Tech welcomes old friend Jon Tenuta back this weekend......
Coming off a big division road win in Chapel Hill last weekend the Jackets look to build momentum heading into the heart of the conference schedule. Buoyed by a 3-0 start, the Wolfpack look to be "on the Kool-Aid" according to CPJ & brimming with confidence heading into Atlanta. After beating a poor Cincinnati team last Thursday night at home, the Pack is looking for a signature conference win to vault them into ACC Championship contention. Tech re-established itself against UNC after a dreadful loss at Kansas and holds a conference best seven game win streak heading into Saturday's tilt. So what to expect on Saturday:
NC State Offense
Wilson loves to get out of the pocket & move around
It all starts with junior QB Russell Wilson for the Pack. The ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, Wilson has developed into an excellent quarterback who has the ability to beat you with his arm through the air or with his scrambling ability on the ground. Wilson is very mobile and able to gain yards with his legs but he prefers to scramble to buy himself time in order to throw the football. Tech will need to keep Wilson in the pocket if they are to have success on defense Saturday. Another reason Wilson likes to scramble is that he's short (listed at 5'11", probably 5'10" in reality) and getting out of the pocket helps open up throwing lanes. While NOT NEARLY AS GOOD A PLAYER (and frankly no one will ever be as good....), stylistically Wilson reminds me of our own 5'10" quarterbacking machine, Joe Hamilton.
Wilson operates behind one of the ACC's biggest offensive lines as State averages 6'3" & almost 310 pounds per man up front. The Pack offensive line is much better pass blocking than paving the way for the run as they seem strong but lacking mobility. Only senior tackle Jake Vermiglio is an upperclassmen so we'll be seeing this group for a couple of more years. Center Cam Wentz, who hails from Lassiter here in Atlanta, has a bright future at State.
The Pack is solid at the skill positions, led by junior All-ACC tight end & amateur horticulturalist George Bryan. Bryan is a huge target for Wilson at 6'5" & 265 pounds who, while not speedy even by tight end standards, is a tremendously physical player with great hands. A beast to bring down, Bryan runs like a man in a Cheech & Chong movie after a bag of Cheetos.......wait, he IS after a bag of Cheetos. At wide receiver, NC State has two imposing targets in Jarvis Williams (6'4", 220) and Owen Spencer (6'3", 185). Both players are physical & have the ability to stretch a defense vertically. One guy not to sleep on for the Pack is fullback Taylor Gentry. The former walk-on is an impressive lead blocker & a capable receiver out of the backfield, something Tech will have to watch closely all game long as Wilson likes to use Gentry as his safety valve if nothing is available down the field. If State's offense has a question mark it's at tailback, where two redshirt freshmen, Mustafa Greene & Dean Haynes, a converted defensive back, share duties. Greene ran efficiently & caught the ball well against Cincinnati while Haynes has had ball security issues so expect Greene to carry the load on Saturday. It will be imperative for Tech to hold Greene in check.
Offensively, I expect State to pass in order to set up Greene & the running game. Watch for Bryan & even gentry to be offensive focal points. Expect State offensive coordinator Dana Bible to run a lot of "9" (go) routes on the edge to clear out space for Bryan to work the middle underneath. Also watch for Gentry & Greene on hook & wheel routes out of the backfield as they try & get isolated on a linebacker. I also expect more "out & up" & "stop & go" stuff in an attempt to catch our safeties cheating (see last week).
NC State Defense
Nate Irving is back & as bad as ever......
Stop it with all the "Tenuta is god" crap. He's a good coach. A very aggressive defensive mind who lives & dies by the blitz. There's no question his presence has improved the Pack defense this year. But guess what? Tenuta has never faired particularly well against spread option teams because you can't bring tons of pressure with blitzes against spread option teams. His record against Navy while at Notre Dame? 1-1. In 2008, he held the Mids to 21 points on 242 yards of total offense while in 2009, Navy gashed the Tenuta-led Irish for 404 total yards on offense in a 23-21 Mids victory. We can talk Tenuta later; the simple fact is he won't play a snap (or most likely even call the defensive signals) on Saturday.
After watching the Pack's performance on Thursday their defense is good but easily exploitable at the hands of CPJ. State plays a standard 4-3 front with a fair amount of Cover Zero (man) in the secondary. On the defensive line, they have good size on the interior with tackles Sweezy & Mageo & a pair of decent if not spectacular ends in Rieskamp & Akinnlyl. Where the Pack defense really stands out is at linebacker where they have three very talented players led by Nate Irving in the middle. Returning from a near fatal car accident which kept him out almost all of last year, Irving is again playing at a high level as an all-around tackling machine. Flanking Irving are the dependable Terrell Manning & the much improved Audie Cole, who has played very well this year. State's big defensive question mark is in the secondary where they are very young & inexperienced, starting three sophomores & one junior. The State secondary will have to tackle well & be mindful of the deep ball on Saturday if they hope to slow Tech down.
