After a disappointing loss at Wake Forest, NC State needed to rebound against FCS opponent South Alabama this weekend. While the Wolfpack won convincingly on the scoreboard, State still has several questions that need to be answered as they head into the meat of the 2011 schedule. Pack Pride takes a look back at NC State's 35-13 win over the Jaguars.
In a nutshell
One of the early season problems that has plagued the Pack was their slow start on offense. NC State came out strong- mixing up the run and pass to score a touchdown on their opening drive of the game.
While the Wolfpack looked impressive at times, their success seemed to come in fits and starts. Turnovers stymied a couple of Pack drives and State never could take over the game with their rushing attack. However, they did enough through the air to ensure that they were never seriously threatened by South Alabama.
Defensively NC State was just so-so. While the scoreboard says the Pack gave up just 13 points, State was way too porous on defense and allowed South Alabama to sustain drives with an efficient passing attack and bruising run game. The Wolfpack's tackling was shoddy at times and they could never generate any consistent pressure in the Jaguar's backfield.
Something that worked
Mike Glennon...for the second week in a row Glennon proved to be the bright spot for the Wolfpack. State has kept the passing attack fairly simple, utilizing a ton of short passes and crossing routes while occasionally mixing in a deep pass over the top. The Pack has yet to attack the intermediate passing game with any regularity so it will be interesting to see how this develops as the season progresses. Glennon is 24th nationally in passing efficiency and his 64% completion percentage is stellar.
If there's any area Glennon needs to improve on it's recognizing blitzes, working the pocket more effectively and getting rid of the ball before taking a sack. In all, Glennon's performance has far exceeded what one would've expected up to this point especially given State's inconsistency running the football.
Something that didn't
Defense producing three and outs...The Wolfpack was simply too generous when it came to stopping the South Alabama offense. On the night State forced just two three and outs and one of those came at the end of the first half with the Jaguars just running out the clock. The inability to get off the field allowed South Alabama to dominate time of possession, 33 minutes to 27 for the Pack.
State's third down defense has been atrocious and that was punctuated by the Jag's conversion of a third and 21. Nationally, the Wolfpack is ranked 91st in third down defense. Clearly State needs a leader to step up defensively- someone the unit can look to for a play in third down situations but unfortunately none has emerged.
NC State's player of the game
Mike Glennon...although his effort was hardly flawless, Glennon is methodically growing into a dependable, dangerous offensive player. You'd be hard pressed to find a quarterback anywhere with a stronger arm but he's also shown impressive touch on the shorter routes. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible has held back the reins to some degree and kept the offense somewhat simple and that's probably a smart move for a relatively inexperienced QB trying to establish confidence and rhythm. The Wolfpack will take his 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio any day of the week.
Graham developing consistency
After notching the first 100 yard receiving effort of his career last week, T.J. Graham followed that up with a five catch, 128 yard performance against South Alabama. With 252 receiving yards on the year, Graham ranks 35th nationally in pass receiving yards. In all purpose yards, Graham is even better. At 195 yards per game, Graham is ranked sixth nationally.
Avoiding the drops that have dogged him in the past, Graham has developed into a reliable pass catcher with elite speed. If he can continue to improve, Graham will force opposing defensive coordinators to game plan for him which should open the door for some of the Pack's other wideouts. State needed an offensive weapon to step up and Graham has proven to be that guy through the first three weeks of the season.
Tobais Palmer...while his three catches for 28 yards appear modest, Palmer made significant contributions in other areas of the game. He made a tremendous block on Curtis Underwood's 18-yard touchdown reception. Palmer also chipped in two tackles on special teams and added a nice 11 yard return on a kickoff when South Alabama kicked off short to avoid T.J. Graham. We love the intensity Palmer brings to the game and we think it's just a matter of time before he breaks out and catches the eye of those unfamiliar with the Wolfpack.
There wasn't a lot to celebrate defensively but the Pack did record two more interceptions Saturday. For a defense built around playing zone, generating turnovers is a must. With seven picks on the year, NC State ranks third nationally and is eighth-best in turnover margin. David Amerson is responsible for three of State's interceptions which makes him the nation's third best in that category.
Giving credit where credit's due
While South Alabama was out manned size and numbers-wise (at least on paper) they managed to effectively handle the Wolfpack's defensive line. They gashed State's front four which paved the way for RB Kendall Houston's impressive 117 yard rushing effort. In fact, Houston was never tackled behind the line of scrimmage during the game. Although State's defensive line did generate three sacks, there were way too many plays where Jaguar's QB C.J. Bennett had more than enough time to pick apart the Wolfpack secondary.
Because of NC State's inability to generate any consistent pressure with their pass rush, the pass defense has suffered. The Pack currently has the nation's 103rd pass defense. With a ton of pass happy teams on the schedule, the 2011 season could prove to be a long one if this isn't corrected.
Where to go from here
Let's face it, if NC State continues to perform the way it has through the first three weeks of the season, the Pack's going to have problems. With teams like Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, UNC and Maryland looming, the Pack has to find answers now.
Almost unthinkable before the season, State finds itself dependent on the offense to give itself a chance to win. The Wolfpack defense has not lived up to expectations and that's being kind. Sure, there have been injuries but no one expected State to be this porous on defense. A defense that was so successful bringing pressure with it's linebackers a year ago has become a liability. It would be interesting to know what the opposition's completion percentage is when State brings a linebacker but we suspect it's not very good.
Unfortunately for State, with a Thursday night game upcoming and a short week of preparation there won't be time for wholesale changes. As it has been for the previous three weeks, the Wolfpack will have to look for a leader to emerge on the defensive side of the ball. If Thursday night turns out to be a repeat of the previous three games then State could be in for a shellacking against the Bearcats.
Observations From the Game: South Alabama
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