Saturday, November 12, 2011
12:30 pm (EST) ACC Network
NC State (5-4) at Boston College (2-7) Nov. 12, 12:30, ACC Network
Here's The Deal … As unpredictability goes, few ACC teams have been streakier this season than NC State. In the last three weeks alone, the Raleigh rollercoaster ride has included an upset of Virginia in Charlottesville, a blanking at the hands of Florida State and a pivotal shutout of rival North Carolina last Saturday. That latest win, the school's first shutout in almost six years, was a turning point for the Wolfpack, which now has an excellent chance of finishing 2011 with a hard-earned December bowl game.
By playing on national TV last Thursday night, Boston College showed a larger than normal audience just how far it has plummeted this season under head coach Frank Spaziani. A week after surprising Maryland in College Park, the Eagles were no match for visiting Florida State, falling by 31 points. The loss ensured that the program would not be participating in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, a streak that began under current NC State head coach Tom O'Brien.
Why NC State Might Win: Boston College's young offensive line and inability to score will be put to the test by an aggressive, opportunistic Wolfpack D. The Eagles have absolutely no pop, scoring more than 20 points against just one of eight FBS opponents. Enter NC State, which roams the field fast and loose with the likes of S Earl Wolff, CB David Amerson and linebackers Audie Cole, Terrell Manning and Dwayne Maddox. The Pack leads the ACC with 26 turnovers, and will feast on a Chase Rettig-led offense that hasn't executed well all season. Amerson leads the country with nine picks, and will have to be accounted for at all times.
Why Boston College Might Win: The Wolpack is about to hit the road, where it's gone just 1-3 so far this season. The Virginia upset aside, this has been a very different team outside of Raleigh. The offense, in particular, disappeared in games with Florida State and Cincinnati. The Eagles will attempt to keep that trend going with a youthful, Luke Kuechly-led defense that's going to challenge an average NC State front wall. On offense, Boston College will ride the shoulders of RB Rolandan Finch. Yeah, he was bottled up by the Seminoles last Thursday night, but he also erupted for 243 yards and two scores a week earlier versus Maryland.
What To Watch Out For: Since the beginning of October, the Wolfpack has found a running game, thanks to the play of junior James Washington. Over the last five games, he's averaging more than 100 yards per game, basically carrying the load in the shutout of Carolina. When he's working the interior of the Boston College defense, it's going to free up the field a bit for QB Mike Glennon to find one of his favorite targets, receiver T.J. Graham or Tobias Palmer.
What Will Happen: O'Brien is set to make a triumphant return to Boston, helping bring his NC State team the sixth victory it needs to qualify for a bonus game. Over-matched Boston College already has one foot in 2012, even more so now that the postseason is no longer an option. The Pack will frustrate the sputtering Eagles offense, building on last week's blanking of the Tar Heels.
It'll collect a handful of turnovers, and force a bunch of punts, providing the little extra boost that Glennon and the rest of the offense requires.
CFN Prediction: NC State 27 … Boston College 16
ATTACK THE PERIMETER... AGAIN?
NC State crushed Boston College a year ago due in large part to a game plan that consisted mainly of short throws to the outside that NC State was able to turn into sizable gains. The Pack forced Boston College's big linebackers to run from sideline to sideline and the Eagles were never able to adjust to State's speed and quickness. The Pack finished with 347 yards passing and 26 first downs in their 44-17 win over BC.
Could the Pack look to do the same again? The difference this time around could be the exit of QB Russell Wilson. A year ago the Boston College defenders had to account for him in the middle of the field which effectively opened up space outside the tackles.
That won't be as much of an issue in 2011 because QB Mike Glennon is not a huge running threat. Still, you have to think that offensive coordinator Dana Bible will test the Eagles on the perimeter and try to allow the Wolfpack's speedy wideouts T.J. Graham, Bryan Underwood and Tobais Plamer to make plays out in space. If the Eagles still haven't figured out how to adjust to this then expect the Pack to attack the perimeter all day.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL BC DEFENSE
Let's be completely honest. This hasn't been a typical year for Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani, a guy who is known for fielding tough, stingy defenses. The Eagles have yielded huge numbers all year against nearly every opponent. While State's offense has had issues of its own of late, if they can't put up numbers against this defense then the Pack has some pretty serious problems to figure out.
