Still a long way to go

After two blowout wins, the question now is whether or not the ‘Noles have improved enough to beat a Wake Forest team that has beaten them the last two years.

Saturday's win over the University of Tennessee Chattanooga again displayed many reasons for optimism this year; on the other hand, it was also not quite a dominant performance as the prior win against Western Carolina had been. The ‘Noles showed their youth, losing focus at times and not maintaining the high level of play that will be necessary as they move into the meat of the schedule.

Observations from UTC:

There was some separation at the QB position in this game; Christian Ponder came out hot and stayed consistent through his time on the field. There was little to complain about in his time on the field, despite the offense missing out on a couple opportunities to put points on the board. Both quarterbacks still have room to grow in terms of game management, but they will only improve in that department. One thing that both quarterbacks—but Ponder in particular—did quite well is making their throws on time and accurately enough to allow the receiver to continue in stride. Ponder's TD throw to Antone Smith is an excellent example of making a routine throw accurately enough to let the receiver accelerate into open space. Swing passes and scat routes are among the most difficult throws a quarterback has to make, and when they're routinely put in the proper place, it's a great indicator of a quarterback's accuracy.

D'Vontrey Richardson again flashed his big-play potential and his big-league arm, but he also showed why he is not the starter with two near turnovers. On the first, he avoided a sack with a stiff-arm of a defender and then lobbed a dangerous pass into the flat that would certainly have been intercepted by a better team (fortunately, Taiwan Easterling came back strong to the ball and made the catch). A little later, he again avoided a sack by sprinting out to the left, but in his attempt to avoid yet another defender, the ball was poked away and fortunately recovered by an offensive lineman following the play. Nonetheless, his TD throw to Bert Reed, his 55 yard TD run (which he said was the result of "anger" at not having played as well in his first few plays), and the pass dropped by Reed in the end zone all showed why it will get increasingly difficult to keep Richardson off the field.

Our receivers again showed big play ability, but they've got to do a better job focusing on the easy catches. Several drops would have cost us dearly against a tougher opponenent; we cannot afford to drop "gimmies." Greg Carr's improvement was quite visible in this game; he showed a willingness to work into the middle of the field and is demonstrating a progression to becoming a complete receiver. He also appears to have gained at least ten (very needed) pounds in the offseason.

Our tailback situation will be good as long as Smith is healthy, but I will feel much more comfortable once we have a big back (Ty Jones and eventually Marcus Sims) to share the load as well. Jermaine Thomas is exactly what recruitniks expected; once he's put on another ten or fifteen pounds in the next couple offseasons, he's going to be special.

Our offensive line again looked very good when the starters were playing, but our lack of depth was pretty obvious as we began shuffling players on the line in the second quarter. One of the reasons D'Vo didn't look quite as settled in his time on the field was because of a little more inconsistency in pass protection during the second half. Zebrie Sanders struggled mightily in his time at left tackle. Of the other young guys, Datko and Greenlee looked good, as did Furlong and Spurlock. We're still a bit better run blocking than pass blocking, but given the mobility of the two QBs, that's a preferable situation.

Our defensive front looked better this game, but we're going to need to be a lot better at the DT position to beat Wake Forest. McCray showed a lot of growth between the two games, getting significantly more penetration in this one despite UTC being better on the OL than WC. The reality is that until we get Mincey back at DT, we simply won't scare anyone on the DL.

We're solid at LB. This is a very underrated group; with the size and range we can put out there (Verdell and Ingram both being former safeties helps immensely), we have a lot of flexibility at that position.

I still have no idea what to think of our secondary; until they're tested against Wake, it's going to be hard to tell if we've improved or if it's simply the level of competition. Tony Carter is a better punt returner than CB, though; he is fearless back there and has great vision. I hope they leave him back there even once Parker returns.

We are not very good in the kicking game. Hopefully Gano's return will fix that.

At this point, no one really knows how good FSU is, but the coach and players of UTC probably know better than anyone else, having played Oklahoma in the first week and Florida State in the second. After the game, the consensus from UTC's side was that FSU was not as big or physical as OU had been (especially on defense), but that they were about as fast as the Sooners. The biggest difference between the two teams was (unsurprisingly) the defensive lines, where UTC felt the OU defensive line had put much more pressure on their offense. Coach Rodney Allison pretty much sums up my own thoughts about the rest of the year: "I'll be anxious to see how [FSU] goes forward in the year and how good they are. I think they have some work to do."

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