NCSU-UL: Five Questions

NC State's season opener against Liberty won't define the team, but it might help answers some lingering questions about what to expect in 2011.

No one will leave Saturday's game knowing exactly what to expect from NC State for the rest of the year. There's simply no way to learn a lot about a team from playing an FCS opponent, particularly in a season opener.

But that doesn't mean we can't learn something, or at least get some ideas about which areas should be ongoing concerns and which are in good position going forward. Here's five questions that might be answered, at least partially, by the final whistle on Saturday.

1. How comfortable will Mike Glennon look in the pocket?

The coaching staff knows what they have with Glennon, but to the fans he remains mostly a mystery. But this question isn't just about Glennon, it's about the entire offensive line as well. Russell Wilson had the ability to create plays with his feet while Glennon will be much more of a traditional pocket passer, so offensive line will have to give him time to throw. If the Liberty rush is able to get to Glennon or create problems for him in the pocket, that's not a good sign going forward.

As for Glennon, it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first start. Will he get happy feet or hold the ball too long? Ideally he looks comfortable and confident in the pocket and makes his throws. This isn't so much about his final results as it is demeanor and his ability to move the chains consistently for this team against an inferior opponent.

2. Can this offense run the ball effectively?

It's easy to forget just how much trouble the Pack had moving the ball on the ground last year – but the team ranked 95th nationally with 3.44 yards per carry. Only Mustafa Greene was an effective runner for the Pack, and he's sidelined until at least mid-October. James Washington will start on Saturday but expect plenty of Curtis Underwood and Tony Creecy as well. But again this is a question for the offensive line as much as for the running backs. You want to see the line dominate up front and open gaping holes for the running backs. The Pack only averaged 3.6 yards per carry against its FCS foe in 2010, and you would like to see that number much higher on Saturday.

3. How will the freshman kickers respond to their first game?

Niklas Sade and Wil Baumann are under an extraordinary amount of pressure for 18-year-olds. Sade, the Pack's new placekicker, and Baumann, the new punter, are both true freshmen who have been thrust into starting roles because the Pack literally has no other options. Both were highly-rated high school prospects at their position so they both have the talent and both have performed well if the scrimmage stats being released are to be believed. But there is no way to know how these two kids will react the first time they have 50,000 people watching what they do on the field. Let's hope the answer is well.

4. Who stands out at wide receiver?

Of all the questions on this list, this one is probably the least likely to be answered on Saturday. Last year against Western Carolina the Pack threw to 11 different receivers and T.J. Graham led the team in receiving. Graham accounted for nearly a third of his total 2010 receiving yards in that single game, so his performance was not some precursor to a breakout year.

Yet it will still be interesting to see where the ball goes against Liberty. Does Graham become the de facto No. 1 receiver or will someone like Jay Smith, Steven Howard or Tobias Palmer see a high number of passes thrown their way. Pay close attention to any third down passing play to see where Glennon feels most confident throwing the ball (though I suspect the answer to that question isn't a wide receiver but his All-ACC tight end).

5. Can this defense be even better than it was in 2010?

While everyone acknowledges how improved the NC State defense was in 2010, I'm not sure that we all completely appreciate just how good they were as a whole. Just take a second to glance at these rankings – 7th nationally in 3rd down conversions; 14th in rushing defense; 27th in turnover margin. They were somewhat overshadowed because the ACC contained so many good defenses last season (or, one could argue, so many terrible offenses) that it was hard for NC State's squad to really stand out. But make no mistake - the defense did more to win games last year than the offense.

So the question is can they repeat, or even build on, last year's success? Last season's opener against Western Carolina is probably a fair measuring stick. The Pack gave up 189 yards and seven points, with 87 of those yards coming on the opening drive for the Catamounts.

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