top of page

Supermassive NC State Football Preview: Passing Game

The place where NC State is the most rebuilt heading into 2024 is in its passing game, and its big hits in the transfer portal were not exactly the rich getting richer. Receiver and quarterback were peak positions of need. State added seven pass catchers to the roster either through the portal or through traditional recruiting in addition to two new quarterbacks. It’s basically a brand new passing attack, and that is a welcome evolution. 

State did not move the ball well through the air for most of last season. The Pack, hard truths be told, had basically one wide receiver, and while Brennan Armstrong’s efforts as a player were supremely admirable, there’s no point in pretending like he wasn’t wildly inconsistent through the air. MJ Morris’ career arc was basically an attempt to see how consistently he could decline on a game-by-game basis. The personnel wasn’t there. 

The result was a team that couldn’t really build around a true drop back game, so it organized its passing offense in the latter parts of the year more around easy access throws, boots, and quicker developing plays. The Pack just didn’t have the downfield accuracy or the juice at outside receiver to pressure the third level of the defense super often, so it worked around it.  That figures to change this season with Grayson McCall arriving.

The men who do the throwing

With McCall, you really have to start with the accuracy. It’s his strongest attribute, and there are some extremely high level throws on his tape. When McCall can set his feet and drive the ball, he’s as accurate as any quarterback in America. His ability to stretch the field accurately may be the thing State fans welcome the most. His downfield accuracy is great, and that’s what stretching the field is really about. 

Arm strength for a quarterback is like mechanics for a jump shooter in basketball. It definitely matters, but it’s overrated and far from the most important thing. Stretching the field is not synonymous with arm strength. Any college quarterback can throw the ball 45 yards. Being accurate at that distance is what actually threatens the top of the defense. McCall’s arm strength is just kind of average, but he’s very accurate +20 yards downfield. Here’s an example of that. 

This throw is just insanely good. It's quite literally perfect. McCall's accuracy is a huge problem for defense's trying to press. His ball placement down the field is as good as any quarterback in America.

McCall has a full repertoire of throws. As a drop back quarterback, he is really strong attacking the second and third levels of the defense. Driving the ball into second-level windows on high-low reads and dropping the ball into the bucket on deep shot plays are the two types of throws he really excels at. He’s also a pretty comfortable back-shoulder thrower.

Weirdly, McCall can be a bit erratic on underneath touch throws. It was a pretty routine blemish on his tape that he would often not get enough air under the ball on slip screens, tight end leak plays around the goal line, and short stuff within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. 

Let's be clear, this should still have been a touchdown, but the running back here is wide open and McCall definitely overleads him and ups the degree of difficulty on the catch. This is something that showed up throughout the tape on these types of throws.

Generally, when he can set his base, he’s elite, and he’s comfortable moving in the pocket, recreating the pocket, and resetting his base, but he can be inconsistent when he has to throw off-platform. 

This is a great example of McCall's willingness to keep his eyes downfield when the scramble drill starts, something we'll talk about more in a minute. Because of the pursuit though, he's unable to set his feet and he throws high. It's a difficult angle on the move, but it's a definite miss

McCall is generally good at minimizing the need for these types of throws because he doesn’t get in a hurry very often. One of the chief critiques of Brennan Armstrong was how quickly his eyes would come down when the pocket started to collapse. McCall can run, but rarely does he look to run. As mentioned, he’s much better at keeping his eyes downfield and elevating in the pocket. That comfort in the pocket is a big strength for him as well, as you might expect from a quarterback who has played 35 years of college football. 

This is a QB run out with a snag concept, which is designed to stress the flat defender horizontally. It ends up being man coverage, so the play is in trouble at that point, but running this with jet motion helps create a natural pick that can still open the underneath route. App State defends this very well, switching these routes off at the mesh point. McCall doesn't like the picture as a result, so he looks to run, but he keeps his eyes up and finds his guy coming back toward the ball. It ends up being a touchdown on a play that was essentially dead before the scramble drill started.

There is a lot of this on tape.

