NCSU-South Alabama: 5 Questions

NC State will try to rebound from its loss to Wake Forest by handing South Alabama its first loss in the program's short history.

1. Was the defense's 3rd down success last year a fluke?
Here's fact that often gets lost in the discussion of the Pack defense – even the 2010 defense that is so highly thought of was not good at defending the pass. Not as terrible as the Pack has been so far this year (9.1 yards per attempt through two games compared to 7.2 yards per attempt in 2010), but pass defense hasn't been a strength for this team since the 2007 season.

What made the 2010 version of the Pack defense so much better than previous iterations was its ability to get off the field on third down. Last year the Pack ranked seventh in the nation in the category, with teams converting just 33 percent of its third downs. In other words two out of every three tries the other team was sending out the punt or field goal unit. This year that number is up to 43 percent and while a 10 percent gap might seem small it ranks the Pack 84th in the FBS.

Through two games, they've gone from being one of the best teams at getting off the field to one of the worst. Mike Archer and the rest of the defense are going to have to find that winning formula again or it will be another year of constantly playing catch-up.

2. Will Glennon build on his second-half success at Wake?
Mike Glennon threw for more touchdowns in the second half against Wake Forest than he had thrown in his entire college career to that point. In those 30 minutes, which might have ended in even better numbers if his teammates could hold onto the ball, he displayed the sort of skill-set the coaching staff has been raving about for the better part of three years.

So he's capable, and now he's done it in a real game under real pressure. But the hardest part still sites in front of the junior quarterback – maintaining and improving from week-to-week. Teams will have tape on him now, see some of his flaws and try to exploit them. They will notice his tendency to stare down receivers and he will have to correct that problem. Glennon's ability to adjust as the season progresses is just as important as his physical tools or understanding of the offense.

3. Can NC State find defensive playmakers?

Last year the Pack's biggest defensive play-maker was without a doubt Nate Irving, but the second guy on that list was probably J.R. Sweezy. With Irving in the professional ranks and Sweezy sidelined for another two weeks at least, the question is who on the defense can make a big play for the Pack?

The guy most people pegged for a breakout year was Audie Cole, who moved over to Irving's middle linebacker spot in the offseason. But he has yet to make game-changing plays that Irving did in 2010.

With that being said, it did take Irving a couple of games to fully adjust to playing middle linebacker so that could be the case for Cole this year.

4. Can the offense sustain long drives?
Over two games the Pack has managed just four drives of more than 50 yards – two of which were one-play 60+ yard passes for touchdowns. It's also managed just four drives of more than 10 plays. Both Liberty and Wake Forest won the time of possession battle in the Pack's first two games. With the defense banged up and struggling to find consistency, the offense needs to put together longer scoring drives.

The Pack made some strides against Wake Forest – after four three-and-outs against Liberty the Pack never had one against the Deacons. But their three most time consuming drives ended in a field goal and two punts, while the three touchdown drives were a combined total of seven snaps. There's nothing wrong with a team that hits on big plays, but the Pack could use more clock-chewing marches down the field to help its defense catch its breath.

5. Wait, South Alabama has never lost a game? Are they any good?
We don't even have to wait till Saturday to answer the first one - South Alabama has indeed never lost a game as a football team. They are 19-0 in the third year of their program, but this will be the first time the Jaguars have faced an FBS.

South Alabama doesn't have the talent or depth of NC State and they've never played a team of nearly that caliber. But they will also be entering Carter-Finley with plenty of confidence thanks to their unblemished record. It's hard to judge them where there talent stands compared to other FCS teams because they have played so few games against teams of the same level. This would be a dangerous opponent if taken lightly, but it's hard to imagine the O'Brien or the rest of the team taking anyone lightly after the loss to Wake Forest.

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