uncertain who the top guys are for this NC State offense at the moment.

They are primarily an 11 personnel team (one back, one tight end), so Notre Dame will likely be in nickel for a good portion of this game.

Expected Strengths

They rushed for 209 yards on the ground vs UCONN. The backs and Armstrong ran hard, averaging 5.77 yards after contact. They had a combined 18 missed tackles forced.

Armstrong has good size and is shifty as a runner. He ran for 98 yards on nine designed rushing attempts against UCONN. He also scrambled 10 times and did well moving the chains when doing so.

He’s had rushes of 60 and 64 yards in his career and Notre Dame will have to account for him in the running game at all times.

Potential Weaknesses

They were 87th in EPA per rush last season so that week one rushing success could be a lot of fool’s gold. UCONN's run defense last season (92nd in yards per carry) was bad and they had 19 carries from Armstrong.

They were 79th in EPA per pass last season and that’s relevant because it had as much to do with the receivers as it did the quarterback. They don’t have the talent at receiver that scares anyone. They had zero explosive plays (20+ yards) in week one, needed Armstrong to scramble frequently to have success, and the leading receiver in the game was a true freshman who averaged nine yards per reception.

The average depth of target was only 6.7 yards and on the three deep pass attempts, they completed none of them.

Depth at WR and OL is a problem. They are getting someone back to possibly play guard this week who missed the opener, but he’s inexperienced. The offensive line was average at best to start the season and Armstrong was pressured on 35.1% of drop back vs UCONN. He ended up scrambling on seven of those plays.

In terms of numbers in the passing game, Armstrong looked very similar to the player he was in 2022 rather than 2021 version. Last season he was bad against the blitz (55% completions, 6.6 yards per attempt, and seven interceptions). In this game he completed 50% of his passes and averaged 4.8 yards per attempt when blitzed.

He was praised for his accuracy prior to last season, but 50.3% completions on non-screen passes in ‘22 is bad. It was 52.6% on non-screen passes against UCONN.

He was awful on 3rd down in ‘22 completing only 45% of his attempts and wasn’t even rated in the top-100 passers in the country. He ran more than he passed on 3rd down last week, but was 1 for 3 on 3rd and 6+.

Personnel notes

QB Brennan Armstrong

- 6-2 212

- Virginia transfer

- Massive dip in ‘22, YPA decreased by 2.4. Only 7 TDs to 12 INTS

- Struggles when taking away his first read, scrambles frequently

- 33 career interceptions

- Only 1 of 9 10+ yards down the field vs UCONN

- 22 career rushing touchdowns

QB MJ Morris

- 6-2 205

- 4-star prospect as a recruit

- 3 starts as a freshman, 7 touchdowns to 1 INT

- 2-1 in those games, but lost to a bad BC team at home

RB Jordan Houston

- 5-10 190

- Led the team in rushing in ‘22, 4.0 YPC

- 4.46 40, freaky numbers in the weight room

- 12 rushes of 15+ yards as a freshman, only 7 in the next three years

- 4.4 YPC vs UCONN

RB Delbert Mims

- 5-11 215

- 8 for 20 in the opener

RB Michael Allen

- 5-11 205

- 3 catches vs UCONN

- Got some wiggle

WR Kevin Concepcion

- 5-11 187

- True freshman slot

- Led the team in receiving in week one, mostly used in the screen game

- 3-star prospect, early enrollee who impressed in the spring

- Two forced missed tackles on four receptions

WR Keyon Lesane

- 5-11 202

- Leading returning receiver with 31 catch

- Use on jet sweeps and screen game, slippery in space

WR Dacari Collins

- 6-4 212

- Clemson transfer

- Former 4-star prospect with 16 catches at Clemson in ‘22

- 7 of his 17 career catches have come against UCONN

WR Terrell Timmons Jr.

- Hyped as potential WR1 for them heading into the season

- Added 20 pounds in the offseason

- Only two targets in season opener and four catches on 15 career targets in his career

WR Julian Gray

- 5-11 190

- Fast, but only a long play of 24-yards from scrimmage

TE Christopher Toudle

- 6-4 240

- Starter at the position, more of an in-line option

TE Trent Pennix

- 6-3 235

- 6th year player with 41 career receptions

- Below average run blocker who they lined up in the slot over 50% of the time in ‘22

LT Anthony Belton

- 6-6 335

- Starter at LT in eight games last season

- Their best returning OL, was good in every game except Clemson

- Two pressures given up vs UCONN OL Lyndon Cooper

- Missed the opener vs UCONN, expected back vs ND

- Played snaps at center and LT last season

RT Timothy McKay

- 6-4 312

- Lowest pass block efficiency on the team in true pass sets

OC Dylan McMahon

- 6-4 305

- 2021 Freaks List

- 3-year starter at guard, moved to center late last season

- Had a tough time vs Clemson’s DTs last season

- Much better run blocker, 51.5 grade by PFF on true pass sets

LG Anthony Carter Jr

- 6-3 305

- Two career starts, including week one vs UCONN

- Gave up three pressures in the bowl game against Maryland

- Not a good athlete, should be a match up that ND’s DTs win frequently

RG Derrick Eason

- 6-4 315

- Recruited by Mike Elston as a D-linemen, switched to OL at NC State

- Has been bad in pass pro, gave up two pressures vs UCONN

OG Kamen Smith

- 6-5 316

- True freshman

- Was in the mix in camp and most likely to play out of the young OL

- 855 in the composite rankings, had offers from five ACC programs

Key for Notre Dame

Make Armstrong pay and tackle well in space

If they need Armstrong to run 19 times like he did in week one, that is going to take a toll on him as the game goes along. They have to get him on the ground and contain him as a runner, but also put him in the dirt every chance they get.

