Sep 8, 2012; East Hartford, CT, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Dontae Johnson (25) just misses intercepting a pass intended for Connecticut Huskies tight end Ryan Griffin (94) during the second half at Rentschler Field. North Carolina State defeated the Huskies 10-7. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
After several days' distance, I have come to the conclusion that the UConn game was not nearly as bad as it seemed. The broadcast crew, being a pathetic ESPN3 affair, failed to give anyone watching any information on the game relating to weather, injury status, or anything else that might have been of bearing on the situation. As a result, there has been a fair amount of negative media swirling around the Wolfpack win, with everyone from the N&O to the ACCSportsJournal jumping on the "disappointing NC State season" bandwagon. My Facebook feed following the game was a mess of angry Pack basketball fans clamoring about how long the season was going to be and how hopeless things looked.
Folks, I'm here to play the voice of optimism yet again. Jump to see why.
1)The Weather: Something that has been almost entirely left out of nearly every account of the game I have read up until today, when I listened to this. Bad weather was sweeping the entire east coast the day of the game, and apparently the wind was so bad in UConn's tiny little stadium that half of the field was virtually unplayable offensively. O'Brien's interview was the first I had heard of this, but when I went back and reviewed the game he seemed right about the troubles the wind was posing - after crossing the 50 both teams struggled to pass the ball (alternating quarters of possession, of course). This revelation makes Glennon's poor passes seem a little more justified. Interesting of note - the long touchdown pass Glennon made to Bryan Underwood was attempted with the wind at his back. Whether it was Glennon or whether it was the weather (ha, see what I did there?), the result was a complete reliance on the run game, and a resulting reliance by UConn on the blitz. UConn was unable to get pressure when rushing only four most of the game, instead relying on six and seven man blitz schemes (sound like some other defense you know?). The result was a lot of stuffed runs and a sore Mike Glennon. UConn really doesn't get the respect they deserve for a swarming, fast-attack defense, and I think we will see that as the weeks continue.
2)Rob Crisp/Earl Wolff injuries: Neither seem to be that serious and they will probably only miss a few weeks, which should be okay given the timing and our schedule. Still, you hate to have something like this happen at all (see the Mustafa Greene situation, in which an unspecified foot injury went from one week to two weeks to no information to out for the season). The upside is of course that some inexperienced guys got to play against a really strong defense - Tyson Chandler, the replacement left guard, had to face down UConn speedster defensive end Trevardo Williams (more on him here) all day, giving him some valuable game tape to look at going forward.
3) The running backs: While Mustafa Greene earned the start and did enough against UConn to earn another start this week against South Alabama, none of the running backs were able to distinguish themselves enough to impress Tom O'Brien. The first component to our offense clicking will be a consistent and hard-working offensive line - the second will be a running back who steps up and becomes The Guy.
1)That 4th-quarter drive following the UConn score: UConn scored its lone touchdown of the game with 7:00 minutes left, bringing them to within 3. The ensuing NC State drive was crucial to the outcome of the game, and to me signaled a major step forward for the offense, which had struggled to click well all day with the weather, defense, and general adversities of road play. State only had the ball for 3:39, but they were a critical 3:39 for dampening UConn's hopes. State drove 48 yards on 9 plays before turning the ball over on downs, and did so without becoming too conservative and thus predictable. The drive was balanced, and featured strong running from under center (hey, what a concept) and several short, quick passes underneath to Tobias Palmer, who had been nonexistent to that point. To me, the offense's ability to put together a smooth, organized drive when the game was on the line was the biggest turning point so far for our season. It gave the defense, which had just surrendered its only big play of the game, a chance to settle down, see that UConn would have poor field position, and prepare to go back on and make the stop, which they did.
2)David Amerson/Rodman Noel: While Mike Glennon has yet to show that he will be a big playmaker for the Pack this year, David Amerson returned to form after a poor showing at Tennessee, locking down his receivers entirely. Amerson was targeted 5 times, allowed 0 completions and intercepted 1 pass. The numbers aren't gaudy, and the UConn receivers are hardly anything special, but after a shaky start a strong, consistent game was what we needed out of Amerson, and he delivered. Rodman Noel, meanwhile, seemed to be figuring things out at linebacker, notching six tackles, one for a loss.
3) Winning on the road: Tom O'Brien teams historically have a tough time away from home (especially if you're talking in-conference, in-division). UConn has a vastly underrated defense, the weather was bad, and State was coming off a sorry performance in its much-anticipated season opener. In a game that featured a lot of frustration for the offense, the team hung in there - the defense stepped up in a big way, holding UConn to just 239 total offensive yards - special teams was able to keep the position battle favorable - and the offense didn't give up, getting enough together to get the win. The adversity the Pack faced this past week, in only the second game of the season, was very real, and yet they emerged with a very real victory. State now has two powderpuff games in the safe confines of Carter-Finely to get the problem areas ironed out before heading into ACC play, and the team has already shown it can weather troubles and come out with a win. There are still a lot of reasons to be positive, Pack - don't give up just yet.
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