Saturday, October 8, 2011
3:30 pm (EST), ESPN3
Central Michigan (2-3) at NC State (2-3) Oct. 8, 3:30, ESPN3
Here's The Deal … The 2011 season just keeps getting worse for injury-riddled NC State, which has to be wondering if a turnaround is even possible this fall. For the third time in three tries, the Pack lost a game to an FBS team, taking it on the chin from Georgia Tech, 45-35. The final score was a poor indication of just how superior the Yellow Jackets were at Carter-Finley Stadium. Making matters worse, the ongoing Heisman campaign of Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, who used to call Raleigh home, has become a distraction for head coach Tom O'Brien and his players. Central Michigan is aiming to add to the Pack's woes in the schools' first-ever meeting.
The Chippewas head to North Carolina with no shortage of confidence after playing their best game of the two-year Dan Enos era. Without much warning, CMU snapped a three-game losing streak with a 48-41 upset of heavily-favored Northern Illinois in front of a pleasantly surprised home crowd.
Why Central Michigan Might Win: Hope in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. comes in the form of an offense that mercifully awoke in Week 4. In the surprise win over Northern Illinois, the Chippewas amassed 563 total yards and six touchdowns. QB Ryan Radcliff bounced back from a tough outing at Michigan State by throwing for 387 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His preferred playmate was RB Paris Cotton, who ran for 110 yards, caught four balls for 115 yards and scored three times. Racked by injuries and consecutive blowout losses, the NC State defense could serve as an ideal venue for Central Michigan to parlay last week's outburst into the start of a trend.
Why NC State Might Win: While the Chippewas snapped their losing streak a week ago, their defensive headaches remain very much alive. Central Michigan has yielded at least 41 points in each of the last three contests, looking equally feeble versus the run as the pass. The Wolfpack ought to be able to capitalize, while venting a month's worth of pent-up frustration. The Pack is coming off a solid game on the ground in which James Washington and redshirt freshman Tony Creecy combined for 208 yards and a score on 32 carries. With more support from the backs, it'll reduce some of the pressure of being Wilson's successor for QB Mike Glennon.
What To Watch Out For: NC State did get some good news on defense last week with the return of lineman J.R. Sweezy. The senior all-star made his 2011 debut after sitting out the first four games with a broken foot. A tackle by trade, he lined up on the outside in order to reduce the chances of being chopped by opposing blockers. He played well, posting his first sack of the year, and will make everyone around him a little better. The Pack will need it on a front four that's been hit particularly by health problems this fall.
What Will Happen: After getting whipped in consecutive weeks by Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, NC State will not squander an opportunity to be the bully for a chance. The Pack will take advantage of the deficiencies on the Central Michigan by establishing the running attack before turning Glennon loose on play-action. Radcliff will pile up the yards through the air, but a return to his turnover-prone ways will stifle the Chippewas' ability to rally in the second half.
CFN Prediction: NC State 38 … Central Michigan 24
There's no sugar-coating the fact that Central Michigan is 98th nationally when it comes to points allowed (32.6 PPG). However, NC State hasn't necessarily been an offensive juggernaut either so the Wolfpack clearly cannot afford to take anything for granted.
Central Michigan likes to get a lot of guys up around the line of scrimmage and it's a pretty safe bet they'll try to put some pressure on QB Mike Glennon. The Pack has been giving up better than three sacks per game and is one of the nation's worst in that category. Some of that has come from offensive line breakdowns but other times has been a result of Glennon not identifying defenders blitzing- particularly off the edge.
Glennon has to make sure he accounts for every defender and be aware of the Chippewas lining up to bring extra players on obvious passing downs. This means the play of State's running backs in pass protection will be critical and State simply can't afford to give up huge losses. The margin of error for the offensive unit has been razor thin this year and to be successful they must neutralize CMU's pressure.
BUILDING ON LAST WEEK
State had it's best rushing outing of the year last week against Georgia Tech. James Washington totaled 131 yards on the ground with Tony Creecy having a breakout game of sorts with 77 yards of his own. Each player averaged better than six yards per carry and both did a very good job of reading their blocks and getting to the second level of the Georgia Tech defense.
