On the day after Christmas, NC State put the finishing touches on Dave Doeren’s fourth season in Raleigh — a 41-17 shellacking of Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl which saw the Wolfpack improve to 7-6.
The game’s MVP was an easy selection: tight end Jaylen Samuels, who set an Independence Bowl record with three touchdown receptions. In total, Samuels caught six passes for a career-high 104 yards — his second 100-yard receiving game this season.
That performance came as no surprise to folks who have been following NC State football the last three seasons; all Jaylen Samuels does is score touchdowns. The junior from Mallard Creek High School has tallied 30 touchdowns over his last 26 games. He now has 15 career touchdown receptions and 16 more scores on the ground.
That’s not all, though. Samuels has attempted one pass during his career in Raleigh, and it was a notable toss — a 59-yard touchdown to Stephen Louis in the win last month against North Carolina.
Samuels is as reliable as he is explosive, which makes him a special player and an intriguing NFL prospect. He most frequently lines up in the slot, according to Raleigh’s News & Observer, but it does not matter what position you label him as or where he is located on the field — Samuels will get open.
Prior to the win over Vandy, Samuels had been targeted a team-leading 71 times this season, according to Football Study Hall (target data not yet available for the Independence Bowl). He managed to haul in 69 percent of those passes. That’s good for second on the Wolfpack’s roster, but it’s actually a slight decline over what he did as a sophomore, when he hauled in 81.3 percent of the passes sent his way.
For the second season in a row, Samuels was NC State’s leading receiver, and over half of his 55 receptions (28) went for first downs. This offense was centered around the running abilities of Matt Dayes and the dual-threat capabilities of Samuels.
While Samuels carried the ball just 33 times this season, he still finished tied for 14th in the ACC in terms of rushing touchdowns with six. He was the only player in the ACC to have more than five rushing touchdowns on fewer than 50 carries.
The jet sweep has frequently been how Samuels has burned opponents: The Wolfpack enters the red zone and flips the ball to its all-purpose star as he hits the edge for six points. It has been clockwork.
However, in the win over the Commodores, it was the screen game that proved to be Vanderbilt’s poison. Two of the junior’s three touchdowns came on tunnel screens, including a 55-yarder — the longest reception of Samuels’ career. Watch those red cleats run.
The tunnel screen was a new look for Samuels, but it worked out on Monday in Northwest Louisiana. It helps, of course, when you have great blocking and the majority of the defenders have been misdirected to the other side of the field. Once he has the ball, Samuels knows what to do with it.
Mobility of Scelfo and Bradbury the key to JaySam's second TD, the 55-yarder. Well-designed screen pic.twitter.com/dzIy2gwu1Y
— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) December 27, 2016
After being left off of the preseason All-ACC first team, Samuels landed on the league’s Honorable Mention team last month. The ACC has a plethora of fantastic tight ends, but it’s tough to find justice in one of the ACC’s statistical darlings being left off of one of the first three teams this season, especially after he put up numbers similar to his first-team All-ACC campaign in 2015.
Alas, Samuels will have to settle for another prolific season as he continues to climb multiple ladders in NC State’s record book. The junior could depart for the NFL, which would cave the Wolfpack on offense. If he does return to Raleigh for another trip around the sun in an NC State uniform, Samuels will likely be featured more than ever before.