What to watch for: NC State vs. Tennessee

Posted by J.J. Greenstein on August 30, 2012 under ACC Football | Comments are off for this article

Before we jump into numbers for Friday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, someone needs to point out the irony of Tennessee fans posting videos online talking trash to State fans about how they “had the best wide receiver duo in the country” and how quarterback Tyler Bray would have no trouble with the Wolfpack’s experienced secondary.

They also said State would have no chance throwing the ball against the Vols’ defense, especially with State’s second best receiver, Bryan Underwood, out with a knee injury for the foreseeable future.

I must say, this is one cocky fan base considering this is a team that finished 5-7 last season. I know, I know, you play in the SEC and that winning five games is very impressive in that conference. But the Volunteers only won one SEC game- against Vanderbilt, at home, and in overtime. For Pete’s sake, you lost to Kentucky with a bowl birth on the line. Seriously? Kentucky- in football (10-7).

Fast forward to a week before the game and the Volunteers’ leading receiver Da’Rick Rogers has left the team and enrolled at Tennessee Tech following failed drug tests and State’s Underwood is now listed as a game-time decision. What a swing of events we have here, I guess we can get down to business now, I just needed one paragraph to rant.

The Quarterbacks

Friday’s game at the Georgia Dome will feature two experienced quarterbacks in Tennessee’s Bray and the Wolfpack’s Mike Glennon. That being said, quarterback play will be what to watch for in the season opener.

Both quarterbacks are listed at 6-6 and weigh over 200 pounds. These are two proto-typical sized quarterbacks for the NFL, and I would expect both of them to get  fairly early over the next two league drafts.

Bray is a junior who missed six games last season battling injuries, but was very effective when he was healthy. He finished the season completing 147 of 247 passes (59.5%) for 1983 yards. He threw for 17 touchdowns to only six interceptions, earning him a quarterback rating of 144.8 for the season.

His counter-part, Glennon, is a senior who has finally stepped out from Russell Wilson’s shadow and had a solid junior campaign for a first-year starter.  He completed 283 of 453 passes (62.5%) totaling 3054 yards. He would finish the season with 31 touchdowns to twelve interceptions, equaling a 136.4 quarterback rating.

The Receivers

The big question will be, which one of these receiving corps will help their gunslinger out the most.

Tennessee still has a fairly solid group without Rogers leading the way. Though, their leading receiver from last year is now tight end Mychal Rivera who had 29 grabs last season as a junior. This means junior Justin Hunter (who was much more productive in his first season than his second due to an ACL tear in the third game of the season) will be covered by NC State’s David Amerson, last year’s NCAA leader in interceptions. Junior running back Rajion Neal will really need to step up for the Volunteers catching passes out of the backfield if they hope to move the ball through the air against this secondary.

For NC State, many more questions surround the receiving group. State’s second leading returner from last season is running back James Washington. This is not surprising as Glennon loves to check down to his backs and tight ends under pressure. Senior Tobais Palmer will need to step up in only his second year as a wide receiver. With Underwood’s availability uncertain, look for running back Tony Creecy to make plays in the passing game along with tight ends Mario Carter and Asa Watson.

The Running Game

There are two parts to the running game that must be working well for a running game. The backs themselves and the offensive line in front of them.

From ESPN: “A year ago, there were only four FBS teams that were worse at running the football than the Vols, who finished 116th nationally in rushing offense with an average of 90.1 yards per game.” But Tennessee’s line is big, probably the biggest NC State will see all year, and they have talent returning this season up front. It will be an interesting match-up between the Vols’ O-line and NC State’s depth on the defensive line.

Tennessee’s running numbers reflected the Vols’ feeling of content with letting the passing game pace the offense, and junior running back Rajion Neal may not even be vital to the success of the offense if the passing game is running on all cylinders.