The Pack has to avoid taking a step back against Central Michigan because this is a team they should be able to run the ball against. CMU gives up 158 yards per game and that's a total that NC State could live with. The Pack should have a size advantage and the results may very well boil down to how dedicated NC State is to the run game.
Although an injury report wasn't released for this week, it is very near the time that OL Andrew Wallace was expected to be back and his inclusion this week could be a huge boost to the offensive line position. The Pack needs to continue to play physical and try to take some of the pressure off of Glennon to carry the offense.
CONTINUE TO LOOK FOR BIG PLAY
The big play, particularly in the passing game, had been a staple of the NC State offense through the first four weeks of the game. Give Georgia Tech credit because they took that away last week. Senior WR T.J. Graham was shut out and he's a guy the Wolfpack needs big plays from to be successful.
Because Central Michigan likes to put a lot of players in the box, the opportunity should be there at some point during the game to take a shot down the field. This could prove even more effective if State is able to establish the run game and then go deep on play action.
State has several weapons on offense and as much speed as anyone at wide receiver. Graham, Bryan Underwood and Tobais Palmer are one of the fastest trios of wideouts in the conference and each has the potential to get behind a defense or take a short pass, make a guy miss and turn it into a huge play. For State's part they are going to have to find a way to get the ball in these guy's hands.
NC State Defense vs. Central Michigan Offense
START FAST... LIMIT BIG PLAYS
All year the Wolfpack has struggled out of the gates, but facing an offense that is 96th nationally in total offense, the defensive unit has to come out and set the tone early.
Central Michigan is fresh off a breakout offensive performance against Northern Illinois, where they totaled 500+ yards of total offense and 48 points, so obviously they will have confidence on Saturday afternoon.
Priority No. 1 for NC State's defense is to come out and squash that confidence early. State could have back some more defenders who have missed time, which will certainly help, but facing a pro-style offense that hasn't been extremely effective, State needs to start fast and make a statement.
Also, it will be vital that the Wolfpack limits the big play. Versus Northern Illinois, CMU receivers caught passes of 46 yards, 61 yards, 70 yards, and 46 yards, and tailbacks broke off runs of 31 yards and 36 yards respectively. Obviously they proved in that game that they can make things happen and be explosive in the passing and rushing game.
To prevent an upset from happening, the Wolfpack must limit that explosiveness.
WINNING THIRD DOWN
The defense has struggled on third down this year but the hope is they could be turning the corner after the performance against Tech. The Yellow Jackets are third nationally converting on third downs, converting 61% of the time. That number would be even higher if the Pack hadn't held them to just 4-of-12 conversions last Saturday.
Central Michigan has been horrid converting third downs and are rated No. 109 in the nation, converting just 31% of the time. Obviously CMU has had issues on that down, but NC State, which is 92nd in 3rd-down defense, hasn't been strong all year. This will obviously be a key down in the matchup.
Success for the Pack will start by winning on first down and getting the Chippewas off schedule. The Pack needs to limit Central Michigan's run game on first and second down and force their quarterback to make plays. CMU had success last week through the air and on the ground, particularly through the big play as they continued to struggle sustaining dives.
Look for State to try and apply pressure with their front four and allow their trio of linebackers to flow and make the plays. If Central Michigan is forced into long third downs consistently, it forces them to make plays they don't want to have to make. This will also open the door for potential turnovers.
CONTINUE TO MOVE FORWARD
Although the final result didn't necessarily prove the point, the NC State defense took small steps in last week's loss to Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack held the Yellow Jackets considerably below their total yardage averages entering the game. State was strong on third down and did a good job in the trenches, often re-establishing the line of scrimmage in the backfield. The Pack has made mistakes but seemed to cut down on the overall quantity of blown coverages and missed tackles.
Part of this is likely due to the fact that many of State's younger players now have a few games under their belt and are beginning to feel more comfortable with the speed and physicality of the game. Injuries have taken a toll, but the young guys seem to be playing faster and thinking less, which is always a positive.