Coastal's offensive line was kind of mediocre in pass protection. McCall doesn't like the front side picture here and there are guys in his grill pretty quickly. He actually does a really good job climbing in the pocket and working his eyes to the back side, and while the pocket collapses too fast for him to reset, getting his eyes to the back side allows him to find some funny business. This kid, or adult I guess, does not get sped up very often.

State should be pretty comfortable putting a lot on the plate of Grayson McCall. He doesn’t have a 6:1 TD-INT ratio by accident. He only has three multiple-INT games in his entire career, one of which I covered here. Most of the turnovers on that tape weren’t even bad decisions, just bad throws. He does a good job taking what is being given to him. Here’s an example.

Cover 1 man from the defense. McCall reads the pretty obvious blitz and checks into a slant route that replaces the blitzer, earning a wide open man.

McCall is a guy who is comfortable processing coverage looks, making checks, reading post-snap movement, etc. Quarterback is predominantly mental, which is part of what makes it so difficult to scout. McCall’s tape shows a player who handles this part of the game pretty well. 

One upshot of that is how good he is at picking apart a zone. Standing in the pocket and throwing off a defender’s movement is old hat for him. This is what McCall is really good at. His comfort level making pre and post-snap reads opens up a world of fun for NC State. This is an advanced pocket QB.

Here is McCall in a smash concept back in 2021 against Arkansas State.

Smash is a popular concept seeks to stack a corner route on top of a flat defender and some sort of underneath route under him. It's a high-low read on said corner, and you can see McCall's eyes track the corner after the snap. When he bites down on the underneath route, McCall reads his movement and throws the corner route.

Here is McCall operating a sail concept against a 3-deep 2-under fire zone pressure. This is a phenomenal play.

Arkansas State does a good job here not tipping its hand on the blitz and the back falls down in protection after misreading the blitz. The linebacker gets a pretty clean shot at McCall, but McCall is able to step past him and climb the pocket while still keeping his eyes on that left-side underneath defender. He's reading him, and when the defender climbs toward the shallower route, McCall drops the ball in to the intermediate route with bodies all around him. This is a high-level play to keep the eyes in the right spot while facing this kind of pressure.

I expect McCall will play behind protection this season that's above anything he's had, as well as in a scheme that's an improvement from last year. A lot of people blamed Tim Beck for a drop off in 2023, and while McCall's statistical drop off is exaggerated, the decrease in downfield accuracy is a product of how Beck got to his shot plays versus Chadwell. Coastal's base play under Chadwell was a variation of the triple option, and it would run RPO concepts like glance and stick and play-action shot concepts like yankee and mills from it. Safeties would bite down on underneath routes because of the glance and stick RPO threats and it would create deep-middle throwing windows for McCall. The QB is a great deep post thrower, and the threat of the option following the pull kept second level defenders conflicted.

Beck is just too in love with vertical concepts. It can work when you have guys that can win, Emeka Emezie being the poster child for it, but it's too personnel dependent. You saw what happened in Raleigh when Beck no longer had an outside threat. I do not expect State to run the triple option this year, but the combination of a more QB-friendly scheme and the expectation of strong line play is the key point in the confidence here. I think McCall is at worst the ACC's second best quarterback.

After McCall is freshman CJ Bailey. I might be in the minority here, but I actually thought Bailey was pretty poor in the spring game. He made a couple of nice plays, but generally was erratic. That’s nothing abnormal for a true freshman, but that’s kind of the point here. I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t concerned by the prospect of what’s behind McCall. At the same time though, this doesn’t really matter. When you’re in a conference-title-or-bust season, and NC State is, quarterback depth is just not a thing.

The men who do the catching (and ideally running)

State has eight new wide receivers this year, and that is really something. Here’s a tl:dr on those guys

Wesley Grimes

  • Speedy outside guy with good size

Justin Joly 

  • Large, physical Y-type with good hands who can break tackles

Noah Rogers

  • Mythological deity 

Keenan Jackson

  • Big outside guy whose primary feature is ball skills and winning one-on-one at the catch

Terrell Anderson

  • Big outside guy who has good hands and can do sports really good

Christian Zachary

  • Large outside receiver who has good ball skills and body control

Tank Boston

  • Smaller outside guy who can run from one place to another in a very short amount of time

Jonathan Paylor

  • Extremely athletic slot receiver who is very fast and dangerous in space.

