Monday, August 11, 2008

season preview: North Carolina State


8/28: @South Carolina (Th.)
9/6: William & Mary
9/13: @Clemson
9/20: East Carolina
9/27: South Florida
10/4: Boston College (Th.)
10/16: Florida State
10/25: @Maryland
11/8: @Duke
11/15: Wake Forest
11/22: @North Carolina
11/29: Miami

Skip: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: Daniel Evans (5Sr.)
RB: Toney Baker (rJr.)
RB: Jamelle Eugene (rJr.)
WR: Donald Bowens (Jr.)
WR: Darrell Davis (rSo.)
TE: Anthony Hill (5Sr.)
LT: Julian Williams (rJr.)
LG: Curtis Crouch (Sr.)
C: Ted Larsen (rJr.)
RG: Jake Vermiglio (So.)
RT: Meares Green (5Sr.)

DE: Willie Young (rJr.)
DT: Antoine Holmes (Sr.)
DT: Alan-Michael Cash (rJr.)
DE: Markus Kuhn (So.)
SLB: Nate Irving (rSo.)
MLB: Ray Michel (rJr.)
WLB: Robbie Leonard (rSr.)
CB: Jeremy Gray (5Sr.)
SS: J.C. Neal (Sr.)
FS: Jimmaul Simmons (rFr.)
CB: DeAndre Morgan (rSo.)

K: Josh Czajkowski (So.)
P: Bradley Pierson (Sr.)

Coach: Tom O’Brien (2nd season)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 6th, Atlantic Division

All-ACC selections:

2007 1st team: None
2007 2nd team: S DaJuan Morgan (graduated), KR-PR Darrell Blackman (graduated)
2007 HM: OG Kalani Heppe (graduated), DT DeMario Pressley (graduated)
2008 preseason: None

The last head coach to jump directly from one ACC team to another was Bobby Ross, who joined up with Georgia Tech after leaving Maryland. Ross went 5-17 in his first two seasons in Atlanta – two years later, the Yellow Jackets were national champions. The ‘Pack would dig that, but they might settle for just a winning season first, having had just one in the post-Philip Rivers hangover.


In all honesty it’s not entirely fair to keep comparing everyone to Philip Rivers. On the other hand, nobody has ever done anything to make anyone forget about him, either. Rivers started every single game for the Pack during his career. NC State isn’t even sure they’ll have the same quarterback starting every single game this season; they didn’t last year. Fifth-year senior Daniel Evans is the incumbent, kinda. He was so impressive they swapped him out with junior Harrison Beck after one game. Beck was so impressive, they kept swapping Evans back in until Beck hurt his collarbone against Louisville. Frankly, neither is much good. Evans ranked next-to-last in QB rating among ACC quarterbacks in 2007 and Beck threw nine picks against just two touchdowns. The Wolfpack may well finish this season with redshirt sophomore Justin Burke running the show.

Given the woes at quarterback, NC State will be leaning heavily on their three running backs to shoulder the load. Listed as starters are Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, the 2006 and 2007 leading rushers for NC State, respectively. Andre Brown, however, was the leading rusher in 2005, so they have three backs who know their way around, and especially down, a football field. Baker and Eugene are bigger receiving threats than Brown, particularly Eugene, who was second on the team in receptions in 2007. Much like several other conference teams, NC State basically has one fairly sure thing at receiver and then a bunch of guys they're hoping to get one or two step-ups out of, so that ability to catch balls out of the backfield will be important.

Nobody’s going down any field, though, if the offensive line can’t open a path, and there are serious question marks around their ability to do that. They do have three returning starters, but they are so thin that Tom O’Brien moved Ted Larsen from the defensive line to likely be the starting center. There is some flexibility, provided by fifth-year senior Meares Green. Penciled in as the starting right tackle, Green is listed on the roster as playing all three line positions – tackle, guard, and center – and in a pinch can move to any spot. The right tackle slot would then be taken by Jerrail McCuller, who has some starting experience there. Still, it’s a smoke-and-mirrors kind of depth.


There is a serious who-dey air about the defense. The last vestiges of recognizability left with DaJuan Morgan, the team’s leading 2007 tackler and pass defender, and honorable mention all-ACCer DeMario Pressley on the line. There are some spots of talent. DE Willie Young, as a sophomore last year, led the team with 15 TFL and 5.5 sacks. DT Alan-Michael Cash is a steady if unspectacular returning starter, but that’s it – those two make up the entire returning-starter contingent in the front seven. Junior Ray Michel has never failed to play in a game, but got his first start only in the final game of 2007. Outside of the starters, that’s about the most experience there is in the front seven – the rest are an assortment of sophomores, juco transfers, and former walk-ons. Like offensive line, the linebacking corps is thin enough that the coaching staff can slide someone over from another position and directly into the starting lineup – in this case, former safety Robbie Leonard.

The secondary is where most of the experience is. DaJuan Morgan’s li’l bro DeAndre was a starter at cornerback last year as a freshman, and the other corner is manned by senior Jeremy Gray, who tied the elder Morgan for the team lead in picks with three. J.C. Neal moved from corner to take over for Javon Walker when Walker went down with a knee injury and showed the coaches enough to keep the spot to begin this season. The only big question mark is at free safety where Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers are competing neck-and-neck for the job. Both are redshirt freshmen; Simmons was slightly more impressive in the spring game, returning a pickoff 100 yards for a score.

It’s not usually a good sign when your secondary is leading the team in tackles, but that appears likely to be the situation for NC State this season, as they’re definitely the most experienced, and probably the most talented, unit on the defense.


As if the uncertainty at key spots like, oh, quarterback weren’t enough, NC State will be breaking in a new kicker this season in Josh Czajkowski. And they’d better hope he’s any good because the only other kicker on the roster is punter Bradley Pierson, whose leg is not remarkably strong as he averaged just 37 yards a kick in 2007.


In a nutshell, not good. Where to begin? The Wolfpack aren’t quite sure who will be under center when they roadtrip to South Carolina to start the season, let alone at the end of it. The wide receivers are a mostly inexperienced bunch. There isn’t much depth on the offensive line and hardly any starting experience on most of the defense. Some help could be coming with the freshman class, but that doesn’t fix the experience issues. The ‘Pack are not going bowling this season, and the November 8 clash against Duke looks like the Pillow Fight of the Year in the ACC. Though both have enough talent to avoid this fate, it’s possible the loser of that game finds themselves winless in conference play.

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