If State is to have any realistic shot of reaching the goals they set entering the season they must continue improving on defense and that has to happen versus Central Michigan. CMU will have one of the weaker offenses the Pack will have faced this year and they have to take the fight to the Chippewas and not allow them to dictate the game. The Wolfpack has to eliminate blown coverages, play disciplined while accounting for every offensive threat and they have to swarm to the ball, limiting yards after contact.
State needs to show that they're moving forward and continuing the maturation process which should help them emerge as a more solid unit in 2010.
NC State-Central Michigan: 5 Questions
It's safe to say that things aren't going well for the 2011 iteration of NC State football. A two-game losing streak, both blowout losses (a four-touchdown deficit with five minutes left is a blowout, sorry) and an understandably irritated fan base.
O'Brien has to stop making excuses, valid or not, and get this team turned around. The schedule is luckily in his favor – Central Michigan at home, then a bye week and then a trip to Virginia. If the next three weeks don't result in two more wins, this is a team that is in serious trouble of imploding.
2. Will NC State dominate from start to finish?
This is a game that NC State doesn't just need to win, it needs to dominate from the opening kick-off to the final whistle. A good start would be a nice step for this team, something it hasn't been able to make happen all season long. The Pack has yet to put together a good first 15 minutes of football, falling behind by double-digits in all three games against FBS opponents and going scoreless on offense. Even against FCS the Pack managed just 10 points combined over two games.
Getting out to a fast start is the biggest obstacle for the Pack, but if it overcomes that it needs to keep its foot on the gas. The Pack needs to make sure the outcome is never in doubt and gives itself a dose of confidence heading into the bye week before it finishes the season with six-straight conference games.
3. Can the offense put it all together?
NC State's offense has been maddeningly schizophrenic lately. Against Cincinnati it couldn't run the ball or sustain any drives, relying on big plays to score the only two touchdowns of the game. Then against Georgia Tech the Pack turned on the running game and was able to produce long, methodical drives – but the Pack couldn't throw the ball down the field.
For NC State to score consistently, it needs both. It needs the big passing plays from the likes of T.J. Graham and Tobais Palmer (who emerged as an offensive threat only to disappear in the last two weeks). It needs a running attack that can move the chains. Until it gets both the Pack will continue to end drives with three points or no points and putting the burden back on its injury-riddled defense.
4. Will the defense ever generate turnovers again?
Liberty gave the ball away to NC State seven times to start the 2011 season, leading us to assume that despite its flaws the Pack's zone defense would continue to generate turnovers and stop opponents on third down to make up for the chunks of yardage its prone to giving up.
But against FBS opponents the Pack has been awful at creating turnovers, with just three combined turnovers in three games. If it can't generate turnovers, the Pack defense has little chance of being successful – and the 123 points allowed in those three games are painful evidence of that fact. The Pack does have one of its biggest play-makers back with the return of J.R. Sweezy, and perhaps that will be the spark they need to start winning the turnover battle again.
5. Will there be empty seats on Saturday?
Carter-Finley stadium is sold-out for the entirety of the 2011 season, but the actual attendance at Saturday's game will be an interesting barometer. There's an aura of discontent surrounding the entire program after two embarrassing losses and if that translates into empty seats and lost dollars then the pressure to turn things around will intensify by a couple orders of magnitude.
Angry fans aren't nearly as bad for coaches as apathetic fans. And if there are several thousands no-shows on Saturday, that's a sign that apathy is beginning to set in.
NC State Game Notes
Saturday's game will be the first for NC State and Central Michigan on the gridiron. Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien faced the Chippewas twice during his 10-year tenure at Boston College, winning 43-0 in Chestnut Hill in 2002 and taking a 31-24 victory at Mount Pleasant in the 2006 season opener - his last season with the Eagles. Led by second-year head coach Dan Enos, CMU posts a 2-3 record this season, including a 1-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference.
PACK CELEBRATES BOWL HISTORY
Saturday's game against Central Michigan will be a day where State honors its bowl tradition and brings back former bowl MVPs to be recognized. Several former bowl MVPs will be in attendance, but others won't be able to attend as they have other games this weekend, including NFL players Stephen Tulloch (MVP of 2005 Meineke Car Care) and Philip Rivers (MVP of 2003 Tangerine, 2002 Gator, 2001 Tangerine and 2000 MicronPC Bowl) and Russell Wilson (MVP of 2010 Champs Sports).