The obvious upgrades at outside receiver should stand out right away. A true home run threat on the outside is something State has not had in years. It has generally preferred a more physical player out there in the Kelvin Harmon or Emeka Emezie mold, and you can’t really hate on the results with those players, but the Pack has turned a page here. An ability to separate from coverage has become more of the targeted characteristic of State’s pass-catching cadre. 

Noah Rogers and Wesley Grimes both bring some semblance of this. Grimes had started to carve out his space in Winston-Salem last year after being buried on the depth chart in 2022. He caught a modest 20 balls but averaged 17 yards per catch. The transfer wideout has good straight-line speed and changes speeds well, which helps make him an effective route runner. I expect to see Grimes running a lot of go routes, fades, and deep posts this season. 

Noah Rogers has found his way home after a brief escapade in Ohio. Rogers’ storyline as a local blue-chip recruit is well known at this point, but he still has to prove it on the field. I’m not going to try and predict what this season will be for him when there is no collegiate tape on the man, but the stuff that is available (spring game, high school highlights against future accountants, other scouting reports) details a pretty versatile skill set in a sizable frame. 

Rogers is fast and he is not small, and that combo is the bedrock for his NFL potential. He measures at 6’2 200 and has recorded 40 times in the sub-4.5 range. He’s not just fast though, he’s explosive, which is probably more important. He accelerates well out of his breaks, which helps him create separation regularly and get the DB’s hips to turn against soft coverage, and he’s big enough to sustain contact and not get knocked off his route. 

He has also shown great body control and ability to high point the ball. Rogers definitely appears to be a deadly back-shoulder catcher with his combo of body control and ability to push defenders up the field. Again, I don’t want to put the hype train in too high of a gear for a guy who has barely played a college down, but Rogers was not the number one player in NC for no reason, and he didn’t get offered a bunch of cash to go to a school that could pick any receiver in America for no reason.   

State also brings back Dacari Collins, and those three are most likely to lead the charge at outside receiver. Collins really came on toward the end of last season with State desperate for a heartbeat at that position, and he was responsible for three explosive pass plays over the final four games, which was second on the team over that stretch and I’m pretty sure also second on the team for the whole season. Collins is never going to be a separation guy, but he’s massive and does have a chance to be a contested catch guy. 

His size is an issue for defensive backs and State wants to leverage this, but Collins has not to this point demonstrated the elite catch radius and body control that receivers of his size thrive off. To be fair, he hasn't had a tremendous amount of opportunities. If he can become a player that can win in contested catch situations, it could become a big deal for State. If he can't, he may enter the Devin Carter zone where it's not clear what problem he creates for the defense.

As mentioned, State also has five freshmen who could get on the field in some capacity. Of the five, Terrell Anderson and Jonathan Paylor are most likely to see snaps. I like that Doeren got really aggressive in bringing in talent here, and kudos to the staff for such a successful recruiting haul that included adding Keenan Jackson at the last second. Not all of these players will be on the roster in two years, but depth creates competition, and competition creates a winner. State has a talent base here now and it can let the best players win out instead of trying to plug holes in the portal. 

On the inside, there is a man going ‘round taking names, and he decides who to free and who to blame. Kevin Concepcion is back for another year of making ACC-caliber (or UNC-caliber) defensive backs look like high school backups. Concepcion is one of the best route runners in America, and it had been a long time since someone in an NC State uniform could separate from coverage like the now sophomore. KC may not touch the ball quite as much as he did last year. The sheer volume started to take a toll on his body, and State has a lot more guys that are better than replacement level players. But I fully expect him to be among the ACC leaders in explosive plays and McCall's number one guy. McCall throwing the slot fade to KC will be rated R.

The final guy that needs a whole paragraph is Justin Joly, the UConn transfer tight end-ish. Joly is basically a big receiver, and he really stood out last year on a garbage team. The junior averaged 7.5 catches per game over the final four games for the Huskies, and he comes to State with a really compelling role fit. 

