Saturday, September, 8 2012
12:00 pm (EST), Big East Network/ESPN3
NC State (0-1) at Connecticut (1-0) Sept. 8, 12:00, SNY
Here's The Deal: NC State travels to East Hartford for an ACC-Big East challenge that's important to both programs. The Wolfpack will be looking to rebound from a crushing Friday night defeat at the hands of Tennessee, 35-21, that's going to downgrade once-lofty 2012 expectations. The program needs to correct the problems that persisted in the opener or else it'll be doomed to start 0-2 for the first time in five years. Connecticut kicked off the second year of the Paul Pasqualoni era by blanking Massachusetts, 37-0, in an impressive all-around performance. A year after floundering south of bowl eligibility, the Huskies are determined to sneak up on the rest of the Big East and contend for a second crown in the last three years. A win over the Pack could provide the propulsion they need to reach new heights in 2012.
Why NC State Might Win: At the most important position on the field, quarterback, the Pack will hold a sizable advantage on the Huskies. Mike Glennon is a next-level hurler, with the arm and the know-how to challenge a very good Connecticut secondary. The hosts, on the contrary, employ Chandler Whitmer, who's in just his second game removed from the junior college ranks. The transfer will struggle to beat a David Amerson-led defensive backfield that's experienced, talented and eager to bounce back from a difficult opener. With the Huskies forced into a monotone condition, State can concentrate its resources to stopping RB Lyle McCombs.
Why Connecticut Might Win: The Huskies will make a strong case this year for the toughest defense in the Big East. Sure, Massachusetts isn't NC State, but the Minutemen produced just three first downs and 59 total yards on Thursday night. Connecticut boasts a veteran defense that collapses the pocket with ends Trevardo Williams and Jesse Joseph, and clogs running lanes with linebackers Sio Moore, Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson. The D is fundamentally sound, well-coached and unlikely to suffer breakdowns. Glennon is protected by a marginal O-line that's liable to get schooled on Saturday afternoon.
What To Watch Out For: Glennon has a bright future, but his senior year could hinge on the play of his receivers. Quinton Payton stood out among the wide receivers in Atlanta, while tight ends Asa Watson and Mario Carter made a couple of nice grabs as well. Connecticut, though, features one of the game's most underrated back sevens in terms of pass coverage. Payton and teammate Tobais Palmer will be in for a showdown with Huskies corners Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, a gifted pair of defenders. If Connecticut can neutralize Glennon, it will essentially cut the head off the NC State program.
What Will Happen: A good defense and running game is often the remedy for a deficiency at quarterback. NC State has Glennon, but Connecticut will counter with a D that's superior to the one visiting Rentschler Field. The Huskies will apply pressure to the backfield and stick to the Pack receivers to gain control of the game. McCombs will take care of the rest, grinding out 85 yards and a score to help guide the Huskies to a close and very important win for the program.
CFN Prediction: Connecticut 23 … NC State 20
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) NC State -6 O/U: 49
Must Watch Rating (5 – Phineas & Ferb, 1 – Steve Harvey): 2
NC State Offense vs. UConn Defense
If you're a glass half full person then you probably feel that, except for a 30-second stretch against Tennessee, NC State played the Vols fairly even the rest of the game. Unfortunately that 30-second stretch counts too and the Pack has to clean that up if they hope to come away with a road win against Connecticut.
Obviously, eliminating mistakes will begin with the Pack's leader on offense, Mike Glennon. He has to see the field better and in situations where the play isn't there, he must throw the ball away and live to see another play. In the past this hasn't been a consistent problem and there's no reason to think it will become one now.
Glennon can't do it on his own, however. The Wolfpack offensive line is experienced and have to do their part to keep Glennon upright and give him the time to make smart decisions. Another aspect of this is avoiding obvious passing downs which will allow the Huskies to tee off and bring pressure.
State's receivers also have to do their part by catching the football. Asa Watson can be a huge threat for the Pack but he needs to become consistent catching the ball. Mustafa Greene is another player that had a huge drop against the Vols. Collectively, State's receivers have to help their quarterback out and make the routine catches to keep the sticks moving.
DO WHAT YOU DO
After their opening game against Massachusetts, Connecticut ranks first nationally in total defense, scoring defense and fourth in pass and rush defense.
But the fact is, the Huskies aren't facing Massachusetts this weekend. NC State has the speed at receiver with Bryan Underwood and Tobais Palmer and the horses at running back to have success on offense.
The Pack became somewhat one dimensional against Tennessee but State always seems to be at its best when it has a fairly even mix of run and pass. State will likely always trend more towards the passing game but they need to show the ability to run the football and this is always crucial when playing on the road.
