Back in July I concluded that N.C. State had the advantage against Louisiana Tech for two main reasons: the Pack upgraded their coaching staff while the Bulldogs downgraded theirs, and, of the teams' two veteran defensive lines, the Pack's front four have been far and away more productive. Both teams have major question marks on the offensive line, at the linebacker spots, in the secondary, and, of course, at quarterback, but it's N.C. State's advantage up front defensively that will best exploit an opponent weakness (and negate a strength).
The Pack's disruptive front four, led by senior Darryl Cato-Bishop and juniors T.Y. McGill, Art Norman, and Thomas Teal, combined for 36.5 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks, and 13 QB hurries last year. They should make Scotty Young's debut a dicey one. Young had major accolades out of high school, but he has never attempted a pass as a collegian. Put Young in a raucous Carter-Finley for the Pack's hyped home opener under a new regime, and the game is going to speed up on him big time. He may well make a fine QB one day, but I expect his struggles to outweigh his successes in game one.
It would help Young a great deal if he had a veteran offensive line to rely on, but the Bulldogs front five has been decimated by graduation. Right guard Matt Shepperd is the only returning starter. In all, the unit has a total of 16 career starts between them. Jens Danielsen, charged with protecting the quarterback's blind side at left tackle, has 10 games of experience in his career...two years ago at community college. Vincent Cano, the projected starting center, played on the defensive line last year. A rookie QB behind a patchwork offensive line? There is no better recipe for Dave Doeren's defense.
The Bulldogs probably have the best player on the field in sophomore running back Kenneth Dixon, who set an NCAA freshman record with 28 touchdowns last year in a 1,000-yard campaign, but with Sonny Dykes no longer stalking the sidelines and Colby Cameron looking for work after recently getting cut by the Panthers, Dixon, now counted on to be the guy, will likely see a decrease in production (and a lot of McGill in his grill in the backfield).
Skip Holtz has been singing the praises of his veteran defensive line; the team returns all four starters from last year. The problem is that all four of them, combined, had 10.5 tackles for a loss (or as many as Cato-Bishop and McGill had all by themselves). Take away the six sacks IK Enemkpali registered and the other three guys combined for a grand total of one. ONE! UNO! EINS! UN! JEDEN! HITO! YĪ! Keep Enemkpali out of the backfield and whoever is under center for the Pack should have all afternoon to pick apart a very green back seven. I kind of feel sorry for those guys. The Bulldogs gave up an NCAA-worst 340.4 yards per game through the air last year because you just can't cover forever. If Tech still cannot get any pressure, it is in for a long afternoon without the Dykes/Cameron fireworks lighting up the scoreboard.
But what's that you say, Negative Nancy? The Pack's offensive line is also a mess? I'm not so sure. Quinton Schooley may have trouble with accounting, but as long as he can account for the blitz and get his unit in the right assignments, and avoid snapping the damn ball over the QB's head, the surprise starter at center should survive against Tech's pushless line. The three Cs on the line, Tyson Chandler, Duran Christophe, and Rob Crisp, have combined for 41 career starts. Christophe and Crisp have had trouble staying on the field, but both are solid when healthy. And Joe Thuney was on the field for 49 snaps in the comeback win over FSU and more than held his own. He probably should have been starting last year but took a backseat to TOB veteran love. And, as noted earlier this summer, going no-huddle seems to mask OL deficiencies. I think this unit will be a vast improvement over last year's group, and it is certainly better than its counterpart in Saturday's opener.
Akula offered us a forum to place our bets on the season win total earlier today; now it's prediction time for the opener: N.C. State 33, Louisiana Tech 20, with a late Bulldogs' TD making it seem a little closer than it really was. Share your predictions in the comments.