The Eagles are currently rated 83rd nationally in total defense, yielding 409 yards per contest. They've given up close to 165 yards on the ground each game and better than 240 yards through the air. The Pack could very well be best served to attack the Eagles between the tackles with RB James Washington and Tony Creecy to balance out their offense. Historically, anything over 150 yards rushing has been a very good day for NC State under Tom O'Brien. The bottom line is there should be options for the Wolfpack. BC has struggled across the board so if they hone in on one aspect of State's offense, the Pack should have the ability to adjust and find success.
CONTROL THE BALL
State's offense has struggled finding consistency over the last three weeks. The Pack has managed a total of just 34 points during that stretch. While the defense has finally started to come around, the offense has seemingly gone in the opposite direction.
Like it did a week ago against UNC, State needs to control the ball against Boston College. Even if it doesn't put up points, just picking up a first down or two and forcing BC to go the length of the field to score would be big for the Pack. Field position can be key for a team that's having trouble scoring.
Along with that comes ball possession. It's hard to imagine Boston College beating NC State unless the Wolfpack beats itself. The Pack must limit turnovers and this has been a problem for Mike Glennon on the road. He must make smart decisions and ensure that the Eagles don't end up on a short field.
DON'T LET THE DEUCE GET LOOSE
Priority No. 1 for NC State has to be stopping BC tailback Rolandan Finch. Most figured BC's struggling offense would continue when starters Montel Harris and Andre Williams went down due to injury, but the Eagles have been just as good, maybe better, with Finch in the lineup.
Since taking over four games ago at Clemson, Finch has totaled 542 yards of total offense and three scores. His best effort came two weeks ago at Maryland, where Finch rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns for BC.
The key to his success has been their willingness to feed Finch the football. In the last two games, he's received 39 and 28 carries respectively, with the latter coming in a blowout loss to FSU. Even down big, Boston College continued to get Finch work, which shows that they believe he is their go-to weapon.
The good news for NC State is BC's offense is similar to what they faced last week against North Carolina and a few weeks back versus UVA... two wins for the Wolfpack. The Eagles are going to line up and run right at NC State's defensive front. If State can stop Finch and BC's ground attack they should be able to pull out the victory.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS
BC hasn't been a big play team and State must continue that trend today. The Wolfpack has to make the Eagles march up the field, snapping the ball and trying to make plays.
BC hasn't had a lot of success sustaining drives, and in a game like this NC State can't let the Eagles get any cheap scores through big plays, turnovers or on special teams.
A key will be if BC looks to bring in quarterback Josh Bordner to run the read option. A big kid, Bordner came in and had some success against FSU. Now, he's not polished and lacks experience, but in his first game of the season he had a 37-yard pass and a 25-yard run. He was the lone bright spot in the loss.
State is going to have to prevent big plays and make Boston College earn everything today.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
Boston College has had turnover issues this year, and Finch in particular has had problems hanging on to the football with four total fumbles in his previous two games.
Given State's ability to turn over teams this year, this has to be an area the Wolfpack defense exploits. Fumbles are hard to predict, but interceptions can be forced and a way to do that is making a team one-dimensional.
Look for State to try and put BC in obvious passing situations. Starting quarterback Chase Rettig hasn't been accurate this year, and if he's forced to consistently throw it opens the door for the Wolfpack's ball-hawking secondary to force turnovers.
BC will try to run the football. They are going to try and stay on schedule offensively. They do NOT want to pass the football. For NC State to win, they must make the Eagles pass it today.
NC State-Boston College: Scout By Numbers
That makes Saturday's game against Boston College a must-win contest for the Pack. They simply cannot lose to one of the league's worst teams, even on the road, if they want to make a bowl game. The Eagles have been ravaged by injuries and Frank Spaziani has come under heavy fire from the fans – it seems unlikely he will coach another season in Chestnut Hill. This is a team in turmoil.
Let's take a look at the numbers.
Pack Offense against Boston College Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||Boston College Defense|
|Points per Game||25.9 (74)||26.6 (60)|
|Yards per Play||4.9 (102)||5.7 (72)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||6.7 (79)||7.3 (76)|
|Yards per Rush||3.1 (111)||4.3 (67)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||40.6% (67)||41.4% (74)|
|Turnovers per game||1.8||1.1|
|Red Zone Efficiency - TD%||64% (47)||50% (18)|
Since coming off its bye week the Pack has posted 28, 0 and 13 points. On paper, this is the worst offense NC State has put on the field since 2007 – the Pack's first year under O'Brien. The defense has helped them overcome the offensive woes and allowed the Pack to go 2-1 over that stretch, but the offense needs to snap out of its funk.
