NC State Going For a Bounceback Win
NC State (0-1) at Connecticut (1-0)
NC State finished last season on such a positive note and returned so many of its core pieces that it entered this season with some dark horse Atlantic Division potential. Going into the opener, from their head coach Tom O’Brien and on down the roster, they all knew a chance to beat an SEC team on national television was a big deal, and they didn’t shy away from admitting that.
But a lot of veteran players on NC State’s roster picked the wrong night to have bad games, and that’s how the Wolfpack is looking at it. They’re still optimistic that this can be a special team, and they have 11 more opportunities to prove it. For now, though, they just want to get their first win of the year at Connecticut (1-0) on Saturday so that they can stop hearing about slow starts.
“We got off to a slow start (last year) and that’s one thing we’re not trying to get to this year,” senior wide receiver Tobais Palmer said. “We’re going to have a little bit more urgency to get to what we want to be and how successful we want to be this season. … We’re looking forward to going into Connecticut with a better head than we did last week.”
Quarterback Mike Glennon completed 27-of-46 passes for 288 yards but threw four interceptions. The offensive line did its job for the most part (he was only sacked once), but his pass-catchers let him down. NC State had three official drops (two by running backs), but it seemed like more. But he threw just 12 interceptions all of last season and he will develop a better rhythm with his receivers as the season goes on.
The NC State defense will have a chance to show last week was an aberration, too. While preseason All-America cornerback David Amerson was noticeably burned on a few occasions, the NC State defensive line never was able to pressure Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who passed for 333 yards and was barely touched. The rush defense gave up 191 yards, but 109 of those came on two runs. On Tennessee’s other 36 attempts, they gained 82 yards. That was no consolation for senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop.
“We didn’t do a good job of stopping the run. We let up one big play and that gave them most of their yards on the run. In the future, we’re going to have to do a way better job of stopping the run,” Cato-Bishop said. “We’ve got to shoot gaps and apply pressure, come faster off the ball and be a penetrating defensive line.”
Big plays haunted the Wolfpack defense all game as it allowed five plays of 20 or more yards (three of which went for touchdowns). Most of that damage was done in the first quarter, but in the second half when NC State was trying to make a comeback, it couldn’t get off the field. Tennessee converted 6-of-10 third downs in the second half and had four plays of ten or more yards on third down alone.
“We try to get three-and-outs, but when we’re not good on third down, that means the defense isn’t playing well,” Cato-Bishop said. “In that stretch of the game, we were on the field for a long time so the defense was pretty tired. We’ve got to do a better job of getting off the field on third down.”
Tennessee’s offense had a lot more talent at the skill positions than Connecticut. Even against Massachusetts (an FCS team), Connecticut managed just two plays of 20 or more yards. Running back Lyle McCombs was a bright spot offensively last season, running for nearly 96 yards a game as a freshman. He ran for a workmanlike 82 yards on 23 carries last week, but his long run was 12 yards.
The Huskies have an experienced defense, and it showed against Massachusetts as they allowed just 59 total yards (three rushing) and three first downs. Massachusetts never crossed the 50-yard line. The Wolfpack may not get a ton of explosive plays offensively, but they have to be patient and take care of the football.
Turnovers killed NC State last week, and that can’t happen again. O’Brien said that ten plays – five big ones allowed on defense and five turnovers by the offense – were the difference last week. “You can’t take ten plays out of the game, but those ten plays dictated the final,” O’Brien said. “We have to make corrections in those areas to give ourselves a chance to win on Saturday.”
It seemed like the Wolfpack was pressing at times last week, thinking too much instead of going on instinct. They seemed tentative and unsure. Palmer admitted there were some nerves, but attributed them to first-game jitters. “We’ve just got to go in there with the mentality that they’re not going to be able to stop us. We’ve just got to be confident in what we do and how we do it,” Palmer said. “We mess up, then we mess up full speed and come back and we adjust and do what we have to do to be successful the next time.”
Random mascot facts: UConn has had a live Husky mascot since 1934, but in 1970, the Student Senate voted to sell Jonathan VII because the dog “represented the establishment”. Oh, those crazy hippie kids. A student petition prevented that from happening.
Prediction: NC State, 27-12. NC State is 8-17 in road games since 2007 and 4-13 in out-of-state contests (1-1 in non-conference games out of state), but three of those out-of-state wins have come in the last two seasons (at Virginia, at Central Florida and at Georgia Tech). NC State has won its first road game of the year just once in the last five seasons. But having played in what was essentially a road game last week, they’ll be ready.