While Connecticut's numbers may have been impressive in week one, this is still a team that gave up better than 280 yards per game through the air in 2011. So, if the Pack is able to mix in the run and get the Huskies worried about State's rushing attack then it very well could open up some big plays down the field.
GET IT TO THE PLAYMAKERS
Under Tom O'Brien, NC State has traditionally run an offense that doesn't necessarily utilize specific players, particularly in the passing game. Instead, it's a system approach that has interchangeable parts regardless of game situation.
From an outsider's perspective, it seems somewhat obvious that Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood are the two guys with big play potential. Obviously Underwood is just coming back from injury but should be 100% against Connecticut.
State has to find a way to get the ball in these player's hands more often whether it be on simple toss and catch plays that allows them to use their explosiveness in space or on deep passes that stretch the field.
Glennon needs these options to keep the Huskies honest at the line of scrimmage and the potential is certainly there for the Pack to break a long one at some point during the game.
NC State Defense vs. UConn Offense
SHUT DOWN MCCOMBS
Priority No. 1 for NC State has to be stopping UConn tailback Lyle McCombs. A lot of folks don't know about McCombs, especially in the ACC region, but he is coming off a breakout freshman campaign where he was tabbed a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association and a second-team All-BIG EAST pick.
McCombs finished the 2011 season with 1,151 rushing yards and seven scores, including six games where he rushed for 100+ yards.
At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds he isn't the biggest back, but he is durable, explosive, and elusive in space. He can be used in a variety of ways and is also dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield.
A key to his success has been their willingness to feed McCombs the football. In the opener against UMass, where he rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, he recorded 23 carries. Add in two catches for 23 yards and he finished the game with 25 touches.
In 2011 McCombs had just one game where he totaled less than 18 carries and he had 20+ carries in 10 of UConn's 12 contests. Even down big, the Huskies will continue to get McCombs work, which shows that they believe he is their go-to weapon.
It's critical for NC State to shut down McCombs. He's going to be the workhorse for UConn, who has a new starter at quarterback and some questions in the passing game. If the Wolfpack can stop No. 43 it will increase their chances of leaving Hartford with a win.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS AND THE WILDCAT
UConn hasn't traditionally been a big-play team and State must make sure that trend continues on Saturday. The Wolfpack has to force the Huskies march up the field, snapping the ball and trying to make plays.
The big play was a killer for State in the opener, as three of Tennessee's touchdowns came on plays of 40+ yards.
The Huskies finished last in the Big East in total offense, averaging only 313 yards per game, and are breaking in a new quarterback in JC transfer Chandler Whitmer. With question marks offensively, NC State can't let UConn have any cheap scores through big plays, turnovers or on special teams.
A key will be how much UConn looks to bring in quarterback Scott McCummings to run the "Wildcat." An explosive athlete, McCummings completed just 5-of-10 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the package last season, but he rushed another 74 times for 285 yards and five scores. He had games against Syracuse and Rutgers where he totaled 14 and 10 carries respectively... if the Wildcat is working UConn will stay with it until NC State proves they can defend it.
State is going to have to prevent big plays and make UConn earn everything. Coach O'Brien was concerned all week with his inexperienced linebackers potentially having to defend the Wildcat, and he should be.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
UConn has had turnover issues already this year, losing the ball three times in their opener, but they were able to escape due to a stingy defense and scores on special teams (blocked punt) and defense (interception).
Given State's ability to turn over teams last 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 UConn in obvious passing situations by stuffing the run early. Whitmer completed 15-of-25 passes against UMass, but State's defense should be a tougher test for him. If he's forced to throw it opens the door for the Wolfpack's ball-hawking secondary to create some turnovers.
UConn will try to run the football, and they are going to try and stay on schedule offensively. They do NOT want to pass the football often. They want to control the game by pounding away at State's defensive front with McCombs and McCummings.
However, when they do have to pass, State must be able to pressure Whitmer. They have to apply more pressure than they did last week against Tennessee's Tyler Bray, who had all day to make plays in the pocket.
If NC State is going to win they are going to have to win the turnover battle, and that starts by stuffing the run and making UConn a passing team.
NC State Game Notes
For the first time since the 1997 season, NC State is playing its first two games away from home. After opening the season against Tennessee in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, the Wolfpack is heading to Connecticut to take on the Huskies.
The meeting marks only the second between NC State and the Big East school, with the Pack winning the 2003 contest, 31-24.
Tom O'Brien has faced Connecticut four times, winning all four contests, while Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni is 0-2 against the Pack - losing in 1997 and 1998 as the head coach at Syracuse. O'Brien is also very familiar with the Big East, as he was the head coach at Boston College for 10 seasons, eight of which the Eagles spent in that league. His 2004 squad earned a share of the Big East title.
