Hello again, Wolfpack Nation. Following the Miami debacle, many of you may have noted my complete absence from BTP and from the world in general. This was inspired by equal parts shock and humiliation as it was by life intervening awkwardly, jamming its ugly elbows (see classes, family, bullshit) into the few aspects of my life that I actually enjoy dedicating time to. Frankly between Miami and Florida State all of my "NC State sports" energy for the past few weeks has been used up, but NEVER FEAR - THUMBS ARE BACK.
Instead of doing a Thumbs about either of the last two games (the first of which would be all thumbs down, the second all thumbs up) I thought it would be a good time to look at the entire first half as a whole and point to the three areas in need of improvement and the three areas in which good things have happened. With Maryland coming up this week and a long and hard stretch to the end of ACC play, State fans have a lot to hope for but a lot of areas in which disappointment can still rear its ugly head. So, without further ado, on to the thumbs.
1)The Linebackers: I know, it hasn't been the usual stat-studded performance of a Tenuta LB corps. Despite inexperience, however, the LBs have managed to be Not the Weak Spot of the defense, which is a huge accomplishment in my mind. Once again, Jon Tenuta has taken raw product and shaped it into a formidable machine, and while not the strong point of the defense the linebackers have also proven they are not a weak point, which in a defense this good makes all the difference. Unfortunately the linebacker's ability to not be the weak point has opened that position for other, supposedly more reliable, parts of the unit - looking at you secondary - but since those parts of the defense seem to sometimes show up and sometimes not, overall the defense has turned out to be a possible strong point of the team. Yet again. In a year that was supposed to feature the offense. That certainly can't have anything to do with the coordinators.
2) Surviving injuries: Something about NC State football causes offensive linemen to drop like flies. Regardless of this, the line has managed to do well enough to, well, beat Florida State, which wields the toughest defensive front in the nation. The depletion mean that down the stretch State has to avoid more losses at all costs, on both the defensive and offensive front, but managing that the team shouldn't be terribly overmatched against any of the upcoming foes.
3) Beating Florida State: Being the NC State fan that I am, I can't help answering statements like "we beat Florida State!" with "yes, but imagine if we had just won at Miami too..." Still, as TOB said in his Monday press conference, if you have to pick one of those games to win, we picked the right one. Controlling our own destiny is always something I would like to avoid, knowing our history (someone, ANYONE, please control our destiny for us) but beating Florida State does put the burden of the proof on us. Originally I had predicted us beating FSU and losing to Clemson, setting up a fun little three way tie, but Miami had to go and ruin that. Can we beat Clemson? Yes. Will we? Impossible to say. Still, we DO control our own destiny, and beating the number 3 team can only help our RPI come tournament time, when we...
What's that? It's not yet basketball season?
1) Inconsistency in the secondary: Shocker, I know. I'm going to say right up front that I've been strongly against the overreaction of many State fans against its veteran secondary players. Still, a unit that was supposed to be among the best in the nation has yet to emerge as a consistent strength within the defense. With games against UNC and Clemson in the second half of the season, the secondary HAS to settle down and find its consistency.
2) Offensive rhythm: Starting with the Citadel game, State has found new strength in rushing, moving the ball well against both that team and Miami on the ground. While still relying on the pass game too heavily for my taste, the newfound run game is crucial to our success offensively - Florida State eliminated both our ground game and our passing attack in the first half of the contest two weeks ago, and only surrendered its 17 second half points because it refused to make adjustments when Glennon and company targeted the linebacking corps underneath with mismatch passing. Playing in a conference where so many different defensive strengths (and weaknesses) abound is difficult for developing a consistent offensive system, which may be why we so often see State falling behind early and only coming back after adjustments can be made at the half. In the second half, I would like to see Bible and company establish a consistent plan of what they want to accomplish offensively in the first half, rather than flailing about trying to find an enemy's weakness until the second half rolls around.
3) Road letdowns: After the UConn game, a gritty road struggle against a very good defensive team, I was quietly happy about our prospects. We had gone on the road the week after a tough loss and picked up a win against a solid team, finally turning our backs on our road woes of years past, I thought. Miami proved otherwise. If Tom O'Brien and company wish to remain in the good graces of the Wolfpack faithful, road wins, especially in division, are a must. This weekend's game in College Park is a massive man-up game for the Pack. With a win, State proves its heroics against the nation's number 3 team were not a fluke. A loss means more of the same up and down for the Pack.