Boston College might be the kind of match-up that helps them wake-up on offense. The Eagles are the very definition of mediocre in every area of the game – the only thing they've done well is stop touchdowns in the red zone. They don't generate turnovers, they don't stop the run or the pass and they all over 40 percent of 3rd down conversions.
The key for the Pack this week will be establishing a better ground game. James Washington ran for over 100 yards against UNC, but the offense as a whole averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and wasn't able to sustain long drives. The Pack needs its running game to pick up more first downs or at least put it in more short yardage positions so that Dana Bible can open up the playbook and get back to the vertical passing game that was so successful early in the season.
Pack Defense against Boston College Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||Boston College Offense|
|Points per Game||25.4 (52)||18.4 (113)|
|Yards per Play||5.5 (57)||4.8 (106)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.1 (65)||6.0 (108)|
|Yards per Rush||4.0(56)||3.8 (78)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||39.5% (58)||38.5% (77)|
|Turnovers per game||2.8||2.0|
|Red Zone Efficiency – TD%||59% (61)||54% (94)|
It's amazing what one dominating defensive performance can do to your overall numbers, even this late in the season. The Pack jumped nearly 30 spots in yards per play and scoring thanks to its shutout of North Carolina. This feels about right as the defense has clearly improved since early in the season but despite dominating the Tar Heels still has its share of problems.
The good news for the Pack is that Boston College's offense is atrocious – the worst offense the Pack has faced of any FBS opponent to date. The only game in which they've had success was against Maryland, when they were able to pound the ball on the ground and score. If the Pack stops their running game there's very little chance that the Eagles will be able to consistently move the chains.
The formula that the Pack used to beat Virginia and North Carolina should work well here – stuff the run game and make the Eagles convert long third downs. The defense should be both confident and prepared going into Saturday – as long as they execute they should hold down the Boston College offense.
The road to victory
Boston College is, simply put, not very good. They are arguably worse than the Central Michigan team that the Pack faced early in October. But O'Brien still hasn't won a divisional road game in his tenure with the Pack, so nothing is certain.
On offense the Pack needs to establish a running game and then look to go deep. The Pack has had one play of more than 40 yards in the last two weeks, and needs to get more big plays out of its offense if it wants to score more points. On the defensive side of the ball the Pack needs to put Boston College in passing situation and not allow them to convert on third down. If the Pack does its job on Saturday, they'll leave Chestnut Hill one win away from a bowl bid.
TSX Snapshot: NC State
N.C. State can't afford a letdown now even after conquering its biggest rival. The Wolfpack still has work to do and it resumes against struggling Boston College.
"I have to make sure they're ready this week to go play," coach Tom O'Brien said of his team. N.C. State must win two of its remaining three games to become bowl eligible, needing to reach the seven-win mark.
"I don't feel like our morale was totally shot after the Florida State game," receiver Jay Smith said, expecting that Wolfpack can maintain the proper mindset after knocking off North Carolina. "You probably won't see us come out flat in any other game this season. ... I don't feel like there's any feeling of relaxation on this team."
At least the Wolfpack players have been saying the right thing as the euphoria of a victory -- not to mention coming by a 13-0 shutout -- against North Carolina exists around them on campus.
"We're moving forward and we're going to take this game just like any other game," linebacker Terrell Manning said.
-- Former N.C. State coach Dick Sheridan reached out to current coach Tom O'Brien after the Wolfpack won its fifth consecutive game against rival North Carolina. Sheridan is the only other N.C. State coach to win that many in a row against the Tar Heels. "He wanted to be the first to wish me good luck on No. 6," O'Brien said a couple of days after his latest conquest of North Carolina.
-- Coach Tom O'Brien returns to the site of his former employment when he takes the Wolfpack to Boston College. O'Brien racked up 42 victories in Alumni Stadium as Boston College's coach, but he's 0-2 there with the Wolfpack. This will be different than those past two visits because in his fifth year at N.C. State it means any players he was most familiar with on the Boston College team have cycled through that program. O'Brien is 1-3 against his former team, with N.C. State winning last year.