O'Brien holds a 27-19 career record against Big East teams. Since coming to NC State in 2007, O'Brien is 4-4 against teams from the Big East, but has won three of the last four matchups, including back-to-back bowl wins against Big East foes West Virginia and Louisville.
FREDDIE WAS READY
NC State and Connecticut may have only met one time on the gridiron, but the first meeting was definitely a memorable one.
In 2003, Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers' senior campaign, the Huskies came to Carter-Finley Stadium on Oct. 11. It was UConn's second season playing in Division IA and the year before they joined the Big East. Although the Pack had entered the season ranked in the top 20, the game went down to the wire. After a scoreless first quarter, the two teams went into halftime tied at 10.
Chuck Amato's Wolfpack squad scored first in the third quarter, when linebacker Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay returned a fumble 48 yards for a score. The Pack jumped up 14 points later in the third when quarterback Philip Rivers hit the tight end for a 25-yard scoring strike.
UConn came roaring back in the fourth quarter with two TD strikes to tie the game at 24-24. The Huskies got the ball back with 47 seconds left in the game and drove from their 14 to the 42, when Aughtry-Lindsay intercepted a pass and ran it back 56 yards for the winning score.
Aughtry-Lindsay is now an assistant coach at Elon, under head coach Jason Swepson, who was the Pack running backs coach in O'Brien's first four years at State.
NC State's pair of super safeties were the team's leading tacklers in the season opener and are two of the most experienced players on the 2012 Wolfpack squad. Brandan Bishop has 38 career starts, the highest mark on the team, while Earl Wolff has 31, which ties as the second-highest mark.
Wolff posted a career-high 18 tackles in the season opening loss to Tennessee, including a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage. Bishop turned in 10 stops, including one for loss, and also caused a fumble on the goalline to prevent a Volunteer score at the end of the first half.
Wolff has made 273 career tackles, the highest mark on the squad, while Bishop has 214 career stops to his credit. Those two totals constitute 48% of the career tackles on the 2012 Wolfpack squad.
SOMETHING OLD ....
In 2012, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien has a luxury that he hasn't been afforded in previous campaigns with the Wolfpack: senior starters. In the season opener, 11 spots on offense and defense were manned by seniors who have starting experience in the past.
That number is almost double the most senior starting experience O'Brien has had during his first five years with the Wolfpack. The number is particularly high on offense, where seven of the 11 starting spots are slated to be filled by seniors with previous starting experience.
Three Pack players ranked among the most experienced returning players in the ACC in terms of career starts heading into the 2012 season: safety Brandan Bishop (5th), OG R.J. Mattes (t9th) and safety Earl Wolff (t9th).
For the 2008 season, there were only two projected starters who were seniors with starting experience. In 2009, there were seven.
..... SOMETHING NEW
Ten players saw their first collegiate action for the Pack in the opener with Tennessee, including eight red-shirt freshmen and one true freshman.
Redshirts Juston Burris (CB), Hakeem Flowers (WR), Carlos Gray (DT), Hakim Jones (S), Dave Mann (DT), Maurice Morgan (WR) and Mike Rose (DT) all saw action from scrimmage, with Burris getting in for a rookie-high 63 snaps. Tight end Benson Browne saw action on special teams, while walk-on Josh Stanley also played in the kicking game.
True freshman Charlie Hegedus was in for 20 snaps at wide receiver, catching one pass for seven yards. Hegedus, whose hometown of Marietta was just 30 miles from the Georgia Dome, played his first collegiate contest on the same field where he played his last prep game. His alma mater, Lassiiter High School, fell in the 5A state semifinals in the Dome in 2011.
They're not really borrowed, because we're not giving them back, but Colorado transfer Forrest West (DE) and JUCO transfers Deylan Buntyn (DT) and Robert Caldwell (LB) also saw action against Tennessee. West, who spent the 2011 campaign sitting out but practicing with the Pack, and Buntyn, who joined the team in January, both saw action from scrimmage. Caldwell, who arrived at preseason camp late, was in on special teams. That brings the grand total of new players seeing action to 13.
There will be a face familiar to the Wolfpack faithful standing on the side of the field with the team in blue on Saturday. Former State linebacker Clayton White is the running backs coach and special teams coordinator for the Huskies. White, who is tied for 11th in school history in career tackles for loss with 33, lettered for the Pack from 1997-2000 under coach Mike O'Cain and Chuck Amato.