Its a different story for the Wolfpack ground game. A three-headed monster led by Tony Creecy backed up by James Washington and Mustafa Greene will be showcased behind the most experienced offensive line Tom O’Brien has had in his tenure in Raleigh. All three backs are expected to get a carry in the first half, and all three are potent catching passes out of the backfield.

Offensive conclusion

We can call quarterbacking a draw, balanced out by Glennon’s better leadership and Bray’s ability to get outside the pocket and make plays. Tennessee’s receiving corp is more solid than State’s but the Wolfpack’s running game might be head and shoulders better than the Volunteers’. The play of the offensive lines should be about even with the Vols’ size and the Wolfpack’s continuity.

So I guess we have a draw when comparing the two offenses. Maybe what to watch for will be the defenses…

Who wins Friday night?

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Top five Wolfpack moments of 2011

Posted by J.J. Greenstein on December 31, 2011 under ACC Basketball, ACC Football, Other ACC Coverage | Comments are off for this article

As we ring in a new year, here’s a look back at some of the best moments from the year that was for the NC State Wolfpack.

Honorable Mention. November 9: Pack Hoops inks three big-time recruits

Coach Mark Gottfried’s first recruiting class at NC State will be a big one. On National Signing Day he received hard commitments from three of the nation’s best seniors- and all three of them are from the state of North Carolina.

Tyler Lewis of Oak Hill Academy is a four-star prospect rated as the eighth best point guard in the 2012 class. He is joined by Brewster Academy’s T.J. Warren, a five star small forward who is ranked as the fifth best player at his position, and Rodney Purvis, a five star recruit rated as the fifth best shooting guard in this year’s class.

ESPNU 100 ranked Gottfried’s class as the No. 2 class in the country, while Rivals.com has rated the Wolfpack’s incoming class as the nation’s No. 3 class.

5. November 21: State basketball rallies from 18 down to beat Texas, 77-74

The Pack used an incredible 28-2 run to erase an 18-point second half deficit to outlast Texas at the final horn 77-74 in the TicketCity Legends Classic consolation game in Newark, New Jersey.

The Pack was led by C.J. Leslie’s 17 points, Scott Wood’s 16, and Lorenzo Brown’s 11 points and four assists. The Longhorns’ Julien Lewis saw his buzzer beater fall three feet short to send the Pack home with their first win of the season over a power conference team.

4. November 5: State shuts out Carolina, 13-0

After tons of trash talk between players and coaches the week leading up to the highly anticipated rivalry match-up between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels, the Pack’s defense spoke last. They recorded four sacks and three interceptions, knocking out Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner at the end of the third quarter and shutting out “the Flagship” 13-0 at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Senior receiver T.J. Graham scored the game’s only touchdown on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Mike Glennon. Freshman kicker Niklas Sade converted on two field-goal attempts to round out the scoring for the Pack.

The win marked the first time the Wolfpack had beaten the Tar Heels five straight times since 1988-92.

3. December 27: State wins Belk Bowl, 31-24 over Louisville

After barely qualifying for a bowl game, the Pack headed a few hours down the road to Charlotte to play Louisville in the Belk Bowl. In front of a favorable crowd, the Pack put on a show. Quarterback Mike Glennon took home MVP honors after throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Tobais Palmer made a remarkable catch for a 35 yard touchdown in the first half, and senior T.J. Graham followed it by making multiple Cardinal defenders miss as he took a pass from Glennon 68 yards for a score.

But it was State’s defense that won the game for the Pack late, as they got two interceptions by the nation’s leader, David Amerson. He returned one 65 yards for a touchdown, which ended up as the deciding score in the ballgame. The Pack sacked Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater five times on the night, and picked him off three times. It was fitting that the game ended with Amerson’s 13th interception of the year, a new ACC single-season record.

2. November 26: State comes back from 27 down against Maryland to win 56-41

Needing to win their final game of the season to reach bowl eligibility, State trailed 41-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter to a Maryland team that had nothing to play for. With many fans already headed for the exits, the Pack scored 42 unanswered points (35 in the fourth quarter) to stun the Terrapins.

