Sunday, August 21, 2011

season preview: NC State

North Carolina State Wolfpack


9/3: Liberty
9/10: @ Wake Forest
9/17: South Alabama
9/22: @ Cincinnati (Thu.)
10/1: Georgia Tech
10/8: Central Michigan
10/15: BYE
10/22: @ Virginia
10/20: @ Florida State
11/5: North Carolina
11/12: @ Boston College
11/19: Clemson
11/26: Maryland

Skip: Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: Mike Glennon (rJr.)
RB: James Washington (Jr.)
FB: Taylor Gentry (Sr.)
WR: Jay Smith (5Sr.)
WR: T.J. Graham (Sr.)
TE: George Bryan (5Sr.)
LT: R.J. Mattes (Jr.)
LG: Duran Christophe (rSo.)
C: Camden Wentz (Jr.)
RG: Zach Allen (rJr.)
RT: Mikel Overgaard (5Sr.)

DE: McKay Frandsen (Jr.)
DT: Markus Kuhn (5Sr.)
DT: J.R. Sweezy (5Sr.)
DE: Jeff Rieskamp (5Sr.)
SLB: D.J. Green (So.)
MLB: Audie Cole (5Sr.)
WLB: Terrell Manning (rJr.)
CB: David Amerson (So.)
CB: Justin Byers (5Sr.)
SS: Earl Wolff (rJr.)
FS: Brandan Bishop (Jr.)

K: Niklas Sade (Fr.)
P: Will Bauman (Fr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Tom O'Brien (5th season)

Media prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division


2010 1st team: TE George Bryan
2010 2nd team: QB Russell Wilson, WR Owen Spencer
2010 HM: OT Jake Vermiglio, DT J.R. Sweezy
2011 preseason: TE George Bryan

(Italics indicate departed player.)

NC State had a surprisingly good season last year, but nobody gets to go through the offseason without some kind of controversy any more, and the Pack got to deal with the departure of Russell Wilson, who ultimately chose Wisconsin as a transfer destination.  Because when you think of Wisconsin, you think "mobile, running quarterbacks."


With Wilson and most of his receivers gone, NC State is working with an almost entirely revamped offense.  The heir at quarterback is Mike Glennon, younger brother of the Sean Glennon that pisses off Hokies fans by daring to exist.  As with seemingly most of the ACC's quarterbacks this year, Glennon's game experience is minimal to put it generously, though he's been preparing as QB-in-waiting for quite some time now.  Wilson's should-I-stay-or-should-I-go routine wasn't unlike Brett Favre's in Green Bay, as Aaron Rodgers patiently waited for a couple years and then was finally handed the job, Favre or no Favre.  Glennon's backup is one-time UVA commit (and now redshirt freshman) Tyler Brosius.

Wilson was also NC State's second-leading rusher, an area in which the Pack absolutely must improve.  It won't be easy with leading rusher Mustafa Greene out until at least October with a foot injury; the starter in his stead is James Washington, who was at best unspectacular last year, and not very productive overall.  NC State had the conference's worst running game last season at just 3.44 yards per attempt; Greene, when healthy, is their best bet at improving on that, and he is a good passing game option too with 30 catches in 2010.

The passing game was the savior of the offense; Wilson threw for over 3,500 yards in 2010, and 28 touchdowns.  All-conference tight end George Bryan, however, is the only primary weapon that returns.  Bryan will be a terrific safety valve for Glennon as the rest of the receiving situation sorts itself out.  T.J. Graham is a second-team all-American sprinter on the NC State track team and offers a good starting point in that respect.

The offensive line is experienced with returning starters, but that may not be the best thing; besides the running game woes, the Pack also allowed over three sacks per game, good for 112th in the country - and that was with a mobile quarterback.  R.J. Mattes slides over from right to left tackle to replace the departed Jake Vermiglio, the one bright spot on the line, and Mikel Overgaard steps back in at right tackle after a 2010 season aborted by injury.  Left guard is a problem spot, with usual starter Andrew Wallace out for maybe half the season with a knee injury that he suffered in bowl practice last year, and backup Duran Christophe questionable for the start of the season as well with a meniscus tear.  Mattes has played guard and could slide over, but that would leave a redshirt freshman at the all-important left tackle position.  To maintain momentum from last year's nine-win season, there must be improvement on the offensive line.


The same may be true for the defensive line, though it's not as pressing as the remainder of the defense is excellent.  J.R. Sweezy is the line's star with 13 TFL and six sacks, but nobody else had standout production in 2010, and the defensive end rotation is still not 100% settled, although Jeff Rieskamp returns to anchor down one end of the line.  (Edit: I'm pretty good at screwing with teams via these previews.  Sweezy, too, is now down for six weeks, so, basically til October.)

Really, the playmaking on the defense is done by the linebackers; last year's starting three combined for 42 TFL and 16.5 sacks.  Two of those three return; Terrell Manning (76 tackles) stays on the weak side, and Audie Cole (97 tackles) moves from the strong side to the middle to replace Nate Irving.  This is definitely one of the ACC's top linebacking groups even with just those two; the third starter will be D.J. Green, a converted safety who played in all 13 games last year.  Green is still a little light for the job but the Pack linebackers are coached by a pretty good one in Jon Tenuta, and Manning got up to speed pretty quick last year.

The secondary took a big step forward last year and what was a terrifically inexperienced unit with potential and not much else has become a strength.  Safety play was very good last year and should continue to be this year too.  Strong safety Earl Wolff is almost a fourth linebacker and collected 91 tackles, and free safety Brandan Bishop led the teams in interceptions with four.  The downside is there weren't too many other players intercepting passes.  David Amerson took over the starting job at cornerback from Justin Byers five games into the season, but neither picked up any INTs.  Byers will return to the starting lineup, as prospective starter Jarvis Byrd will miss the season with an ACL tear.  The safeties do good work, but the corners have got to be more productive.


Lot of uh-oh moments for Pack fans this year as they have true freshmen slated to take over at both punter and placekicker.  T.J. Graham is the usual kick and punt returner and did well at the latter in 2010 but must improve on the former, with only a 19.5 yard average last year.


I think we're about to find out how many games Russell Wilson was worth to the Wolfpack.  Glennon will probably do better than your average wide-eyed freshman (because he's a junior) but will have a very hard time matching Wilson's production.  Injuries, too, have hit this team hard in the offseason and preseason - they'll go into the first game of the year minus their starting left guard, running back, one defensive tackle, and one cornerback.  And the play in the trenches looks, at the outset of the season, to be subpar.  NC State has enough good things going for it, especially on defense, to expect to return to a bowl game.  The OOC schedule is cushy soft and the Pack should have little trouble going 4-0 outside the ACC, so they won't have far to go for bowl eligibility.  Still, they're very likely to take a step back from nine wins; seven is the likely max.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not related to football, but just noticed that James Robinson signed with Pitt for basketball. Bennett has to find a PG for 2012, as it was looking like a possible breakout year with the key guys from the last 2 classes and the incoming class. That said, I'm not sure they can go into the year with Jontel as the only ballhandler, and all the top guys at point for 2012 are off the board (that were attached to us). Here's hoping for a diamond in the rough, Harold Deane gritty type guy to be found.