Both of these teams have the exact same disappointing 1-2 conference records. Fans of both had very high expectations for this 2001 season. On Saturday, one team is going to start turning their season around, while the other may be headed for a nightmare year.
The college football landscape is already cluttered with teams that were ranked in the preseason but now have poor records, like Miss. State, Oregon State, Penn State and Notre Dame. And Jackets fans will pretty much tell you unanimously, "We don't want to go there."
So we arrive at Saturday's game and "must win" is written all over it.
N.C. State's season has mirrored Tech's in several ways. They lost a close conference game to a team that's suddenly much better than most thought they would be (North Carolina in the Wolfpack's case). And they lost a highscoring heartbreaker to Woody Dantzler and Clemson. While Tech was hurt by the loss of star linebacker Daryl Smith in the Clemson game, the Pack lost superstar LB Levar Fisher to an injury early in the second half of their game with the Tigers. Both teams also lost "genius" offensive coordinators from last season (Norm Chow is now at Southern Cal making over $300,000 a year).
The loser of Saturday's game may have a tough time winning seven games or even qualifying for a bowl game -- a lame bowl game. So the Jackets need to win this game and reestablish themselves in the suddenly much tougher ACC, and a look at the stats and the facts suggest that they are certainly good enough to still finish with a nine, ten, or even eleven win season (counting a bowl game).The Jackets are a very good football team that has lost two close games only because of major breakdowns that will hopefully prove to be aberrations once the season has played itself out. In the Clemson game, the Jackets seemed to draw a giant circle in the middle of their defense after Smith went out and delared it a "no tackle" zone. Luckily, they shouldn't have to face anyone of Woody Dantzler's ability again this season and Smith may return for the North Carolina game November 1. Against Maryland, the Jackets committed six turnovers, the ugliest way ever invented for a team to lose a football game. The fact that the Jackets almost won that game speaks volumes for just how good they are -- or can be. Tech leads the ACC in scoring offense, pass offense, pass defense, kickoff returns, punting, total defense, pass defense efficiency, first downs, sacks, and kickoff coverage. These are not the stats of a losing football team. It's definitely time for the veteran leaders on these team to step up.
N.C. State's Offense Vs. Tech's Defense
Sophomore Philip Rivers leads the ACC in passing. But his performance thus far seems to indicate he misses Koren Robinson more than Norm Chow. He has yet to find the deep threat receiver, but several youngsters in the program have bright futures. The Wolfpack's biggest problem is running the ball. They are last in the ACC averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. The Jackets have a real advantage here because they can let Rivers throw the short passes all day long and still keep them from scoring a ton of points. If the Jackets turn in a plus-turnover performance, they should win this game.
N.C.State's Defense Vs. Tech;s Offense
I've got to believe the Jackets are going to hold onto the ball better this time out. The Wolfpack's chances will largely depend on the health of Levar Fisher, who is questionable for the game. Fisher has averaged a whopping 15.4 tackles a game so far. He is not human if he's healthy. He's a major reason N.C. State is first in the ACC in red zone defense, second in pass defense, and third in scoring defense. The Pack has a lot of speed to go with their star linebacker and they are well-coached.
The Jackets have an advantage over most every team they play on special teams. If they perform poorly here, it will be a self-destructive act. Period.
I'm picking the Jackets. But please, let's not do overtime again!