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NC State Preview

The Wolfpack offense averaged 329 yards per game in 2008, good for 88th in the nation. However, that number was somehow good enough for 5th best in an offense deprived (or maybe defense heavy) ACC.

NC State improved on offense last year behind the arm and legs of 1st team all-ACC QB Russell Wilson. Miraculously, Wilson finished his freshman season with just one interception—on a Hail Mary—to go with his 17 passing touchdowns and 4 rushing touchdowns. That kind of production and ball security is almost unheard of for any QB, let alone a freshman QB.

Wilson overcame questions about his height (if you’re reading this Al Groh, remember—short QBs might never pan out in the NFL, but they can be great in the ACC! Start Vic Hall!) as well as nagging injury issues to inject life into a program struggling to gain a foothold in a deep Atlantic Coast Conference.  A young group of speedy receivers Owen Spencer, Javaris Williams and TJ Graham broke out in 2008—and all three return to the lineup this fall.

Wilson’s impressive passing might have been the key to keeping NC State out of the ACC basement last fall, but it appears the running game might have been the real key to the Wolfpack’s late season ACC surge, a 4 game run that rejuvenated the fan base and sent Tom O’Brien bowling for the first time as NC State head coach.

During their improbable 4 game win streak against Duke, Wake Forest, UNC, and Miami, the Wolfpack averaged 178 yards per game on the ground. In their other 9 games (7 of which were losses; two of which were ugly wins), the Wolfpack managed just 98 yards per game rushing and 299 yards overall.

It’s no secret then that subduing the Pack on the ground is the best way to shut down their offense. Conversely, if NC State wants to show that last season’s late success was more than just a red hot flash in the pan, they must establish the run early this season.

But can the Wolfpack keep up the ground attack without 4 year power back Andre Brown (767 yards 7 TD in 2008)? Jamelle Eugene and Toney Baker should fill in effectively for Brown, but can they avoid the injuries that have plagued their own careers? And can the offensive line—which allowed 25 sacks and led the Wolfpack to just 3.6 yards per carry—improve?

And lastly—the question that could muzzle all this pre-season howling from NC State fans—can the team possibly survive an injury to fragile QB Russell Wilson? Wilson’s backups finished with an atrocious 3 TD and 12 INT in relief duty last fall, including the bowl loss to Rutgers where the Pack relinquished a 17-6 halftime lead. Mike Glennon, the brother of polarizing former VT QB Sean Glennon, has performed admirably in the offseason, and should see some snaps early on.

Can he live up to the hype if Wilson goes down? And if he sees time at QB, can NC State avoid chemistry issues, especially with Wilson off playing baseball this summer?

If NC State remains healthy, the offensive line improves, the receivers become more consistent and QB chemistry is not an issue, this could be the ACC’s best 2009 offense.

QB- Russell Wilson (54.5% passing, 1955 yards 17 TD, INT; 133.9 passer rating)

In 2008, Wilson was a nightmare outside the pocket, passing effectively down the field while also rushing for 394 yards. O’Brien wants Wilson to improve at finding his second receiver to avoid “those god-awful hits” he took last year running with the football.

To be honest, I highly doubt that Wilson can replicate 2008’s nearly flawless 1 INT performance. Why? Although he still lifted and ran 4 days a week, he played baseball this summer (in the Coastal Plains league through the end of June) while his competition Mike Glennon was in Raleigh working with the team. Second of all, he had a low completion percentage in 2008, indicating that maybe his accuracy is a lot worse than the TD to INT ratio shows. Still, he should be one of the 5 best ACC QBs this fall.

Mute the music, watch the Wilson magic.

QB- Mike Glennon (4 star recruit—#59 overall recruit in the country 2008)

Glennon will see the field this fall, and for good reason. He was 23-38 for 272 yards and a TD in the Spring Game. His last name scares me, but I think this Glennon might live up to the hype.

RB- Jamelle Eugene(442 rushing, 4.7 ypc, 2 TD; 224 receiving)

Eugene is a smaller, quicker back with good hands. He sat out spring practice with a shoulder injury. Like Baker, he has 1000 career rush yards, but he has only 8 TD on the ground in his career. In 2007, he exploded for 159 yards against rival North Carolina, but he hasn’t gotten to the century mark since. I expect Eugene to split carries with Baker and finish with 700 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving.

RB- Toney Baker (former 4 star recruit; 2006- 688 yards, 6 TD; 177 yards receiving)

Since committing to NC State, Baker’s had a lot of trouble keeping his gimpy right knee off the trainer’s table. He’s a powerful, 225 lb. runner with 1,272 career rushing yards, 300 career receiving yards, and 12 TD. After his 2 knee surgeries, Baker won’t be the explosive back he once was, but at the very least he’ll bring power and experience to the State backfield.

WR- Owen Spencer (691 yards, 5 TD)

At 6’3” 180 lb, Spencer averaged an eye popping 22 yards per catch. He hauled in catches of 31, 32, 44, 48, 54, 61, and 67 yards. That’s a total of 337 yards on his 7 best catches! All I can say is wow. However, to become an elite all-conference talent, he will have to improve his hands  and also show up every week. In 2008, he disappeared in 4 separate games: no catches vs. Maryland, 2 catches for 7 yards vs. Clemson, 1 catch for 11 yards vs. ECU, and 3 catches for 27 yards vs. South Carolina. Not surprisingly, the Wolfpack won just one of those four games.

WR- Jarvis Williams (432 yards, 4 TD)

Like Graham, Williams was an inconsistent, but dangerous wideout all season long, catching just a couple passes a game but usually turning them into big gains. However, unlike Graham, the 6’4 Williams finished the season on a high note, delivering 126 yards on 7 receptions in the Papa John’s Bowl vs. Rutgers.

