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Analyzing the year in NC State football: Offense

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NC State completed the season with a 9-4 record, matching a school-best six ACC wins along the way, and capping the year with an authoritative 52-31 win over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

As we look back on the 2017 season that was, we analyze what worked well and what struggled on offense.

What worked well

Moving the football and scoring

Ultimately, that is the name of the game. NC State averaged 32.2 points and piled up 451.8 yards per contest. The latter figure ranked 25th nationally at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and is the best total produced since the 2003 offense led by a then-senior quarterback Philip Rivers produced a school-record 453.2 yards per game.

Only in 2015, when the Pack averaged 33.2 points a game, did it score more in Dave Doeren’s five years at the helm.

Much of the improved production — NC State averaged 416.7 yards per contest a season ago — can be attributed to the passing attack spearheaded by redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley. NCSU averaged 275.4 passing yards per game, which ranked 24th nationally. The 3,520 yards through the air accumulated during the season is the fourth most in school history and the most under Doeren.

Finley threw for 3,518 of those yards, fourth most in a single season at NC State, trailing only current or former NFL starters Philip Rivers, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson. Sophomore Kelvin Harmon became just the fourth wide receiver in school history to have at least 1,000 receiving yards, joining former NFL players Torry Holt, Jerricho Cotchery and Koren Robinson.

Third down conversions

NC State converted on 44.68 percent of third downs (84 of 188), a rate that ranked 24th in the FBS. It continues a strong trend under Doeren of being able to move the chains on third downs. A year ago, NCSU converted 43.75 percent of the time. In 2015, that rate was 41.11 percent, and in 2014 it was the best in five seasons under Doeren at 45.76 percent.

Protecting the quarterback

NC State led the ACC and was 10th nationally with just 14 sacks allowed on the season. After yielding at least 29 sacks in each of the first three seasons under Doeren, the Pack has allowed just 31 sacks in the last two combined, which coincided with the arrival of Dwayne Ledford as NC State’s offensive line coach.

The Pack tied for the fourth fewest sacks allowed in a season in school history. Dick Sheridan’s teams in 1988 (nine sacks) and 1989 (11 sacks) set the standard, while the Gator Bowl-winning team allowed just 11 sacks in 2002, although that season may be most impressive since it counted 14 games versus just 11 in the other two mentioned years.

Controlling the clock

NC State had an average time of possession of 32:44.54 per game this year and led all ACC teams not named Georgia Tech, who has a triple-option offense, in the category. The Pack was also 12th nationally in the category.

What didn’t work as well

Red zone efficiency

NC State left too many points on the board, once again, this season. The Pack converted just 73.3 percent of the time in the red zone, 120th nationally out of 130 teams and last in the ACC. Unfortunately, this was actually a drop from a season ago when NC State also struggled (74.07 percent conversion rate that also was ranked 120th in the country).

Field goal kicking certainly played a role in the struggles. NC State missed eight field goals from within 38 yards. However, it is also worth noting that the Pack only scored touchdowns on 60.0 percent of the time in the red zone, which ranked 73rd in the FBS.

Running the football consistently

Make no mistake, NC State had a good season running the football. It rushed for a healthy 176.38 yards per game (50th in FBS) and averaged 4.62 yards per carry (tied for 46th). Junior running back Nyheim Hines finished with 1,112 yards despite missing most of the Notre Dame game, a good chunk of the Wake Forest contest and playing less than 100 percent against Clemson. It was the eighth highest single-season total at NCSU.

The rushing totals were also an improvement from a year ago, when NCSU produced 156.2 yards a game and 4.0 yards per rush. That said, NCSU also allowed 79 tackles for loss, which was tied for 85th nationally.

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