Something didn’t add up. NC State returned multiple starters along the offense line, led by senior center Garrett Bradbury; even with the early departure of Nyheim Hines to the NFL, this team was supposed to be effective at running the football. Through the first three games of the 2018 season, though, NC State struggled on the ground: 96 carries for 325 yards (3.4 per carry) and six touchdowns.
While NC State was doing an outstanding job protecting Ryan Finley and the pass game, it struggled to create running holes. Even after the win over Virginia, which saw the Pack improve on the ground, NC State still ranked 129th in the FBS in Opportunity Rate, per Football Study Hall. Prior to the win over Boston College, State created five or more yards of running space on only 33.9 percent of its carries.
It’s reductive to simply point out the most visible, obvious change to the offense; however, it seems like the addition of freshman running back Ricky Person Jr. to the rotation has changed things for the better.
After dealing with injuries in the spring (forearm) and fall (ankle), Ricky Person played sparingly, if at all, in the first three games of 2018. In back-to-back home wins, though, Person broke out; the freshman from Wake Forest carried the ball 31 times, combined, for 200 yards (6.5 yards per carry) against Virginia and Boston College.
Person has speed and visions; behind his offensive line, he’s found room to roam. Over the last two games, 10 of Person’s 31 carries (32.2 percent) have gone for 10+ yards. He also now has two carries of 20+ yards, including a career-long run of 38 yards.
For the season, Person has 11 carries that have gone for a first down — most of which (eight) have come on first down.
Next to Person, it appears that No. 1 running back Reggie Gallaspy II has started to pick it up, too. In the win over BC, Gallaspy went for 104 yards (and two touchdowns) on 25 carries — all of which were career highs.
It’s obviously a massive boon to NC State’s offense for Reggie Gallaspy and Ricky Person to get going. The Wolfpack puts so much pressure on opposing defenses with a passing attack that goes six deep at the receiver position and features a future NFL Draft pick at quarterback. Plus, Ryan Finley is a whiz when it comes to play fakes — disguising ball location and smoothly snapping into his throwing motion. If the Pack.
Finley didn’t have his A-game against UVA, which included a couple head-scratching interceptions. However, he still found a groove with his top two targets: Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers.
Kelvin Harmon hauled in 7 combined touchdown and first downs today in NC State's victory over Boston College pic.twitter.com/CwvlD98Hn5
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 6, 2018
According to Pro Football Focus, Finley was a combined 19-of-21 on pass attempts for Harmon or Meyers: 227 yards, two touchdowns and 11 first downs. This is insanely efficient.
Jakobi Meyers also had a strong game yesterday on the receiving end of Ryan Finley passes pic.twitter.com/r6VwmzoCAA
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 7, 2018
There are currently 23 players in the ACC this season with at least 15 receptions, 200 yards receiving and one touchdown. Four of those receivers play for NC State — the most of any ACC program.