State needed just 13 minutes of game time to erase the deficit, as James Washington scored on a one yard run to put the Pack ahead with just over seven minutes to play in the game. Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 306 yards and became the second Wolfpack player to account for six touchdowns in a single game, joining Philip Rivers in that exclusive club.

It was the biggest comeback in NC State’s history, and the second-largest comeback in the history of the ACC.

1. November 19: State destroys No. 7 Clemson, 37-13

The Pack hadn’t defeated Clemson since 2003, and many expected this would not be the year that they ended the streak against the Tigers. Coming off an embarrassing loss at Boston College, State dominated then No. 7 Clemson, who came into the game with a record of 9-1, in every phase of the game. The Wolfpack defense caused four turnovers, and sacked All-ACC quarterback Tahj Boyd five times.

Quarterback Mike Glennon completed 19 of his 29 passing attempts for 253 yards, tossing three touchdowns, one each to Tobais Palmer, George Bryan, and Jay Smith. Freshman Tony Creecy added a score on the ground for the Wolfpack.

It was the first victory at home for the Pack over a top ten team since 1998.

State survives Central’s scare

Posted by J.J. Greenstein on December 12, 2011 under Other ACC Coverage | Comments are off for this article

It was throw back day in Raleigh as NC State (6-3) hosted local North Carolina Central (5-5, 1-0 MEAC) at historic Reynold’s Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Popcorn and hot dogs were just a dollar and posters commemorating the 1983 National Championship team were handed out before and after the game.

But it was a throw back of the NC State teams from the late 2000’s that showed up for most of the second half of State’s 65-60 win.

State started strong, shutting Central out for the first six and half minutes of the game and jumping out to an early 9-0 lead, but State could not pull away from the Eagles, allowing them to hang around until the final horn.

After holding a double-digit lead for most of the game (led 37-27 at the half), the Pack started to get sloppy on both ends of the floor, using an ineffective 2-3 zone for most of the second half on defense while turning the ball over 16 times and shooting a low percentage (37%) on the offensive end.

State allowed the Eagles, who entered the game with the number two scoring offense in the country at almost 89 points per game, to cut the lead all the way down to three in the final minute, but four late free throws from sophomore Scott Wood, who is perfect on the season from the charity stripe, helped the Pack escape with the win.

Wood finished with 19 points, hitting five of his nine three-point attempts in 38 minutes. As a team, the Pack only made seven of their 23 attempts from three point land, and their inability to knock down outside shots has really hurt them so far this season.

State’s lone senior, C.J. Williams, led all scorers with a career-high 21 points. He also pulled down five of the Wolfpack’s 34 rebounds. Junior Richard Howell, who played only 27 minutes due to foul trouble, was the only other State player to score in double-figures, finishing with 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

Sophomores Lorenzo Brown and Calvin Leslie both struggled to score, finishing with one and three points, respectively. Brown finished 0-7 from the floor but still managed to quarterback the offense nicely with six of the Pack’s 15 assists.

The Pack has a week off to prepare for their toughest test of the year, as Syracuse will come in to a sold out RBC Center Saturday evening. State pushed Syracuse to the brink last season at the Carrier Dome, eventually falling 65-59 to the then eighth ranked Orange.

The Orange should be the top-ranked team in the country when they get to Raleigh following losses by number two Ohio State to Kansas and then number one Kentucky to Indiana- a team the Pack led by seven late in the second half before falling apart a couple weeks ago.

State’s out of conference schedule has been very tough, but these games turn into learning experiences for a young Pack squad learning how to win under a new coaching staff. The strength of schedule for the Pack (deemed the 18th toughest schedule in the country by Rating Percentage Index), and the six wins, has the Pack at an RPI of 57- that’s higher than at any point all of last season.

The RBC Center should be rocking Saturday, and I expect Coach Mark Gottfried to have the Pack ready to play tough for a full 40 minutes against the Orange, who will be playing their first game this season outside the state of New York.