So much of their offense was perimeter based and if Notre Dame tackles well in space, they are going to have a difficult time generating much in the passing game.


They are losing several defenders who were highly productive so this season is a bit of an adjustment, but they should still be very good under defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. They finished 14th and 11th in DF+ (combined FEI and SP+ ranking) in 2021 and 2022.

It’s 3-3-5 and Gibson is typically aggressive with his pressure packages, but wasn’t overly so against UCONN. They like to overload gaps with blitzers and outnumber blockers near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. They can do that because they have trust in the secondary.

The approach to playing Sam Hartman is going to be different than last season because the offenses are so different. Like just about everyone with Wake Forest, they blitzed a ton and pressured Hartman on 40.7% of his drop backs last season. He ended up throwing three interceptions in the game.

It’s worth noting that he had zero help from the running game, only 0.68 yards per carry. He’s going to get a lot more help than that this season and shouldn’t be in as many 3rd and longs. The average distance of Wake’s 16 3rd down opportunities was seven yards.

Expected Strengths

It’s a defense that creates a lot of havoc. They had a 22.6% havoc rate vs UCONN and were at 19.3% in ‘22.

They have corners who find the football, Payton Wilson is one of the better linebackers in the country, and they have talent up front. There are future NFL defenders at all three levels.

The starting corner tandem is one of the better ones the Irish will face this fall. They were 20th in EPA per pass last season and allowed only 4.2 YPA in the opener.

Six teams attempted 38 passes or more against them last season and each of those teams threw at least two interceptions. It's not a defense that you’d want to be in a lot of obvious passing situations against.

They were top-20 in 3rd down defense the last two seasons.

Potential Weaknesses

They mostly rely on blitz for the pass rush. If Notre Dame finds a match up they like, they can likely attack because they played about 40% man coverage last season.

UCONN had success running on them. They finished in the 90th percentile in EPA per rush, averaged 6.15 yards per carry, and NC State gave up a 71-yard touchdown.

They have two new starting linebackers and though the depth on the defensive line was praised by Gibson in the preseason, they weren’t very good against UCONN.

Personnel notes

DE Savion Jackson

- 6-2 290

- Only played 7 games in 2022 due to injury

- Missed the UCONN game, but expected back for Notre Dame

- Former blue-chip recruit who has underachieved

- Strong at the POA, but average as pass rusher

DE Davin Vann

- 6-2 278

- 10 havoc plays in 2022, 43 pressures

- Twitchy and explosive athlete at his size. 33 inch vert

- Sack in week one

NT CJ Clark

- 6-3 305

-Moved to nose from mostly playing 4i end

- Was not good against UCONN, below average athlete

DL Travali Price

- 6-4 270

- Rotation player, 25 pressures last season

LB Payton Wilson

- 6-4 235

- All-ACC

- 16.5 havoc plays in 2022

- Led the ACC in tackles in 2020

- Freaky athlete. 4.49 40

- Outstanding blitzer, but only rushed the passer once against UCONN

- 3 havoc plays against UCONN

LB Devon Betty

- 6-1 232

- Started 4 games in 2021, 8.5 Havoc plays

- backup last season who played less than 100 snaps

LB Jaylon Scott

- 6-1 225

- Lost 20 pounds and now a space backer

- Started the Louisville game in 2022 and didn’t play well vs the run

- Started six games in 2021 as a Will backer and was not good

S Devan Boykin

- 5-10 195

- Played 342 snaps last season as a back up

S Jakeen Harris

- 5-10 200

- Only five snaps vs UCONN, over 1,800 for his career

- Has had issues as a tackler in the run game

S Sean Brown

- 6-0 207

- 49 snaps in the opener almost matched his season total from last year

CB Aydin White

- 6-0 189

- All-ACC

- 4 INTs in 2022, 46.2 NFL passer rating against him

- 17 total havoc plays in 2022

- One of the best CBs ND will face

CB Shyheim Battle

- 3-year starter at CB

- 2nd team All-ACC for PFF in 2021

- 5 career interceptions, 30 career Havoc plays in three seasons

CB Brandon Cisse

- 6-0 182

- True freshman

Nickel back Robert Kennedy

- 5-10 185

- Old Dominion transfer

- 9 havoc plays in 2022

- had one of his strongest games against Virginia Tech

Key for Notre Dame

Handle Vann

As good as Wilson is, Vann is the key player Notre Dame has to contain. He can be a game wrecker vs the run or pass. They say they’re deep, but he’s a cut above everyone else in their front. If they can wear him down, they’ll have success running the football.

Special Teams

They lost Lou Groza Award winner Chris Dunne as their place kicker and replaced him K Brayden Narverson, who transferred from Western Kentucky. He was 15 of 21 last season with a long of 53 in 2022.

He was 1 for 2 to start the season and missed one from 49 vs UCONN. He missed a few chip shots last year as well.

P Caden Noonkester took over punting duties late last season and averaged 45.3 yards per punt in the first game. He was at 43.0 as a true freshman.

KOR Julian Gray had a 40-yard return against UCONN and Notre Dame should try to avoid as many returns from him as they can. He’s a threat.

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