North Carolina State Wolfpack
2007 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Offense: Head coach Tom O’Brien wants to run the same offense at NC State that he ran for years with coordinator Dana Bible at Boston College—power running with play-action passing sprinkled in. That never got off the ground in 2007 when the Pack ran for just 89.2 yards per game. Another staple of O’Brien and Bible’s offenses at BC was limited mistakes, but that didn’t happen in year one at NC State either. The Pack suffered 32 turnovers on offense and O’Brien and Bible hope the running stat goes up and the turnover stat goes way down. With the uncertainty at QB, the need for a solid running game is even more evident. Senior Daniel Evans has a slight lead to start at QB because he has 17 games of starting experience, but he isn’t a lock to start. That’s because Evans (2030 yards, 57%, 12 TDs, 13 interceptions) has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, only has modest arm strength and mobility, and missed all of spring with shoulder surgery. Evans is the “safe” choice based on experience but that is about all he has going for him. Junior Harrison Beck (903 yards, 53%, 2 TDs, 9 ints.) was supposed to be the QB of the future after transferring from Nebraska but Beck has yet to reach expectations due to a lack of consistency. He has the biggest arm of the contenders, but is still somewhat raw and has been ruled out of the competition. So too has sophomore Justin Burke, a top recruit in 2006 that briefly appeared in 3 games last year. He is a polished passer with good accuracy and size, but just needs some experience. Redshirt frosh Russell Wilson provided a spark in spring ball and is the best athlete of the group. He isn’t big (5-11, 190) but showed good zip on his passes and did nothing but impress in spring. O’Brien and Bible won’t make their ultimate decision until they see what heralded true freshman Mike Glennon can do. Glennon is a classic dropback passer who can make all the throws, but he needs to add some bulk to his frame, along with learning the offense. He is the future of the program. Most pundits are guessing that Wilson or Evans will start the bulk of the games. The Pack have just as many options at RB, but the decision of who to start won’t be as big a headache. After injuries struck down the top two runners on the depth chart, Jamelle Eugene was thrust into the starting lineup last year. Eugene (667 yds, 3.9 average, 5 TDs, 42 receptions, 263 yds, 1 TD) showed off his shifty, cutback style to the tune of three 100-yard games behind a pretty porous line. Eugene also proved to be very durable and his pass-catching skills add another playmaker to the fold in the passing game. Battling for time behind Eugene will be former starters Andre Brown and Toney Baker, who both missed last year due to injury. Brown (447 yds, 4.7 avg, 5 TDs, 25 recs, 194 yds) is the most physical of the runners, but he was injured late in the year so he might have the longest road back. Baker was the opening day starter, but was injured just 10 carries in to the first game. If healthy, he combines quickness with good size. Due to the injuries, sophomore Curtis Underwood saw some carries late in the year and showed good quickness and change of direction. He might find carries hard to come by this year, but he can be a reliable option off the bench. When the Pack use a fullback, expect to see walk-on Harrison Ritcher. NC State does not have a wealth of depth at WR and took a big hit this week when they lost Donald Bowens to injury.Bowens would have been the star of the group and was the team's leading returning receiver. Sophomore Jarvis Williams brings great size (6-4, 205) to the table and is also a solid blocker. Classmate Darrell Davis (12 recs, 135 yds, 1 TD) is raw, yet very athletic and is yet another Pack WR with big-time size (6-4, 212), but he also has good wheels and athletic ability to boot. Sophomore Owen Spencer is long and lean, but has the speed to be the home run threat. Helping out the WR corps will be the return of TE Anthony Hill, who missed 2007 with an ACL tear. Hill is a big guy who is a dominant blocker, but also an excellent receiver. He caught 45 passes in 2006 and will be leaned on again in 2008. Backing up Hill will be Matt Kushner (10 recs, 67 yds, 1 TD), who played in all 12 games with Hill out and is improving more and more. The line struggled last year and although O’Brien came out of spring thinking the Pack had 5 solid starters, he still hasn’t determined where they will all line up. Improvement is hoped for and part of that rests on the shoulders of converted DTs John Bedics and Ted Larsen. Both switched over to guard for the spring and will likely be starters at the beginning of the season. Bedics missed the final 9 games last year due to injury, but came back in the spring and attacked his new assignment with vigor. He proved to be physical and an upgrade. Larsen worked at both center and guard and while he proved to be quick and explosive, he also needs to work on the finer points of the position. RG Curtis Crouch will probably be the anchor of the line. He needs to work on his weight and improve his pass protection, but Crouch is a mauling run blocker. The tackle positions seem set with LT Julian Williams and RT Meares Green. Williams is one of the line’s best athletes, but has had knee issues and got hurt last October to knock him out for the rest of the season. He is the group’s best pass blocker. Green is a blue-collar, try-hard guy who is very versatile. The Pack have two dependable backups in Jake Vermiglio and Jerrail McCuller. Vermiglio started in place of Williams last season and did a bang-up job. He will be a top backup at tackle and guard. McCuller started 4 games last year and is pushing Green at RT. He isn’t very quick, but he did prove to be a solid pass protector last year. This group is big and strong, but is pretty unathletic and that could lead to some problems against fast lines.