DEFENSIVE LINE IS DECIMATED
NC State has been forced to start three different combinations on the defensive line in just five games this season, all due to injuries. And the starting lineup isn't the only area that has taken a hit - the secondary unit, which plays frequently in the Wolfpack's scheme has also changed from week to week.
Here's a look at the game-by-game status of the defensive line:
Preseason Camp: Senior starting tackle J.R. Sweezy, a team captain, breaks his foot. Brian Slay moves to a starting role and redshirt freshman Thomas Teal moves to a backup role.
Game 1 - Liberty: Teal breaks his foot. True freshman T.Y. McGill moves to a backup role.
Game 2 - Wake Forest: In practice before the league opener, fifth-year senior Jeff Rieskamp, an end, injures his shoulder. Redshirt freshman Art Norman moves into the starting lineup.
Game 3 - South Alabama: no injuries on defensive line
Game 4 - Cincinnati: Sweezy, Teal and Rieskamp remain out, Slay injures his ankle and misses most of the game. Backup tackle A.J. Ferguson suffers a knee injury but attempts to come back and play. Walk-on Jacob Kahut sees action. Cato-Bishop moves out to end
Game 5 - Georgia Tech: Teal, Rieskamp, Slay and Ferguson were out. Darryl Cato-Bishop moves to end, transfer McKay Frandsen gets his first start. Fullback Taylor Gentry practices and plays five snaps at defensive tackle. Sweezy returns and plays 27 snaps as a backup at end. Gentry and Cato-Bishop both exit the game with injuries in the first half and don't return.
Against Georgia Tech, two starters on the defensive line were playing in their just their fifth game at NC State (Frandsen and Norman) and one was making his first start (Frandsen). The four backups (Sylvester Crawford, Kahut, McGill and Theo Rich) on the depth chart heading into the contest had combined for 15 games and just 184 snaps prior to Saturday.
INJURIES, PART 2
The defensive line isn't the only area on the team that has been hit by injuries during the first half of the season. Two of the six players manning the six linebacker spots on the preseason two-deep chart are out as well. Senior Sterling Lucas, a backup at middle linebacker, suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp. Starting weakside backer Terrell Manning has missed the last two games as well.
Jarvis Byrd, who redshirted 2010 after suffering an ACL tear, was slated to start at the boundary corner this year. During seven-on-seven drills in July, he tore his other ACL and will miss the entire season.
AND A FINAL NOTE ON INJURIES
Just to make sure the offense doesn't get left out of the act, that side of the ball has had it's physical difficulties as well. The coaching staff knew it would be without the services of 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene, who broke his foot in spring practice, and Andrew Wallace, who started every regular season game last season at offensive guard before suffering a knee injury in practice for the bowl game.
In addition to those two, who are still sitting out, this year's second-leading rusher Curtis Underwood, suffered a foot injury against Cincinnati and was unable to go against Georgia Tech. Backup wide receiver Quintin Payton also missed last week's game due to an ankle problem.
Not much else to say, but the Pack was also without the services of starting punter Wil Baumann against Georgia Tech. The true freshman suffered a groin strain ... in warmups prior to the game.
That brought the grand total of injured players missing the Georgia Tech game to 12 (including Byrd and Wallace).
Last week, the folks who give out the Fred Biletnikoff Trophy to the nation's top wide receiver, added a name to their list: NC State's T.J. Graham. Graham is having an outstanding senior campaign in two aspects of the game and is moving his way up to the top of the Wolfpack and ACC record books as well.
Against Cincinnati, Graham set a new school record with 336 all-purpose yards, breaking a mark that had stood for 36 years (Ted Brown had 297 in 1975).
Graham, whose average of 214.8 all-purpose yards per game is leading the ACC and ranks second in the FBS ranks, had seven receptions for 176 yards at Cincinnati, the 10th-best receiving yards game in school history. He also had 160 yards in kickoff returns in that contest, a mark that is tied for sixth in school history.
Graham now boasts 4,366 all-purpose yards for his career, the third-best mark in school history and just four yards from passing former All-American Torry Holt for second place.
