After a disappointing loss to Tennessee in week one, NC State rebounded with a hard fought 10-7 win over Connecticut. The Wolfpack relied on a superb defensive effort to improve its record to 1-1. Pack Pride breaks down the Pack's first win of the 2012 season.
The Bottom Line
It wasn't pretty but head coach Tom O'Brien isn't complaining. You never know how a team will respond after a tough loss, particularly going on the road against an unfamiliar opponent. This had all the makings of another 2011 Boston College debacle but give State credit, they toughed it out, squeezed out just enough offense and then relied on one of its most dominant defensive efforts in recent memory.
Defense Comes Up Big
For 53 minutes the NC State defense completely stymied the Husky offense. They knew Connecticut would try to run the ball behind Lyle McCombs and were able to limit the Huskies to just 35 net rushing yards. This put the weight of the offense on the shoulders of QB Chandler Whitmer and in just his second start, struggled all day to find any rhythm. Give much of the credit for that to NC State's defensive line. That group totaled 12 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks.
State also went to more of a traditional 4-3 look against Connecticut and the linebackers responded. Sterling Lucas played a solid game and Rodman Noel showed he has the potential to be a good one. Those two combined for 14 tackles and most importantly, didn't make any glaring mistakes during the game. Both were also key in getting pressure in the backfield on several occasions.
You have to give defensive coach Mike Archer and his assistants credit for putting together a solid game plan and then getting the troops to respond after a demoralizing loss a week ago. Without it, State could very well be looking at an 0-2 start.
Offense is a Work in Progress
After a respectable outing against Tennessee, the Pack either a) took a step back this week or b) faced a pretty good defense. Personally, I think it was a little of both. Husky defensive coordinator Don Brown was at Maryland the last two years and clearly came in very familiar with the NC State offensive scheme. His guys did a tremendous job of mixing in pressure with a four man front which confounded Wolfpack QB Mike Glennon all day minus one pass to Bryan Underwood. Connecticut took away the short passing game, overloaded against the run and dared State to beat it deep- something the Pack hasn't shown the ability to do so far in 2012.
One thing is for sure, State's offense better use the next two weeks to get it in gear or they very well may be in for a tough stretch once they get into league play in a few weeks.
On Saturday, you couldn't point to just one area where State struggled because there were several. The Pack couldn't protect Glennon. They couldn't establish anything on the ground and the receivers couldn't get any open space vertically. State didn't show a whole lot offensively and it very well could be that was by design. But based on the first two weeks, the Pack is going to have to improve fundamentally and figure out something to hang their offensive hat on headed forward.
Offensive Line Struggles
State clearly missed the presence of Rob Crisp at left tackle but the unit flat out struggled. There were two many whiffs in pass protection and no push in the run game. State has done okay when teams bring just four. However they have had serious problems picking up pressure. They gave up six sacks on Saturday and each of those came after Connecticut brought extra defenders. The Pack finally responded by keeping two backs in the backfield and that played a part in State's next to last drive which helped drain the clock and forced the Huskies into a desperate drive.
The offensive line was expected to be a team strength this season and to date it's been a liability. If they can't figure out a way to keep Glennon off the turf and put together some kind of rushing attack then State's going to have to hope for a lot of 10-7 games the rest of the way.
Player of the Game
Although he was limited late by injury, senior DB Earl Wolff played a great game for NC State. He tallied five tackles but more importantly had a fumble recovery and an interception that was returned for 16 yards. The fumble recovery led to State's lone touchdown in the game.
Stat That Mattered
Perhaps the biggest stat for NC State was their third down defense. They held the Huskies to just 2 of 12 on third down conversions and didn't allow a single third down conversion until the second half. You can attribute some of that success to the work the Pack did on first down. They were able to force UConn into several third and longs which forced the Huskies into predictable passing plays.
Turning the Page
The fact that NC State sits at 1-1 isn't a huge surprise but how they got there may be of concern to some. Clearly they have to get better and the next two weeks should provide the Pack with an opportunity to do just that before they open ACC play on the road at Miami before returning home for a huge divisional game against Florida State.
The Pack will be favored heavily against South Alabama and the Citadel. Clearly, priority one is getting wins but equally important will be State's ability to improve its offensive line play and develop some consistency on offense. Two more games of experience will also be huge for defensive players like Rickey Dowdy, Brandon Pittman and Rodman Noel.
The Pack will have to have the kinks ironed out by the conclusion of the game with the Citadel. After that, State's schedule gets exponentially tougher.