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Thursday, August 20, 2009

ACCSports.com: Four Questions For N.C. State This Fall

The guys over at ACCSports.com are posing four questions about the upcoming football season for each school in the ACC. They chronicled the Wolfpack this week, and here are the four questions:

1. Can the N.C. State defense survive without Nate Irving?
2. Will Russell Wilson stay healthy?
3. What about South Carolina?
4. Will Tom O’Brien ever catch a break?

You can find the answers from ACCSports.com here, but for the heck of it, I'll offer up my own answers to the questions:

1. Can the N.C. State defense survive without Nate Irving? Define "survive." I think State will be a capable unit without Irving, and as O'Brien has stated before, the injury coming prior to fall practice has given State time to work Dwayne Maddox and Terrell Manning into the fold early enough to lessen the blow. Had this injury come September 2nd, things would've been far worse for the Pack.

If there's an area on defense State needs to be concerned with it's the secondary. A unit that was already thin has seen injuries and transfers further thin its ranks. State will be relying on youth and a senior walk on to carry the load in defending downfield, a scary proposition. State's defensive strength -- the defensive line -- will need to generate a sufficient pass rush to take some of the heat off.

2. Will Russell Wilson stay healthy? Yes. I made the bold, completely baseless prediction earlier this week that Wilson will start all 12 (and likely the 13th) games this year for the Pack. He and coaches O'Brien and Dana Bible have been working with Wilson on ways to minimize the number of hits he takes over the course of the season: sliding earlier on runs, staying in the pocket while working through his progressions, etc. The coaches have made it clear that they don't want to take away Russell's ability to create with his feet, but he needs to do so within the framework that his health is far more important than a few extra yards. Russell's a sharp kid and a hard worker, so I have no doubts he's heeding their advice.

3. What about South Carolina? South Carolina is a very important game for a variety of reasons: It obviously sets the tone for the year right off the bat; it sets the table to be 3-0 heading into the Pitt game; it would be a key victory for the ACC over an SEC school; it's a rivalry game (see: 1986, Danny Peebles); it's a home game; it's a Thursday night game on national television on the four-letter network.

All of these reasons and more make that opening game a critical one for State. You're never quite sure how a team will respond in game one -- it's why many teams load up on cupcakes right off the bat as de facto preseason contests. If State has the fortitude to come out and beat an SEC school on its home turf in game one, erasing the memory of last year's 34-0 contest in Columbia, it sets the table for a solid out-of-conference schedule heading into the meat-and-potatoes of the year.

South Carolina is a beatable team. They're relying on a young QB (Soph. Stephen Garcia) who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year and lost their primary back from a rushing offense that ranked 112th out of 119 teams. Lose that game and, while it won't be the end of the world, it will dampen the hopes of some fans and folks in the media that State has turned the corner.

4. Will Tom O’Brien ever catch a break? Honestly, who knows? It's strange that injuries continue to be a bugaboo in year three of the O'Brien era. Injuries neutralized a solid team last year and have already taken their toll thusfar before the first snap (Irving, TE Mario Carter, OL Denzelle Good, QB Everette Proctor, WR Donald Bowens, S Javon Walker, etc.)

Only time will tell if this trend continues, but small consolation comes this season as misery has company with teams across the league (VT with the loss of Darren Evans, UNC with several players) also feeling the hurt during the preseason.

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