Welcome to the road, and a road game with special circumstances: this is the first time Old Dominion will host an ACC team and it is fair to assume the atmosphere will be pretty raucous. This is probably for the best, since NC State is going to have far more important road games down the road, and there's no better way to get your feet wet than in an atmosphere more impressive than Boston College's or Wake Forest's against a team that is worse than both.
But NC State was a bit sloppy in Week 2, which leads to some fair questions about how they'll respond early in a hostile environment. Here's what we're watching:
1.) Hello, Shadrach, it's nice to see you.
Shadrach Thornton's suspension is over, but where does he fit into the depth chart at running back, and what does that mean for the offense on Saturday night? Matt Dayes has been outstanding as a feature back in the first two weeks, proving he can handle 20+ carries, if need be. (And need has been!) So does State's coaching staff hedge a bit, working Shad in slowly, or does the offense resemble more of the split-carry approach from last season? Dayes will start, and Shad may well continue on in double-triple-secret probation, as has been the case in the past.
I think the surprise would be Shad getting a decent number of carries, say 15 or so, but if that's the case, no doubt the game's gone pretty well.
2.) What kind of front-6.5 do we have here, exactly?
NC State's defensive front played well against Eastern Kentucky after a mediocre performance against Troy, which leaves a whole lot undefined in this area of the defense. Old Dominion would like to run with its talented running back and avoid throwing situations for its first-year quarterback. If the Monarchs are able to execute that plan, even if State wins, it'll be a bit discouraging. That shouldn't happen.
Ideally, State's defense will act as a vise, slowly crushing the Monarchs into unmentionable and unidentifiable shards of offense. But it's hard not to worry about some early mental lapses, when Old Dominion's at peak adrenaline, and the crowd is most enthusiastic.
3.) Who are you, and where are we going?
Old Dominion might not be very good, and NC State I think is pretty good, but as for estimating the ceiling for State, more data is required. If NC State walks into Norfolk and rolls to an easy victory, then we can feel better about the notion that the Wolfpack can challenge for the Atlantic Division. If the game is a struggle--if the Wolfpack appears and plays shaken by a road environment--then we'll need to re-evaluate. And if State happens to lose, well, ... let's not ponder that too much right now.