Defense: The defense returns 7 starters, but is that good news or bad news after finishing 11th in the ACC in total defense. The Pack were abused for 186 rushing yards per game and gave up over 4 yards per carry. Those numbers may not improve with five players from the front seven gone. The line will attempt to rebuild around DE Willie Young and DT Alan-Michael Cash. Young (48 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 24 QB hurries) is still not the biggest guy, but he has LB speed and often blows past opposing tackles. He will push for All-ACC honors. Cash (50 tackles, 6.5 tfl, 3.5 sacks, 13 QB hurries) was terrific in his first year as a starter and proved to be quick, explosive, and disruptive. The staff like the promise of German-born Markus Kuhn at the other end. Kuhn (33 tackles, 5 tfl) played about 25 snaps per game last year and has the size (6-4, 280) and strength to complement the quicker Young well. Replacing NFL draft pick DeMario Pressley at tackle could be harder, but the coaches expect Antoine Holmes (20 tackles, 4 tfl, 3 sacks) to be productive after playing in 9 games as a JC transfer. Adding depth at tackle will be Keith Willis, who transferred from Boston College. Willis played in 23 games at BC and will be a valuable hand. The top backup at end will be sophomore Audi Augustin, who has a good burst and got his feet wet last year. This group still needs to prove its mettle against the run, but this should be the strength of the D. They’ll need to be because the LB corps may be the D’s biggest weakness. All three starters are gone and the Pack are in rebuild mode. The foundation will be set by WLB Nate Irving. Irving (52 tackles, 7 tfl) started a few games late in the year and showed off great instincts. He will only get better with experience. The favorite for the SLB job is Robbie Leonard, a converted safety who is scrappy and a big hitter, but undersized. The starter at MLB, for now, is junior Ray Michel. Michel (43 tackles, 2 tfl) is a steady career backup who has solid instincts and a knack for being around the ball. He is only the starter for now, though, because true freshman Dwayne Maddox is hot on his heels. Maddox participated in spring practice and showed off outstanding instincts and shed blockers like they weren’t there. He will start somewhere by season’s end, but starts summer practice behind Michel. Depth at OLB is shaky, but one good option is sophomore Thomas Barnes. Barnes (15 tackles, 2.5 tfl, 1.5 sacks) is undersized, but was one of the few true freshmen to play last year and packs a wallop. Irving and Maddox have potential, but they are young and the players around them are pretty average. The secondary returns three starters from a unit that quietly finished 28th in the country in pass defense. However, the one lost starter, S DaJuan Morgan, will be hard to replace. Hoping to fill the void at safety is senior J.C. Neal. Neal (40 tackles, 2 tfl) has played literally every position in the secondary, but will be the steadying influence at safety this year. The leader to start opposite Neal is redshirt frosh Justin Byers. Byers is very fast and quick to learn and seemed very versatile in spring ball. Making a strong push to start will be sophomore Javon Walker. Walker (46 tackles) was getting rave reviews last year before an ACL tear ended his season. He missed spring practice, but is expected back in August and will push Byers hard for a starting nod. The coaches also hope that redshirt freshman Jimmaul Simmons will prove to be a quick study so they can move Neal to corner if needed. Neal may be needed at corner because depth, and talent, is lacking. Senior Jeremy Gray (62 tackles, 3 ints.) should be solid, putting his size (6-2, 190) and coverage skills to good use last year. Sophomore DeAndre Morgan (31 tackles, 8 pass breakups) lacks ideal size, but is fast and tough. He has tremendous upside and potential. The coaches are hoping redshirt freshman Dominique Ellis will be the first corner off the bench, but although he is aggressive and quick, he is very raw. Junior Koyal George is another option at corner, but he has virtually no experience. Thus, if neither Ellis or George work out, Neal may be working at corner.
Special Teams: The coaches are looking for consistency from this group. Sophomore Josh Czajkowski will take over at kicker after being the backup last year. Bradley Pierson (37.2 avg) finished last in the ACC in punting average last year and will be pushed by Jeff Ruiz. Departed Darrell Blackman was one of the country’s top return men and the coaches are struggling to find a replacement.
Schedule: With the exception of a home game against William & Mary and a late season road trip to Duke, the schedule is pretty daunting for a team coming off a 5-7 season. The Pack open at South Carolina and play at Clemson two weeks later. The next four games (East Carolina, USF, BC, FSU) are all at home, but none are sure things. The final two games (at UNC, home versus UM) may determine if the Pack go bowling.
Overall Outlook: On paper, nothing stands out about this NC State team. They are deep at running back and have some talent along the d-line, but that is about it. The QB situation looks like a potential mess and the OL have some bodies, but none will wow you. The LB corps looks paper thin and the secondary looks decent, but susceptible. The schedule doesn’t do any favors either. Unless something unexpected happens, even a steady coach like O’Brien will struggle to win a lot of games with this group. The Pack would likely have to win every home game to go bowling and that isn’t probably going to happen. Expect another 5-7 season, but with so many young players 2008 may set a foundation for better years ahead.
Help save Civil War battlefields-go to www.civilwar.org and help the Civil War Preservation Trust FSU Alumnus, 2001/2004
This message was edited by the author on 2008-08-19 10:31:26.