N.C. State leads the country in time of possession, ranks No. 10 in third-down conversions and No. 25 in rushing offense.
Those are all positive signs for the Wolfpack’s offense during a 3-0 start to the season, even with some injury issues on the offensive line.
The question for N.C. State is how much of the strong statistical start can be attributed to the level of competition and how much of it is what the Wolfpack is doing?
N.C. State’s strength of schedule ranks No. 176, out of 253 Division I teams (combined total in Bowl Subdivision and Championship Subdivision), according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings.
South Alabama (2-1), No. 141 in the Sagarin ratings, won’t boost that ranking. Troy (119) is the highest-rated team of the four on N.C. State’s nonconference schedule.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said with a young team – he pointed out that 23 freshmen have played for the Wolfpack this season – the schedule makes sense.
“I think we’re doing the right things for our team,” Doeren said. “I’m not going to apologize for being 3-0.”
Doeren said being unbeaten, and confident, beats the alternative.
“You can look across the country and look at teams that maybe scheduled a different way that are sitting there at 1-2 or 0-3,” Doeren said. “Walk in the locker room right now and see how positive they feel.”
The Wolfpack does feel good, Doeren said, after its third straight road win and six straight win overall, going back to last season.
The health of the offensive line is a concern for Doeren with one more nonconference game left and the ACC schedule ready to start on Oct. 3.
N.C. State had to get creative with its blocking combinations in 38-14 win at Old Dominion and will have to again for Saturday’s trip to South Alabama.
Left guard Alex Barr missed the ODU game with a foot injury and will probably sit out against South Alabama, Doeren said.
Junior guard Bryce Kennedy started for Barr last game but left in the second half with a possible concussion. N.C. State finished the ODU game with Joe Thuney, the starting left tackle, at left guard and redshirt-freshman Tyler Jones at left tackle.
Doeren said both Thuney and Jones can play either guard or tackle spot.
“We’ll get a feel for what we think is the best way to play them,” Doeren said.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Bradbury is also an option at guard for Saturday’s game.
N.C. State rushed for 256 yards, and four touchdowns, in the road win over the Monarchs. For the season, the Wolfpack averages 235.3 rushing yards per game, second to Georgia Tech in the ACC and 25th in the country.
The strong ground game, led by junior Matt Dayes (116.7 rushing yards per game), has helped the Wolfpack hold the ball for an average of 40 minutes and 36 seconds per game, the best mark in the country. N.C. State has had more than 40 minutes of possession in each of the first three games. The Wolfpack didn’t have any such games last year and only one in Doeren’s first season in 2013.
“I think our time of possession has been a factor for a lot of reasons: wearing down defenses and also helping our defense against up-tempo teams,” Doeren said.
The third-conversion number (21 of 42, 50 percent) might wind up winning more games for the Wolfpack. N.C. State 9 of 16 in Saturday’s win over Old Dominion, while holding the Monarchs to 3 of 12.
Doeren said ranking highly in those categories is good but there are really only two stats he emphasizes.
“The most important thing is not turning the ball over and scoring points,” Doeren said. “As long as we keep doing those two things that’s what matters the most to us.”
N.C. State’s offense has only turned the ball over once in three games, a fumble against Eastern Kentucky. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 156 attempts going back to last year’s loss to Georgia Tech.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio