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Post-Spring Preview: NC State, Cont.

This column continues my recent comparison of the two teams' offenses. I would say that our offenses look fairly similar--both have potential but have some questions to answer. On defense, though, I'd say we have a distinct advantage that should play to our favor in the game.

Defensive Line

State's defense was overall pretty regrettable last year, but they were OK against the run (although that's possibly because teams liked to throw against them) and had a solid pass rush. Part of the credit goes to a solid defensive line, most of which they return. The leader is sacks specialist Willie Young.

Carolina loses fifth-year senior and consummate party animal Jordin Lindsey but returns the rest of its line, which includes standouts Ladi Ajiboye, Nate Peppers, and Cliff Matthews. I would expect that Clifton Geathers, who received plenty of PT and made some big plays last year, will replace Lindsey in the starting lineup. It's worth nothing that Ajiboye will be suspended for at least one game due to his academic and legal troubles; whether Spurrier will opt to suspend him for this game or wait until we play a cupcake remains to be seen. All in all, this is a stellar unit in comparison to that of State. While it wasn't our forte last year, the defensive line was serviceable and could be great this year with more experience. Depth will be an issue as always, especialy considering the frequency with which defensive linemen get hurt. However, the same goes for State. Moreover, while our line wasn't our strength last year, it was still one of the better in the SEC, and while State's was their defense's strength, it was still one of the worst in the ACC. I'm going with Carolina on this one, although not by much.

Verdict: Slight Advantage South Carolina


This is where things begin to get a little more uncertain for State. The 'Pack do return a couple of linebackers with significant experience in Nate Irving and Rey Michel, but they often got crossed up and gave up significant yardage through the air, and reports are that that continued during spring practice. This should be a team that we can carve up in the short passing game if we can muster any semblance of an offense.

Carolina, of course, loses a star linebacker in Jasper Brinkley and a solid backup in Marvin Sapp. However, we return one of the nation's best linebackers in Eric Norwood. Flanking Norwood will probably be a rotating duo of Shaq Wilson and Rodney Paulk. Both have some experience in mop-up duty but will have to learn to be more serviceable quickly. If we end up playing more 4-3 fronts than we did last year, which the coachs have hinted is a possibility, you may see Josh Dickerson or Tony Straugher get some playing time as well. While we have some questions in the linebacking corp, the presence of Norwood as a leader and State's relatively mediocre unit give us a decided advantage here.

Verdict: Strong Advantage South Carolina


State returns safety Justin Byers and corner back DeAndre Morgan. The secondary was another problem area for State last year, so losing a couple of guys probably won't hurt much. The returners along with the new guys will have to play better in coverage than they did last year for State to avoid giving up a lot of yards through the air.

Carolina also loses some key players in this area, among them Emanuel Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, Carlos Thomas, and Stoney Woodsen. We do return Darian Stewart and Chris Culliver as starting safeties. Although Carolina has some talented players that have shown potential at times, such as Addison Williams and Akeem Auguste, and some talented incoming freshman, particulalry uber-recruit Stephon Gilmore, looking to solidify starting roles this fall, the losses in the secondary make this area, usually one of our strengths, a question mark for the defense. I think we're better than State at this position in terms of sheer talent. However, I do worry that if we suffer any injuries that we're going to be in a tough spot in terms of depth.

Verdict: Slight Advantage South Carolina

Special Teams

State returns their placekicker, which gives them something to say on top of us. Josh Czajkowski was a very solid kicker for State last year, going 16/19. Although most of his kicks were from short range, 16/19 is not shabby. Given that reports out of spring practice are that we will miss Ryan Succop this year, State gets the advantage here.

In the return game, State returns a solid player in T. J. Graham, who was effective handling both punts and kickoffs, including one kickoff taken back for 100 yards. Carolina loses Captain Munnerlyn but brings back solid kickoff return man Chris Culliver, who I'm assuming will take over on punts this year as well. I'd say State has a slight advantage here as well, which overall gives them a fairly sizeable advantage in special teams. It's also worth noting that we lost a very good special teams coach in Ray Rychleski.

Verdict: Strong Advantage NC State

Head Coaches

NC State's Tom O'Brien has gone 11-13 in his two years at State. Before coming to Raleigh, he coached several moderately successful years at Boston College; while O'Brien never won more than nine in Boston, he won less than eight only three times in a decade. State fans hope that O'Brien can bring the consistency he produced at BC to Raleigh. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is 28-22 after four years at South Carolina after a stint with the Washington Redskins and a long, successful tenure at Florida, his alma mater. Similarly to O'Brien's relationship to NC State, USC fans are still waiting for Spurrier to bring sustained success to Columbia. With their achievements at their current schools roughly equal, a slight advantage here goes to Spurrier due to his past achievements.

Verdict: Slight Advantage South Carolina

Final Verdict

NC State won't be easy this year, especially as we have to play them in Raleigh. However, our defense looks to be significantly better than theirs, so I think that we should be able to win this one unless the offense comes out completely flat and gives up lots of turnovers. I really don't want to think about what happens if we lose this game. The early stretch my be just as difficult as the late-season Orange Crush this year, and if we're going to have any chance at getting to the magical eight-win mark, we need to get out of the first four with at most one loss.

Prediction: Close game most of the way but Carolina pulls away at the ends and wins by 1-2 TDs