Behind Enemy Lines: N.C. State

Maryland wraps up its regular season this Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., where the Terps (6-5) will take on N.C. State (3-8), losers of seven straight games. The Wolfpack are 0-7 in the ACC, but are looking to send their seniors out with a bang. In order to get a different perspective on the game, we spoke to Pack Pride publisher James Henderson. Here's what he had to say:

Maryland wraps up its regular season this Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., where the Terps (6-5) will take on N.C. State (3-8), losers of seven straight games. The Wolfpack are 0-7 in the ACC, but are looking to send their seniors out with a bang.

In order to get a different perspective on the game, we spoke to Pack Pride publisher James Henderson. Here's what he had to say:

Terrapin Times: Jim, N.C. State is on a seven-game losing streak right now. What is the feeling around the program in general? Are fans sort of hopeful for the future and willing to give Coach Dave Doeren a bye because it's his first year? Or are they restless?

James Henderson: Well, you know how fans are. They want wins. But I think the majority are willing to give the head coach the benefit of the doubt. But I think with [former coach] Tom O'Brien going to three bowl games, you kind of wonder, with three or four wins this season after winning nine games, you wonder what's up. So I think there's some pressure around that, but more than anything the fans are willing to give a first-year coach a pass.

N.C. State is like Maryland in a lot of ways because they had a rash of injuries, especially early on. That kind of set them back because they had some winnable football games, and if they had those [injured] guys their record would probably be a lot better than it is. So I think it's a combination of things that are going on, but I think most fans are willing to give Doeren a pass.

TT: From a Maryland perspective, fans up here see N.C. State as the school Debbie Yow is now heading as athletic director. How do State fans view Debbie Yow, and how has she been?

JH: To be honest with you, fans love her. They like that she's accessible. They like that they can send her an e-mail and she'll get back to them, whether [the fans] like the response or not. I think that's kind of a positive about here. Also, and I think Maryland fans can appreciate this, but he's had a history of hiring good coaches. I think that's what you're looking for [in an AD]. I mean, not just for football and basketball, but she's brought in some really good coaches for the non-revenue sports that have already won -- and she's showing a lot of promise like she did at Maryland.

I think that's one of the reasons fans are confident about Dave Doeren, because she has shown she can hire the right coach. A large part of building a winning program is hiring the right guy to lead those programs, and I think people have confidence in her hires. There's a lot of positive buzz about her around N.C. State right now.

TT: What is the feeling about this game coming up with State losing seven straight and Maryland losing four of five? Is there any buzz at all among Wolfpack fans, or is the feeling, ‘Hey, let's get this over with and get into recruiting and the offseason?'

JH: You know there's [a segment of the fan base] that just wants to get the season over with. But the feeling I get from some of the fans is this is a significant game, mainly because Maryland has been a thorn in N.C. State's side in football the last few years. I think three years ago State went up to College Park and if [State] won that game they would have went to the ACC championship game, but they lost. And I can remember that happening multiple times to N.C. State. So I think there's some fans who really see this as a rivalry-type game because of what has happened the last few years.

Also, fans are aware this is Maryland's last ACC game. So I think both programs want to go out with the win, and there's some intrigue surrounding that.

But, at the same time, like you said, N.C. State has lost seven in a row and Maryland four out of five, so you don't have two teams playing with two confident [fan bases]. I guess we'll find out how it all plays out.

TT: Obviously N.C. State has had some troubles. What are some of the concerns right now? I know the quarterback situation with Brandon Mitchell and has been a little shaky…

JH: The main thing this offseason is finding some stability at quarterback. They played three different guys at quarterback this year. Brandon Mitchell won the starting job in the spring, but he was injured and missed five games in the meat of the schedule. So I think that really set him back. He's a guy that came in after graduating from Arkansas, where he backed up Ryan Mallet and Tyler Wilson, two guys in the NFL. He didn't receive a lot of reps there, so what you would have liked from an N.C. State perspective is to see him get reps against the Louisiana Techs, Richmonds and winnable games like that.

If he could have played those games, that would have helped him when you play [larger profile] teams. But he got injured in the LA Tech game, and the next time he steps on the field is against Florida State, and you don't wish that on anybody. … Just now he's starting to get comfortable -- he threw four touchdowns last Saturday, and that was by far his best outing of the year -- but there's only one game left on the schedule.

But N.C. State is redshirting Jacoby Brissett, the transfer from Florida, and he's probably going to be the starter next year. The hope for [State] is he'll bring the stability the team needs. That's the biggest thing for N.C. State. Someone asked Dave Doeren at his press conference about where the offense needs to improve and he said, ‘Look, if we throw more touchdowns and less interceptions, you wouldn't be asking me that question.' And there's truth to that. You need to have a stable quarterback.

Really, if you don't have a quarterback, you're not going to win many games. Look at Maryland, they were a hot team early on, they lose C.J. Brown, and he comes back not really the same player. And that trickles down to the rest [of the offense]. Then you lose a Stefon Diggs, a Deon Long, and now it's like, Go and try win without your top three playmakers. I mean, good luck.

TT: What about N.C. State's defense? It looks like they've struggled a bit in some areas, though they have a strong front four. What's up with that unit?

JH: The defense has been up and down this year. They had some really strong efforts. They held Syracuse to 10 points for 3.5 quarters, they held Clemson to 26 at home, they had UNC down at 21 [points] for three quarters… They've tailed off late in games, but a lot of the problem [stems from having] an inefficient offense.

N.C. State hasn't scored over 21 points in a conference game this year – just think about that. That's bad. If you can't score more than 21 points in any conference game that puts a lot of pressure on your defense. So the problems defensively is its strained over four quarters. Like the last couple games they've had problems stopping the run with Andre Williams and BC and then ECU ran for 140 on them. Maryland might be able to exploit that.

Then on the back end, they've struggled against the pass in recent weeks. They've got a lot of inexperience back there, starting a true freshman and two sophomores. But up front, that's their biggest strength. The D-line is the best position probably on the team, and they're getting back healthy. So that's where State is defensively – strong up front, questions on the back end.

TT: And lastly, how do you see this game going knowing N.C. State is 3-4 at home?

JH: I really don't have a firm grasp or a feeling at all, because I really don't know where these teams are in terms of mindset. N.C. State, will they come out and play for their seniors on Senior Day, or are they looking forward to next year? And with Maryland, they already have six wins and are bowl eligible, and they're coming off that loss against BC, so how will they play? I just don't know where these teams are mentally.

To me, it will probably come down to quarterback play. Both sides have had injuries there, so I think whichever QB plays better, that team will have a good chance to win.

But I do think N.C. State will be ready to play. They kind of are harping on that mantra of this is their bowl game and ‘Win one for the seniors.' But we'll see Saturday.

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