UConn used Joly in a lot of RPO concepts similar to what State dabbled in last year and will probably run a lot this year. Joly has strong hands and can make traffic catches, but the trait that really stands out is his ability to shed tackles. He has tremendous potential as a yards-after-catch guy, and State is going to get him into these spots. 

Here he is running the slide route in a slide RPO concept that State ran last year and that Grayson McCall has ran 1324320598 times in his career.

When this play makes it to the flat like it does above, it gets your tight end in space, and Joly is built for this kind of stuff. He is the kind of player that you can line up in a lot of different places and get the creative juices flowing with. 

Joly doesn’t play much from a three-point stance like a true tight end, but you can really line him up anywhere from a number one on the outside all the way to an H spot and into the backfield, and you can get to so many different concepts from so many different places. His UConn tape shows some of this already. It feels like a nice little preview of what State is going to do with him. 

The men who do the protecting 

State finished up last season 65th in sack rate, which is nearly perfectly in the middle nationally. This number is obviously affected by a lot more than just offensive line play. Armstrong certainly made a habit of escaping the pocket, often too quickly, and he was sacked just 13 times in 9 starts, which is decent. MJ Morris was much worse at dealing with pressure and was sacked nearly twice as often. 

Protection will be a big storyline this year, because if you give Grayson McCall a clean pocket, he will pick a defense to pieces. He is simply too put together of a quarterback with too much of a run game supporting him to beat him without making the pocket uncomfortable.

McCall is good against pressure. He has a good process and succeeds at IDing blitzes, checking, and is very comfortable quickly getting to a one-on-one shot or a free access throw, which we saw him do in the spring game. He had a pretty decent showing at UCLA last year in a game where his pass protection was just comically overmatched.  

As discussed in the running game preview, State returns four starters on the offensive line and adds a veteran center with 31 starts at Notre Dame. I won't rehash the offensive line depth chart because we already did that in the running game preview, but it's again noteworthy how much the line improved in year one under Tujague from Uconn to the end of the season. If that trend continues for Jacarrius Peak, State could have one of the better tackle combos in the ACC.

One thing to note here is the addition of a veteran back in Jordan Waters. State had some issues at times with its pass protection from its running backs, most notably Michael Allen, who really struggled. Raphael was better, and Waters adds veteran presence to the room.

The scheme

Grayson McCall cut his teeth in an RPO-heavy offense under Jamey Chadwell and Willy Korn. RPO is part of basically 100% of offenses in college football, save maybe the service academies, but NC State should be high volume this year. McCall is just really good at this, and he’s paired with what should be a strong run game and some really strong interior receivers with guys like Joly, who will probably be involved in a lot of these. 

I feel very comfortable saying State will operate a variety of RPO sets at a high volume and do so successfully. Robert Anae put a lot of proof of concept on the field last year with reference to his ability to adjust the offense to his personnel. This team is really cut out for this stuff. The number of true drop backs for McCall might be lower than you think. Don’t be surprised to see a run first team whose core concepts are of the single-read RPO variety. But at the same time, McCall is comfortable with basically whatever, so State can get into anything it needs to get into. That’s the beauty of Grayson McCall. 

His statistical backslide last year coincided with a system change under Tim Beck. It was much more of a traditional spread attack. Contrary to what some people may say though, McCall did not suck. He was actually pretty productive, completing almost 70% of his passes, averaging over 8.5 yards per attempt, and throwing for 2,000 yards in seven games. He basically had one stinker against Georgia Southern where he threw four picks. He threw two total in the other six games.

State has the capacity to be versatile and dynamic from a scheme standpoint. McCall can be effective in so many different concepts that the offense should be pretty malleable. Beyond that, one change you probably can bet on is State being more vertical in the passing game. This team is built much better to attack the third level of the defense. Don't be surprised to see Anae blend underneath RPO concepts with shot concepts and let McCall do his thing. The Pack has the receivers now to really threaten the top of the defense. Some of the downfield concepts that McCall threw well in Myrtle Beach could really pop when those route combos start running through KC, Noah Rogers, and Justin Joly.

Want more from Trinity Road Times? Join our Patreon, get access to our exclusive Discord server, and come discuss with us.

Check out our other previews



bottom of page