WR- TJ Graham (251 yards, 0 TD)

Graham was a track star for nearby Wakefield High School in Raleigh. His speed alone is enough to scare defensive coordinators. He struggled towards the end of the year (over a 7 game stretch he had just 7 total catches for 35 yards), but he should be a more polished and dangerous receiver in 2009.

WR- Donald Bowens (2007- 598 yards, 3 TD)

Bowens won’t be coming back from the back injury that forced him out of action last fall until September or October. When he returns, he’ll bring quality experience and more size (6’3) to this Wolfpack receiving corps.

TE- George Bryan (201 yards, 4 TD)

Bryan is an enormous target at 6’5 270 lb. He finished with just 5 catches over his last 7 games. He showed immense potential in an early 3 game stretch against William and Mary, Clemson and ECU in which he totaled 13 catches 131 yards and 2 TD.

Offensive Line

“Hold that line, hold-em fast, we’ll reach victory at last”—NC State fight song

Jake Vermiglio (T), Jerrail McCuller (T), Julian Williams (G), Andy Barbee (G), Ted Larsen (C )

All of the starters on the line except for Vermiglio are seniors. Larsen is on the Rimington Preseason Watch List. Still, the Wolfpack lost both offensive guards Meares Green and John Bedics (who combined for 43 career starts) from last year’s lineup.

If the Pack wants to “reach victory at last”—they’d better improve along the offensive line. It could be the difference between 6 and 9 wins this fall.


NC State finished 2008 as the 83rd ranked defense in the country, surrendering 390 yards per game.

To put that in perspective, they finished 83rd in total defense—playing against an FCS opponent and 7 teams that finished 87th or worse out of 119 teams in total offense. Tom O’Brien could have lined up 11 Sidney Lowes on the field and given up less yards than that.

But just because NC State didn’t play much defense in 2008 doesn’t mean it didn’t have the ability to. They held in-state rival North Carolina to just 203 yards in Chapel Hill, showing that when healthy and playing well, they can be a dangerous defense. They showed glimpses of a good pass-rush and a strong secondary (18 INT), but they also got torched on a number of occasions.

If Nate Irving is out this fall, it would be a major blow for the defense. The losses of JC Neal (80 tackles, 2 TFL) and Jeremy Gray (72 tackles, sack, 3 INT) will also hurt.

With Irving, this is a top 50 defense in the country. Without him, this should be one of the worst defenses in the ACC and the 70th to 80th best defense in the country.

Defensive Line

Defensive Line, according to D-Coordinator Mike Archer, is the strength of this defense.

DE- Willie Young (58 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks)

The 250 pound Wolfpack sack-master has 31.5 career TFL in three seasons, and was a projected 2nd round pick in 2009. He should face a lot of double teams this season.

DE- Shea McKeen (32 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

McKeen had a decent 2008. He’ll have to step up his game to keep teams from paying too much attention to Young on the other side of the line.

DT- Alan Michael-Cash (38 tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks)

Michael-Cash was cash money in 2008, plugging up the middle effectively. He missed three games last fall due to injury, and he absolutely must stay healthy for the State run defense to reach its potential.

DT- Leroy Burgess (16 tackles, 1.5 TFL)

Burgess is a hoss at 300 lb, but he had pretty limited production in 2009.


LB- Audie Cole (9 tackles in 13 games)

LB- Nate Irving (80 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 INT)

State’s linebacker had a sophomore season to howl about, racking up 80 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 INT and a forced fumble. Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, Irving broke his leg in a serious car accident this summer. (For those of you who believe in publication curses—the crash happened 4 minutes before the News and Observer released a story about how lucky Tom O’Brien must be to have a healthy team this year).

He missed 3 full games last season—all NCSU losses—and missed parts of two other games, 1 of which NCSU still won. All in all, that’s 4 Wolfpack losses in 5 games where Irving was out for part or all of the game with an injury.  In those 4 losses, the Pack gave up 454 yards on average. Ouch.

Irving’s out of the hospital, but It’s still unclear whether or not he will be able to play this fall. If he’s out, sophomore Dwayne Maddox (28 tackles) will have to step in to replace him.

LB- Ray Michel (85 tackles, 3 TFL)

Michel was State’s leading tackler in 2008.

CB- DeAndre Morgan (60 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INT)

Morgan is definitely the leader of this secondary.

CB- Koyal George (7 tackles)

Domenique Ellis (11 tackles, INT) might have stepped in here, but he left the program, leaving a big gap for Koyal George to fill.

George only appeared in 9 games last fall.

S- Clem Johnson (36 tackles, 2 INT in 7 games)

S- Justin Byers (44 tackles, 2 INT)

*Javon Walker (S) tore his ACL late in 2008 and missed Spring Practice. If he’s healthy, he’ll probably start for the Pack. If not, safety will be an even bigger concern for Tom O’Brien.


One Comment

  1. A couple of things:

    Second of all, he had a low completion percentage in 2008, indicating that maybe his accuracy is a lot worse than the TD to INT ratio shows.

    The reason why his completion percentage is low along with his interception total is because he wisely dumped the ball out of bounds on many occasions. His number one priority was keeping the ball away from defenders and avoiding those tempting throws into traffic. It would be almost impossible to combine both a high completion percentage with effectively zero interceptions (ignoring the hail mary) because at some point, one of your receivers will slip or tip the ball to the defense. I do expect Russell to toss a few more INTs this season (probably 5-7).

    Second, State’s defense employs a zone scheme that relies a on bend-but-don’t-break mentality to keep everything in front of the defenders. That means a lot of yards, usually, but typically you generate more turnovers that way and, as the field compresses closer to the goalline, you tend to become more effective as a defense.

    Overall, though, a solid breakdown.

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