SERIES HISTORY: Boston College leads N.C. State 5-3 (last meeting, 2010, 44-17 N.C. State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: By moving the ball on the ground, the Wolfpack has used ball-control to its advantage. The passing attack needs a little more firepower because there are stretches that there are a limited number of vertical plays on pass plays. The Wolfpack managed only 164 passing yards on 33 passing attempts against North Carolina.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Coming off a shutout of North Carolina, confidence should be high for this unit. Putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks is an emphasis and that worked well against the Tar Heels. The Wolfpack has been among the team leaders in interceptions nationally this year and those takeaways have covered some of the other shortcomings for the defense. LB Audie Cole and LB Terrell Manning have been more prominent as their teammates on the defensive line have been more active in distracting blockers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You just don't come back at the top level without knocking some rust off." -- Coach Tom O'Brien on the team's defensive front returning to improved health and finally starting to make a significant impact.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: N.C. State at Boston College, Nov. 12 -- The Wolfpack will have to regain a spark after the emotional conquest of nearby rival North Carolina. Boston College is one of two teams remaining on N.C. State's schedule (Maryland is the other) with a losing record and the Wolfpack needs to win two of its remaining three games to become bowl eligible because it must reach the seven-win mark after defeating two Football Championship Subdivision teams.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wolfpack will want to keep its rushing attack sharp because that could lead to more avenues for QB Mike Glennon to generate an efficient passing attack. Better protection would help Glennon, who'll want to be sharp against a Boston College team that can only play spoiler at this point.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Audie Cole -- He has been among the top tacklers on the team for three consecutive seasons, yet he's coming off perhaps his most complete game with nine tackles and causing numerous disruptions against North Carolina.
TE George Bryan -- He has more receptions than any tight end in school history with 107. Still, it has been a slow senior season for Bryan, who has pulled in only 14 receptions across the first nine games so the Wolfpack is anticipating a breakout performance at some point.
WR T.J. Graham -- He's just a couple of his average kickoff returns away from setting the ACC career record for kickoff return yardage. The senior needs 55 to break the record, though he had only one return opportunity last week against North Carolina.
-- OG R.J. Mattes is dealing with a lower-body injury suffered in the North Carolina game. But it's possible that he could be available to play at Boston College without missing a game.
-- CB David Amerson is the national leader with nine interceptions this year, establishing a school record after a previous mark stood for 73 years. He's a big reason why N.C. State's defense leads the country with 19 interceptions.
-- LB D.J. Green is out for the season after undergoing surgery that involved a toe. He began the season as a starter at outside linebacker.
TSX Snapshot: Boston College
This young football team, which hosts North Carolina State and former BC coach Tom O'Brien on Nov. 12, is loaded with underclassmen. It's time for these kids to keep paying their dues aimed at next year and beyond.
"I don't think with this team anyone is going to quit," said star junior linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has had another outstanding year, this time amid the rubble of a losing season. "I'm trying to win every game."
He says he feels the same from his teammates, so we'll see what happens in the last three games. The effort might be there. The will might be there. But the results?
This BC team, which is 2-7 (1-5 in the ACC), absorbed the loss of its best running back, Montel Harris, the ACC preseason Player of the Year, its best offensive lineman, its best defensive lineman and a pair of main guys in the secondary, and there just wasn't enough experienced depth on hand to survive.
A missed chip-shot field goal that would have beaten Duke in the second game could have changed some of this around. But the bottom line is the bottom line and that's not pretty.
The Eagles play their final home game this week, then finish the season at Notre Dame and Miami. There's a more-than-decent chance they could finish 2-10, the worst year at the Heights since a 2-9 record in 1989 and the first 10-loss season since a 0-11 campaign in 1979.
In NC State, BC gets a bowl-eligible team coming off a 13-0 win over North Carolina that saw the Tar Heels limited to a total of three yards rushing.
"We are really going to have to get after it with a good practice, a good lift and get the guys motivated," quarterback Chase Rettig said after the Florida State loss. "It's our last home game for the seniors and fifth-years, and you have to play for those guys.
"I'm going to try and inspire the guys to do everything they can for those guys because their opportunities are coming down to three now. We have to get motivated to come out and play N.C. State."
-- Boston College has clinched its first losing season since 1998 and will not go bowling for the first time since that season. That was Tom O'Brien's second year of rebuilding a program out of the ashes of a gambling scandal and the Eagles went to 12 straight bowl games starting in 1999.
-- BC won its first three games against North Carolina State after O'Brien changed jobs, but O'Brien's Wolfpack hammered BC, 44-17, last season.
-- Eagles coach Frank Spaziani was O'Brien's running backs coach in 1997 and '98 and then took over as defensive coordinator. The two are close friends.