A team captain as a senior, White went on to play in the NFL for two seasons for the New York Giants before embarking on a coaching career that has led him to Western Kentucky, Stanford, Western Michigan and Western Carolina.
Wolfpack junior cornerback David Amerson got off to a rough start versus Tennessee, but the returning All-American will be looking to get back on track this week at Connecticut.
Amerson's sophomore interception total was the second-best mark in FBS history and he was the winner of the Jack Tatum Award and and one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award in 2011. A first-team Walter Camp All-American, he tied the ACC single-season INT record with his 11th pick against Clemson on November 19.
Amerson set the school mark against North Carolina on November 5, breaking the record that had been set just a few years before he was born: Art Rooney (of the Pittsburgh Steeler Rooneys) held the record with eight in 1937 and again in 1938!
He returned two picks for scores, also a BCS best, and led the national ranks in INT return yards with 205.
WE LIKE MIKE
Mike Glennon's entry into the job of starting collegiate quarterback was not a quiet one. A year ago, nobody mentioned his name without also mentioning his predecessor Russell Wilson, who had moved on to Wisconsin.
Despite the controversy and talk swirling around him, Glennon was unflappable in his first year starting under center. Now a fifth-year senior, he silenced all critics by throwing 31 touchdown passes, gaining over 3000 passing yards and completing .625 of his throws in 2011. In fact, only three quarterbacks in ACC history have thrown for more TDs in a season.
From the jump, Glennon seemed comfortable in his role as the starting quarterback. By year's end, he was clicking on all cylinders, completing 66% of his passes for 1,043 yards, throwing 11 TDs to only three interceptions, and posting a 141.35 efficiency rating in the last four games of 2011.
Prior to the 2012 campaign, The Sporting News ranked him as one of the top quarterbacks in the country for the upcoming season and with his ability, experience and knowledge of the State playbook, he should battle for all-conference honors in 2012. His stints at the Manning Passing Academy and at the Elite 11 Camp during the summer have put him solidly in the sights of the national media and NFL scouts.
NO BACKERS BACK
Without question, the linebacking corps took the biggest hit of any unit on the Wolfpack squad following the 2011 campaign. Two of the starters from last season, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning, are fighting for position on NFL squads. D.J. Green, who started seven contests before being sidelined by an injury, was declared ineligible in the spring for the entire 2012 season.
The result is that there will be group of not-so-familiar faces at the linebacker spots in 2012. The grand total of snaps from scrimmage played in 2011 by the six players listed listed the opening depth chart of 2012 was only 24 snaps. That's an average of four snaps per man. That snap total was a little higher in the preseason before sophomore Michael Peek, who was battling for a starter's job, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Sterling Lucas is the only established veteran in the linebacking corps, although the Tennessee game was his first action since December of 2010. He was injured at the beginning of the 2011 campaign and ended up red-shirting. A veteran of 36 career contests, 459 career snaps and two starts prior to last season, Lucas played 74 snaps and tallied nine tackles in the season opener.
The other starters for the season opener were Brandon Pittman, who played just five snaps from scrimmage last season as a true freshman, and Ricky Dowdy, who had played one snap for his career prior to last Friday.
In the history of college bowl games, no head coach has ever posted a winning percentage better than NC State head coach Tom O'Brien. During his 15 years as a head coach at Boston College and NC State, O'Brien has won .800 of his bowl games, posting an 8-2 postseason slate.
That stat from Sports-Reference.com includes coaches at major schools from 1869 - 2011.
UConn Game Notes
Saturday's game marks just the second meeting in football between the two schools as North Carolina State defeated the Huskies by a 31-24 on October 11, 2003 in Raleigh.
N.C. State linebacker Freddie Aughty-Lindsay returned a interception 56 yards for the winning touchdown with five seconds left to play. UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky was 21 of 39 in the air for 299 yards and three touchdowns. The game was tied at 10-10 at halftime but N.C. State scored two touchdowns in the third quarterback to lead 24-10 going into the fourth. Orlovsky tied the game in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes with 5:57 and 1:29 to play.
N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers was 23 of 42 in the air for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
UCONN AND NORTH CAROLINA STATE CONNECTIONS
UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni and N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien have met eight previous times during Pasqualoni's tenure at Syracuse and O'Brien at BC. Pasqualoni won five of those eight games.
Pasqauloni has a 0-2 coaching record vs. N.C. State with losses during his time at Syracuse in 1997 and '98. O'Brien is 4-0 in his coaching career vs. UConn with wins at the BC coach in 2000, '02, '03 and '04.
UConn special teams coordinator and running backs coach Clayton White is a 2001 N.C. State graduate and was a three-year starter at linebacker for the Wolfpack from 1999-2001. UConn redshirt senior linebacker Sio Moore attended high school in Apex, N.C. and freshman punter Justin Wain is from Wilmington, N.C.
