N. C. State runs a pro-style offense with some option elements. State comes into this game having finished 88th in total offense, 87th in passing offense, and 65th in passing offense a year ago. What those numbers don't tell you, though, is that the Wolfpack were lighting it up at the end of the year; in their last three games, they scored 41 against UNC, 38 against Miami, and were on their way to big numbers in their bowl game against Rutgers before they slowed down after losing star quarterback Russell Wilson to injury in the second half. What the numbers do tell you is that the Wolfpack liked to throw the ball, which should be the case again this year.
The idea that State might be able to continue to produce like it did at the end of last year is what has a lot of people touting this team highly coming into this year. The 'Pack return the bulk of their passing attack, including star quarterback Wilson, receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, and end George Bryan. If the rest of the offense is clicking, these players should be able to gain a lot of yards through the air.
The question marks for State include an offensive line that played well late last year but has gotten mixed reviews during the off-season and a somewhat shaky running game. The line must play two first year starters at the guard spots and lacks depth there. It's better at tackle. At running back, State has given the starting spot to Toney Baker; Jamelle Eugene was expected to start, but Baker has beaten him out. Some of you may have heard about Baker. He was a prize five-star recruit for State a few years back and looked poised for a great career after solid freshman and sophomore campaigns. However, Baker's career took a detour while he battled knee injury over the past two years. He's now back, although it remains to be seen how effective he will be and if he can hold off Eugene for the feature back role.
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The question now becomes, how can we stop these guys? It won't be easy, as I'm thinking State has one of the best quarterbacks we'll see all year. The key, I think, will be in the trenches. First of all, we have to slow down State's rushing attack, which won't be easy considering that the 'Pack have a passing game that will force us to back off the run. We'll also have to worry about occassional option plays. However, if we can get penetration on a shaky State offensive line, we can hopefully keep the 'Pack from setting up a deadly play-action game that could really burn us if they get it going. In other words, I think the key to stopping their passing game is making sure they never get a running game started.
The other, related key will be our pass rush. State quarterback Wilson will burn us if we give him time, so it's important that we pressure him early and often. We have two of the SEC's best pass rushers in Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews, so we have the personnel to do it. One thing that will be key is that our guys take Wilson down when they get the chance; Wilson is very mobile and elusive, so it's important that we don't let him take big defensive plays away from us with his feet. It's also important to note that it's easier to start sending the dogs in on blitzes if the other team can't run the ball well, so a good rushing defense will help us out here, too.
So, what else will we have to watch out for against these guys?