The story last Saturday against UNC for Tech was the ability to execute offensively while adjusting defensively & that will need to continue this week if they hope to beat NC State. As always, if we take care of the ball on offense & cause turnovers on defense it will go a long way toward victory.
Watch for Embry Peeples down the seam for the deep ball on Saturday....
What was the difference in our offense from Kansas to Chapel Hill? Simple: execution. We just plain got the job done last Saturday. From a vast overall improvement in blocking (everyone from Roddy to Cone to Allen to Uzzi was involved & much better than the week before) to throwing & catching, the Jackets improved in every offensive phase. With no anticipated lineup changes this week, expect the Jackets to lean heavily on last weeks game plan. When you look at State, and this will doubtlessly piss off any State fan who happens to read this, they remind me a lot of last week's opponent, UNC: an average defensive line, very good linebackers, & a young & inexperienced secondary. That's why I think CPJ will attack in much the same way we did last week: pound the edges early & often to soften up the middle, exploit that weakness, & then take a few shots deep. It will again be critical for Tech to block the perimeter, particularly as the Pack secondary is both young & not terribly physical. I expect Archer/Tenuta & Co. to really sell out against the run, leaving deep routes down the seam to the A-backs there for the taking. Also watch for Stephen Hill on the skinny post. State couldn't cover this route against Cincinnati & don't expect they'll be focused on it with our run game coming at them.
Sure like to have one of these for Russell Wilson on Saturday
There were signs of life last week for the Jacket defense as UNC went punt, fumble, punt, fumble, turnover on downs in their last five possessions. In-game adjustments, particularly in getting some pressure on Carolina QB TJ Yates, were key for Tech & they'll need to continue this week. Tech has been awful against the run dating to last year, allowing the last six teams we've faced an hundred yard rusher. That trend has to stop & Saturday would be a good time. Tech needs to make NC State one-dimensional on offense if they have any hope of slowing down the Pack offense. My thought is we'll use the nickel package as our base defense against the Pack as they are very dangerous throwing the ball. Expect Groh to dial up lots of stunts & blitzes in an attempt to get pressure on Wilson & keep him from escaping outside where he becomes deadly. WE MUST SET THE EDGE & KEEP WILSON IN THE POCKET IF WE WANT TO SUCCEED DEFENSIVELY. If he gets out & starts scrambling around our coverage will break down & we're sure to give up a big play. Knocking Wilson around a little will also be key; we need to get in his head a bit & make him think about the hits that are coming not the receivers down field. It will be key for Tech to contain TE George Bryan on hook & curl routes underneath.
NC State so far has been pretty average. Tech improved greatly last week as Scott Blair kicked well & Sean Poole looked good on his lone punt. Coach Kelly said there will be some changes on return teams in order to get better their but one area that has really stood out do far is kick coverage for the Jackets. A big special teams play certainly wouldn't hurt our cause this weekend.
Three Keys For Tech:
1) The Death March: we're proud of the phrase we coined here & this week it will be a key to victory. tech must control the clock & keep the defense fresh & the Pack offense off the field. On Saturday, the best defense for the Jackets will be a good offense.
2) Set The Edge: Tech must contain Russell Wilson & keep him in the pocket. If he can scamper around the defense will break down & it will be a long afternoon.
3) Make State's Offense One Dimensional: we need to shut down at least one part of their attack. Focus on stopping the run & let Tech;s stronger secondary carry the load defensively.
Three Keys for NC State:
1) Run the football: Tech has given up six straight 100 yard rushers. If the State offense is multi-dimensional they will be difficult to stop.
2) Establish the Tight End: George Bryan is an All-ACC player & Tech's linebackers are vulnerable in coverage. If the Pack can work Bryan on hook, curl, & crossing routes underneath it will take a lot of pressure off Wilson.
3) Tackle on the edge: the Pack will need their young secondary to step up & be physical on the perimeter to force the Jackets back inside toward their strong linebackers. Any breakdowns in tackling on the edge for State will be punished with long gains by the Jackets.
How it Plays Out
Saturday will be a hard fought contest as there's a lot on the line in conference play for both schools. State has been pretty bad in conference play on the road under O'Brien (3-9) and this trip to Atlanta will be no cupcake, despite what the State message boards think. Tech has scored on every opening possession this year & it will continue on Saturday. Expect NC State to try & move the ball with short passes over the middle but Tech will eventually stiffen up defensively. CPJ will try to control the clock with the running game but as time wears on State will commit more & more guys to the line of scrimmage, leaving themselves vulnerable to long passes down the middle. Tech simply wears the Pack down in the end & wins at home.....
Tech 38 State 29