North Carolina State defensive and Forrest West is from Canton, Conn., and the Salisbury School.
HUSKIES VS. ACC ALL-TIME
UConn is 4-10 against active ACC members all-time entering Saturday afternoon's showdown with NC State and next Saturday's game at Maryland.
The Huskies are 2-0 against Duke (2004 and 2007), 0-3 against Georgia Tech (2002, 2004-05), 0-3 vs. North Carolina (1990, 2008, 2009), 0-1 vs. NC State (2003), 1-2 vs. Wake Forest (2003, 2006, 2007) and 1 1 vs. Virginia (2007 and 2008).
The Huskies also faced present ACC members Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech when they competed in the BIG EAST Conference. UConn also played Maryland in 1942, prior to the formation of the ACC. UConn was winless in those games.
UConn has played every current ACC school at some point in its history other than Clemson and Florida State.
The following four Huskies were named team captains for the season in the week prior to the season opener vs. UMass – redshirt senior outside linebacker Jory Johnson (Mobile, Ala.), redshirt senior offensive tackle Adam Masters (Bethesda, Md.), senior wide receiver Nick Williams (East Windsor, N.J.) and redshirt senior cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Edinboro, Pa.).
SMALLWOOD HONORED BY BIG EAST
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood (Worcester, Mass.) was honored as the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against UMass.
Smallwood keyed a Connecticut defense that turned in its first shutout since the 2007. He had a team-high seven tackles to go with a sack, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup as the Huskies didn't allow the Minutemen to cross midfield.
Connecticut allowed just 59 yards of offense — the fewest of any Bowl Subdivision team in week one — and limited Massachusetts to just three first downs and an average of 1.3 yards per play.
HUSKIES HAVE BEEN BOWL ELIGIBLE
The UConn football team has been bowl eligible for four times in the past five years and in sixth of the past nine.
The 2010 UConn football team won the BIG EAST Championship and advanced to play in the school's first-ever BCS game -- the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. UConn made the bowl eligible mark for the sixth time in the past eight seasons -- and the fourth consecutive.
UConn lost to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and it defeated South Carolina by a 20-7 score in the 2010 Papajohns.com Bowl. The Huskies also went to the International Bowl in 2009 and defeated Buffalo. In 2007, UConn was 9-3 in the regular season and went on to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
In 2004, the Huskies went 7-4 in the regular season and won the Motor City Bowl. In 2003, UConn was 9-3, but did not go to a bowl because of its independent status.
UCONN IN SEASON OPENERS
With last Thursday's win over Massachusetts, UConn is 9-2 in season openers since making the jump to then-Division I-A in 2002. UConn has won nine of its ten season openers at Rentschler Field (2003-Indiana, 2004-Murray State, 2005-Buffalo, 2006-Rhode Island, 2008-Hofstra, 2010-Texas Southern, 2011-Fordham, 2012-UMass) and also downed Duke, 45-14, in Durham, to open the 2007 season and Ohio University, 23-16 in Athens, to open 2009.
UConn's two FBS era opening day losses were a 24-16 defeat at Boston College on Aug. 31, 2002 in UConn's first game as an official member of the FBS, and a 30-10 loss to Michigan on Sept. 4, 2010. Overall, UConn is now 52-59-2 in season openers dating back to 1896.
UCONN FOOTBALL A LEADER IN ACADEMICS
The UConn football program continues to be a leader in the BIG EAST Conference in terms of academic performance by its student-athletes. UConn was the top team in the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of both October 2008 and '09 among league schools.
In 2010, the Huskies GSR was third in the BIG EAST and within four points of the second place team and last week, the 2011 GSR came out and UConn was tied for fourth in the league, but within four points of the two schools that were tied for second. UConn's 75 percent GSR mark was well ahead of the national GSR for FBS teams, which was 67 percent.
The UConn football program also had the highest NCAA GSR for African-American student-athletes among all state universities that participated in a bowl game in 2008. In five of the past seven years, including 2007, ‘08 and ‘09, UConn was recognized by the American Football Coaches Association for its high graduation rate.
UConn's overall GSR in 2009 was the third-highest of the more than 50 state universities that participated in a bowl game.
In 2012, the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the UConn football team was an impressive 963 over a four-year cycle, with a one-year mark of 950 for the 2010-11 academic year. The 963 was above the national average for FBS schools (952) and public institutions (943).
NC State Depth Chart
|2012 NC State Depth Chart|
UConn Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and Connecticut Athletics for much of the information in this preview.