Graham boasted his first career 100-yard receiving game at Wake Forest, when he had six grabs for 117 yards and a 63-yard touchdown - the longest catch of his career at the time. He followed that with a 5-128 performance against South Alabama, and set a new career long with a 67-yard TD grab-and-run. Against Cincinnati, in addition to hitting the century mark for the third straight game, he pulled down an 87-yard reception for a touchdown - the fifth-longest in school history - to break his career-long reception mark again.
Those three contests marked the first time a Pack wideout had tallied three consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Jerricho Cotchery did so in five games to close out the 2003 campaign.
Entering the season, Graham had already made a name for himself as a kick returner. He entered the season as the school record holder in kickoff return yards for a single game (202), single season (1,028) and career (he now has 2,712). That career mark ranks second in ACC history and is just 272 yards shy of the league record.
Graham has also picked up his pace as a punt returner and has posted two of the top six single-game punt return totals in school history. He had two returns for 88 yards and a touchdown in the 2010 win at UNC and had three for 88 yards and another score in the opener versus Liberty. His big return in the opener was an 82-yarder, the 11th-longest in school history.
Graham now boasts 534 career punt return yards, the sixth-best mark in school history.
COLE ON A ROLL
A year ago, Audie Cole was playing strong side linebacker and tied for the team lead in tackles with all-conference performer Nate Irving, who was playing middle linebacker. Irving has now graduated and is playing in the NFL, and Cole is spending his final campaign at State playing in the middle. He moved to his new position in spring practice and is leading the team in tackles with 61 for the season.
Cole says that it took a couple of games for him to feel completely comfortable in his new spot and that new-found comfort has been obvious each of the past two weeks. He set a career-high with 16 tackles at Cincinnati and hit that mark again last week versus Georgia Tech. The leading tackler for the Pack in four of its five games this season, Cole currently ranks fourth in the league in tackles.
GOING BOTH WAYS
When Rashard Smith saw action on both sides of the ball (at cornerback and wide receiver) at Wake Forest earlier this season, it marked the first time since 2005 that a Pack player had played on offense and defense in the same game. Smith played both ways in that contest and the next week against South Alabama.
Although it had been the first time in six seasons that a player had done that, it didn't take long for it to happen again. Walk-on Jacob Kahut saw action on both the offensive and defensive lines at Cincinnati.
Last week versus Georgia Tech, senior fullback Taylor Gentry got into the act as well. Not only did he play his regular starting fullback spot and on most of the Pack special teams, but he also saw action on the defensive line (five snaps). He would have seen more time on defense, but exited the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return.
GLENNON THROWS TDs
In his first five games as a starting signal caller, redshirt junior Mike Glennon has made one thing perfectly clear: he can throw the football. Glennon has thrown 12 touchdown passes so far this season, the second-best mark in the ACC and a tally that ties for 13th in the FBS standings. His 1,079 passing yards is also the second-best mark in the league.
Glennon is only the second quarterback in Wolfpack history to throw for 12 touchdowns in his first five games as a starter - the other is ACC record-holder Philip Rivers.
Against Cincinnati, Glennon threw the fifth-longest pass in school history: an 87-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Graham. He has also completed passes of 63, 65 and 65 yards this season.
Glennon, who is tied as the second-tallest QB in the nation at 6'6 was one of 22 FBS quarterbacks making his first career start in the opening week of the 2011 campaign. Prior to the opener, Glennon had played in 10 games during his two years behind All-ACC signal caller Russell Wilson, but had been in for just 100 career snaps over two years. He saw action in 65 plays from scrimmage against Liberty.
Despite his lack of experience, he was named to the preseason ‘watch' list for the Maxwell Award. He was ranked the No. 3 quarterback in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school and was the Gatorade and AP Player of the Year in Virginia. His older brother, Sean, played quarterback at Virginia Tech from 2004-08.
Central Michigan Game Notes
A CMU Win Over North Carolina State Would …
… be the Chippewas' first win over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
… snap a six-game nonconference road losing streak.
… be CMU's third win in the past four years over an opponent from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
… even the Chippewas' nonconference record at 2-2 in 2011.
