Carolina once again opens their season against NC State, this time traveling to Raleigh to take on the 'Pack. Last time around, we beat State 34-0. However, the score was deceiving: we only led 3-0 at the half and 13-0 at the beginning of the final quarter, and Chris Smelley came in to relieve the regrettable Tommy Beecher and played a deceptively good quarter in which we scored the final 21 points. As we all know, this game was a harbinger of many things we would experience throughout the season, among them a defense that saved the crazy bad offense, inconsistent QB play, absolutely no running game (don't let all the yards Mike Davis racked up at the end of this game deceive you).
This year, I expect this game to be much different. First of all, State is no longer the team they were at that point. Led by QB Russell Wilson, the "Pack emerged at the end of last season after a horrid start and eventually earned a bowl berth. State will look to continue their solid play this year. South Carolina, on the other hand, still has questions, this time on both sides of the ball. However, a more experienced Stephen Garcia, a new offensive line coach in Eric Wolford, and another stellar recruiting class have us believing we can play better this year.
Let's take a look at how the two teams match up against each other on offense. The defensive and head coaching comparisons are soon to come.
State comes in with the aforementioned Wilson, who played very well down the stretch last year. Wilson's most impressive stat is his 17-1 TD-INT ratio, a surprising stat considering that his completion percentage was good but not great at 54.5%. Wilson is also an effective scrambler. If Wilson gets hurt or doesn't live up to expectations, former star recruit Mike Glennon is waiting in the wings.
We of course have Stephen Garcia, who looked good in spurts last year but played poorly over the last few games. Garcia probably has more upside than Wilson, but he needs to prove that he can live up to expectations. Hopefully his good spring was an indication that he's on the way there, but he still haven't proven he can play well consistently, which Wilson has done to some degree.
Verdict: Push--Wilson is more proven but Garcia could be much better when all is said and done
State loses Andre Brown, who went to the New York Giants in the fourth round. However, they do return Jamelle Eugene, a capable back that has played well in tandem with Brown over the past two years.
South Carolina loses starter Mike Davis, but returns talented back ups in Brian Maddox and Eric Baker and has new comers with star potential in true freshman Jarvis Giles and redshirt freshman Kenny Miles. While none of these players has yet played a major role in the offense, they are all talented and having a number of them gives us a lot of depth. While I hesitate to call anything about our running game superior, I think this will be a break out unit in 2009.
Verdict: Slight Advantage South Carolina--State will be productive, but one or more of the SC backs will emerge for a breakout 2009
With Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer returning, State has a solid receiving core coming back. These two players were Wilson's main targets last year.
South Carolina lost one of its best players in recent history when Kenny McKinley graduated. Losing McKinley will hurt us, but hopefully Jason Barnes, Moe Brown, and Dion LeCorn will be able to step in and fill his shoes. Each, however, has failed to consistently perform well over the past couple of years. I think it's key that one of these guys emerges as the go-to guy. He doesn't have to be McKinley or Sidney Rice, but he does need to provide us with a viable target.
Verdict: Slight Advantage NC State--the fact that State has proven targets and that I think we have a group of players with a lot to prove gives State the slight advantage
South Carolina loses Jamon Meredith but retains depth otherwise. This line has performed poorly over the past few years, but new coach Eric Wolford had them performing well in spring practice. I expect significant improvement here in 2009.
State loses two important linemen in John Bedics and Meares Green. Losing these two could be hell for a unit that will have to keep Eric Norwood out of their backfield.
Verdict: Slight Advantage South Carolina--as with the running game, I hesitate to make this call, but I really think we're going to see improvement here