-- BC is 2-7 overall, but just 1-7 against FBS teams, the other win coming over FCS neighbor Massachusetts. The only FBS win for the Eagles came over Maryland, now also 2-7 Both BC and Maryland are 1-5 in the conference.
-- LB Luke Kuechly took little solace in his 20-tackle performance in the 38-7 loss to Florida State.
"It's frustrating, we had a good game plan going," he said after his 31st straight double-digit tackling performance; with the fourth 20-tackle game of his career. "We knew what they were going to do, even when they were running and having success with that. We were inconsistent. When we get in tough situations we need to withstand it."
-- The Eagles are seeking medical redshirts for star running back Montel Harris and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, hoping to give the two mainstays another shot at their senior seasons.
Both players played as true freshman. Both could also get their degrees and play a year somewhere else.
SERIES HISTORY: BC leads North Carolina State, 5-3 (last meeting, 2010, 44-17, NC State)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Two games ago against Maryland, Rolandan Finch ran wild, to the tune of 243 yards and two touchdowns. But he also fumbled twice, once inside the Maryland 5. Then, against Florida State, he fumbled twice again, and this time did it while gaining just 59 yards, and the fumbles were both costly.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Bordner was added to the mix but it should be clear by now there's a reason (the absence of Montel Harris at the top of the list) that BC is 109th in the country in total offense and 113th in scoring offense. This week, the Eagles, 76th in rushing and tied for 104th in passing, face an NC State defense that is basically middle of the pack in all categories but is 10th in the nation in turnover margin and is coming off a 13-0 win over North Carolina.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It still looks like All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly is making every play and even though we know he's not, he was in on 20 tackles in last week's loss to Florida State. Other linebackers have stepped up and defensive end Max Holloway is playing better. The Eagles are just 70th in the country against the run, 86th against the pass, 83rd in team defense and 61st in scoring defense. The visting Wolfpack are 106th in rushing, tied for 61st in passing 97th in total offense and tied for 75th in scoring offense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that they understand the sacrifices the older players have made to the program. They have a good grasp on that and it's important to them. Even though we are building a foundation for the future and doing a lot of that, it's still about winning now." -- Coach Frank Spaziani on this week's Senior Day game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina State at Boston College, Nov. 12 -- BC's former coach, Tom O'Brien, has his team 6-4, bowl eligible and coming off a 13-0 win over North Carolina as he comes to Chestnut Hill for the third time since leaving. He has lost both previous visits, his teams allowing 89 points in the two games. Still, the Wolfpack is a slight favorite to earn their seventh win and drop BC to its eighth loss.
KEYS TO THE GAME: As always with a young team, the key is to steer clear of as many mistakes as possible, and that means not having your lead runner, in this case Rolandan Finch, not fumble the ball away twice. NC State is not a stat powerhouse so this game could easily come down to mistakes and the Wolfpack are strong in the turnover category.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QBs Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig -- Bordner replaced Rettig in the second quarter against Florida State and his first college play was a 25-yard run that would have been longer if he didn't trip and fall. Rettig, who did return later in the game, has taken a beating and has passed for virtually nothing in the last two games.
RB Rolandan "Deuce" Finch -- The star of the win at Maryland had a terrible night against FSU, netting 59 yards on 28 carries. But, for the second time in six days, he lost two fumbles. This time, he gave Florida State one touchdown by fumbling deep in his own territory and also fumbled near the FSU goal line, although half of that one has to go to Bordner for the exchange.
LB Luke Kuechly -- He recorded the fourth 20-tackle game of his career, with 12 of his 20 stops solo. His 491 career tackles are seventh all-time in the ACC. He leads the nation in tackles by a mere 23 and 2.67 per game.
Freshman LB Sean Duggan -- He played another strong game against Florida State, this time recording his first college fumble recovery and pass breakup.
-- LB Kevin Pierre-Louis missed his second straight game with a leg injury when the Eagles fell to Florida State. No word on his availability for this week's game.
-- RB Rolandan Finch was the only one of BC's original four running backs able to play in the Florida State game. Montel Harris was lost for the season with a knee injury, while Andre Williams (abdomen) and Tahj Kimble (head) were also out.
-- S Jim Noel was missing with an ankle injury as the BC injury report continues to grow.
-- QB Chase Rettig was 11-for-18 for 75 yards, a touchdown and an interception against FSU, his second straight game with 75 yards or less through the air. He has eight TDs and eight picks for the season.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
Boston College Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and Boston College Athletics for much of the information in this preview.