NCSU-Wake: Five Questions

NC State will try to pick up a rare win in Winston-Salem on Saturday against Wake Forest. Here are five questions heading into the Wolfpack's ACC opener of the 2011 season.

1. Will NC State's offensive line protect Mike Glennon?
Glennon spent far too many plays getting hit or getting hurried during the Pack's opener. The first-time starter ended up sacked four times, one of which led directly to a Liberty touchdown, and often rushed his throws as a result of pressure. He looked far better in the second half after the Wolfpack got a running game going and the offensive line started picking up Liberty's blitzes.

But that doesn't change the fact that for a large portion of the game NC State couldn't keep Liberty out of its own backfield. Wake Forest will throw better athletes and more sophisticated blitz packages, presenting an even bigger challenge. The line's performance should help to answer whether Liberty was first-game jitters or the start of a trend. Another struggle by the offensive line could point to some real problems in a unit that was supposed to help anchor the offense.

2. Which offensive skill players can establish themselves as go-to options?
Other than at tight end, the Pack doesn't really have a go-to player at any skill position on offense. On the ground, Curtis Underwood might be the more consistent runner but he has a tendency to put the ball on the ground. James Washington is the better pass blocker but has too many runs of zero or negative yards.

Wide receiver is even more of a mystery. The two starting receivers were targeted 10 times against Liberty and ended up with just two completions. You cannot move the ball on offense if your top two receivers catch 20 percent of the passes thrown their way. Either Jay Smith or T.J. Graham need to get open more often or O'Brien needs to find other options. The lone bright spot at receiver on Saturday was Tobias Palmer, who caught three of four passes thrown his way and showed the ability to create separation with his quickness.

The hope is that one of the running backs or one of the wide receivers, preferably one of both, distinguish themselves against Wake Forest and provide consistent production.

3. Is Tanner Price a good quarterback?
The coaching staff thought enough of Price last season to eventually turn the reigns over to him as a true freshman, starting nine games for the Deacons. But Price struggled late in the season, finishing the year with just seven touchdowns to go along with eight interceptions.

Price is bound to improve over his true freshman season in 2011, and the question is simply how much he will improve. Before suffering a knee injury that forced him out of the game (and allowed Syracuse to rally for a win), Price had put together the best performance of his college career. Was his game against Syracuse a fluke or a sign of significant progress for the sophomore?

4. Has Wake Forest's defense improved?

For several years, Wake's calling card was a defense that created turnovers and made life generally frustrating for opposing offenses. It was their defense that won them an ACC Championship in 2006, and that defense continued to help them win games until 2009 happened.

Wake Forest Defense 2007-2010

Category 2007 (9-4) 2008 (8-5) 2009 (5-7) 2010 (3-9)
Points per Game 22.2 (28) 18.3 (16) 26.3 (65) 35.8 (110)
Yards per Play 4.6 (13) 4.6 (14) 5.7 (77) 5.8 (76)
Yards per Pass Attempt 5.9 (14) 5.9 (16) 7.2 (66) 7.3 (74)
Yards per Rush 3.2 (18) 3.5 (26) 4.6 (93) 4.7 (93)
Turnovers 35 (4) 37 (1) 15 (111) 17 (95)

As you can see, the defense fell off a cliff in 2009. Just look at the turnover line – they went from the best defense at creating turnovers in 2008 to one of the 10 worst. But Riley Skinner and the offense managed to do enough to keep the team from having a really horrific year. No such luck in 2010 as the offense went back to normal levels and the general awfulness of the defense stood out.

The Deacons enter the year with far more experience on defense, but essentially the same personnel. They might never reach those 2006-2008 levels of defensive dominance again, but can they at least pose something of a challenge to offenses this year?

5. Can the Pack defense keep forcing turnovers?

Against Liberty, the Pack defense was arguably responsible for more points than its offense. They scored seven on their own and set the Pack up with great field position all evening. Thanks to their seven takeaways the offense didn't have a single touchdown drive over 60 yards.

But seven turnovers a game is an unsustainable pace – even the best turnover-generating teams in the country only manage an average of about three takeaways a game. Can this be the kind of defense that generates multiple turnovers a game – even against good competition? Wake Forest will be a good test because even as they went 3-9 last year the Deacons had one of the lower turnover totals in the league. If the Pack can generate turnovers against a team like Wake, it bodes well for them going forward.

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