Saturday's game is the first between CMU and North Carolina State. The Chippewas are 0-6 all-time against current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference: 0-3 against Boston College, 0-1 against Clemson, 0-1 against Virginia and 0-1 against Virginia Tech.
CMU Opens Season in Familiar Fashion
The Chippewas are 2-3 through five games for the seventh time since 2003. Twice during that span, in 2006 and 2007, CMU went on to win a MAC championship after a 2-3 start. In 2007, CMU defeated Northern Illinois at home, 35-10, to improve to 2-3; last weekend, the Chippewas defeated Northern Illinois at home, 48-41, to improve to 2-3.
Harman Earns Weekly MAC Honor
Junior kicker David Harman was named MAC West Division Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the win over Northern Illinois. Harman was a perfect 6-for-6 on point-after attempts and 2-for-2 on field goals, converting from 29 yards in the first quarter and 30 yards in the fourth quarter. He earned the MAC's weekly honor for the first time in his career.
Dan Bazuin Selected Honorary Captain
The CMU football program is hosting former lettermen as honorary captains for each game this season. This week's honorary captain is Dan Bazuin, a four-year letterman from 2003-06. A three-time All-MAC first team selection, Bazuin was the conference's Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2005 after leading the nation in tackles for loss and ranking second in sacks. He finished his career as CMU's all-time leader in both categories. Bazuin was a co-captain on the 2006 MAC championship team and was named UAW Lineman of the Game in the 2006 Motor City Bowl. An Academic All- American as a senior, Bazuin was a three-time Academic All-MAC and two-time Academic All-District IV selection. He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
CMU-N.C. State Connections
• CMU receiver Jerry Harris was a high school teammate of N.C. State defensive back Brandan Bishop.
• N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien has faced CMU three other times. He was the head coach of Boston College teams that defeated CMU in 2002 and 2006. He also was the offensive coordinator at Virginia in 1996 when the Hokies defeated CMU. Young Chippewas See Early Action
• Of the 52 players listed on CMU's offensive and defensive depth charts for Saturday's game, 30 are either freshmen or sophomores. The Chippewas' roster includes 69 players who are freshmen or sophomores.
• Just 15 seniors appear on CMU's 2011 roster.
• Nineteen players made their collegiate debut in the season opening over South Carolina State.
• Through five games, 15 different Chippewas have made their first career start, and 26 different Chippewas have seen their first game action at the collegiate level.
• During the second half of the Sept. 24 game at Michigan State, CMU fielded a lineup on defense that included seven freshmen: NG Leterrius Walton, DT Matt Losiniecki, LB Ryan Petro, LB Justin Cherocci, LB Cody Lopez, DB Dennis Nalor and DB Jarret Chapman.
No Yellow for the Maroon and Gold
After committing a season-high eight penalties for 86 yards in the season opener against South Carolina State, CMU has been flagged a total of 12 times for 125 yards in the last four games combined. CMU did not commit a penalty in the Sept. 17 loss at Western Michigan, the Chippewas' first penalty-free performance since Oct. 31, 2009 at Boston College. CMU lost that game as well, 31-10. The Chippewas' average of four penalties per game is tied for the seventh fewest nationally.
Davis, Williams Take First Career Catches to the End Zone
True freshman receivers Titus Davis and Courtney Williams both scored touchdowns on their first career catches this season. Davis hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass for his first career reception in the season opener against South Carolina State, while Williams' first career catch was a 79-yard touchdown throw last week against Northern Illinois.
CMU vs. the BCS AQ Conferences
CMU is 2-8 since the start of the 2008 season in road games against opponents from BCS automatic qualifying conferences. The Chippewas won at Indiana in 2008 and at Michigan State in 2009.
Harris Steps Up on the Big Stage
Sophomore Jerry Harris has posted the top two receiving performances of his career against Virginia Tech (2010) and Kentucky. Last year at Virginia Tech, Harris caught five passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs. On Sept. 10 at Kentucky, he set a new career high for receptions (six) while posting a teamhigh 91 receiving yards and catching a 24-yard touchdown pass.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
Central Michigan Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and Central Michigan Athletics for much of the information in this preview.