RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina State approaches its season opener at home Saturday against East Carolina knowing it has to replace graduated quarterback Ryan Finley, and this might be Matt McKay's opportunity to take the reins. The junior served as backup to the NFL draft pick last season, during which the Wolfpack averaged 33.8 points per game, but brings the potential to be a dual threat in the backfield after showing mobility in limited action in 2018.
TV: Noon ET, ACC Network. LINE: N.C. State -17
"He reminds me of Jacoby (Brissett) leadership-wise," N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren told reporters, referencing the former Wolfpack quarterback who now is the starter for the Indianapolis Colts. "He says stuff when he needs to say it. He motivates guys in his own way." The Wolfpack face a favorable schedule in the opening four weeks of the season before heading to Florida State on Sept. 28 and do have 12 starters returning, including seven on defense. N.C. State finished fourth in the ACC in scoring defense last season (24.9 points per game) but was shredded for 401 rushing yards in a 52-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl. The Pirates return 13 starters under new head coach Mike Houston and hope the amount of experience returning from last season's three-win team will help break a four-year bowl drought.
ABOUT EAST CAROLINA (2018: 3-9)
Six starters return on offense led by sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers, who impressed last season by passing for 1,785 yards and 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions and added 592 yards rushing. Junior running back Darius Pinnix Jr. likely will get a heavier workload this season after carrying just 56 times a season ago, while senior receiver Deondre Farrier (372 yards, two touchdowns) is the top returning pass catcher. The defense returns seven starters to a unit that allowed 37.3 points per game last season, anchored by junior linebackers Aaron Ramseur (66 tackles) and Bruce Bivens (61 tackles).
ABOUT N.C. STATE (2018: 9-4)
McKay completed 7-of-8 passes for 87 yards and rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown last season, and has been pushed in camp by redshirt freshman Devin Leary and sophomore transfer Bailey Hockman. Sophomore Ricky Person Jr. (471 yards, two touchdowns) is the top returning running back, while junior receiver Emeka Emezie caught 53 passes for 616 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. Senior linebacker Jarius Morehead leads the defensive returners with 81 tackles and three interceptions a season ago.
1. East Carolina junior K Jake Verity returns after hitting 19-of-21 field-goal attempts a season ago.
2. N.C. State gave up 261.1 yards passing per game last season, ranking 108th in the nation.
3. Wolfpack sophomore K Christopher Dunn returns after setting a school record with 120 points a season ago, and he begins the season with 15 consecutive made field goals.
PREDICTION: N.C. State 43, East Carolina 20