Sophomore Dave Shinskie started the first three games for the Eagles, passing for 512 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions. After an 11-of-25, 2-INT performance against Virginia Tech, BC head coach Frank Spaziani elected to replace Shinskie with true freshman Chase Rettig.
Rettig completed 5-of-10 passes for 72 yards and a score before being knocked out of the Notre Dame game with a sprained ankle. Rettig is day-to-day and has practiced this week, but his status for this weekend's game is unknown. BC's other option is sophomore Mike Marscovetra, the signal-caller Spaziani turned to when Rettig went down against the Fighting Irish. Marscovetra completed 22-of-37 passes for 193 yards against the Irish, but he also tossed two interceptions.
O'Brien and defensive coordinator Mike Archer know that the key to stopping Boston College is defending their offense and not necessarily focusing on who will be lining up under center.
"I think their offense is their offense," said O'Brien. "[BC offensive coordinator] Gary Tranquil has been around... I coached a long time with him too. He's going to have his passing game, and he's got to find the right guy to execute what he wants to do in the passing game."
"We don't know who the quarterback is going to be," Archer stated. "Whether it is Rettig, No. 16, or [Shinskie]. We have to prepare and do what we do... it doesn't change. We still have to get the QB on the ground.. the running back on the ground.
"All three quarterbacks are similar. They are going to urn their offense and do what their coaches ask them to do and get the ball in No. 2's hands, get it outside. I don't think it makes any difference. You see all three of them on film, and they are very similar. They do a good job of doing what they ask them to do, but the guy you've got to stop is No. 2."
"No. 2" is star tailback Montel Harris, a player who single-handily won the game between the two teams in 2009. In NC State's 52-20 loss last season, Harris rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns, darting through holes and running past Wolfpack defenders.
Boston College has struggled recently running the football, but look for them to try and get Harris going early against the Wolfpack. Through four games he has rushed for 334 yards and a touchdown, but the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has yet to really get on track. Tom O'Brien knows that Harris is capable of being a difference maker.
"He has really good vision," O'Brien said of Harris. "He has great balance, and he's tough to knock off his feet. That, with his vision and cutting ability, he has enough speed that he can run away from you.
"I think it comes down to balance. He has great balance for a running back. He's never out of whack with his body. He's always got his center of gravity over him so he can make those cuts and explode through those holes."
"The running back killed us last year," said Archer. "He set a record for touchdowns and yards gained, so we know how good he is."
Harris really exploited NC State's defense when Boston College went to its 'Bazooka' package. With Harris lined up at quarterback, he was able to take the snap and attack the holes created by his offensive line. The Wildcat exposed the Wolfpack's weaknesses in the middle of the defense, and Archer believes they will see it again on Saturday.
"We've got to practice it," he said. "They hurt us on it last year. It's a craze now in football, and it's an opportunity for them to get the ball in his hands. We're going to spend time on it this week, trust me."
It helps Harris that Boston College's line is huge. The Eagles average over 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, and feature two preseason All-ACC honorees in LT Anthony Castonzo and RG Thomas Claiborne.
Sure, Boston College has struggled offensively, but the pieces are in place for them to get on track against the Wolfpack. NC State must make sure they handle the Eagle offense, particularly the running game, if they are going to be 5-1 at the end of the day.
"Their offensive line is huge," said Archer. "The back is very good, the tight ends are good blockers, and their receivers can block. The running game has been something that has given them the opportunity to win in this league and it's continued.
"You've got to get them in predictable, throwing situations."