Unlocking The Keys: UConn

On Friday we discussed the offensive and defensive keys to the game for NC State in their matchup with UConn. How did the Pack fare in those areas in the 10-7 victory?

On Friday we discussed the offensive and defensive keys to the game for NC State in their matchup with UConn. How did the Pack fare in those areas in the 10-7 victory?

In this feature, we'll be re-posting each key to the game, grade that key (on a scale of 1-10), and provide some thoughts and observations.

NC State Offense vs. UConn Defense

CLEAN UP MISTAKES
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.

Mike Glennon

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: NC State did a good job of cleaning up the turnovers, as they had just one in the game, but the offense really struggled in a lot of areas, and didn't play "clean."

The offensive line had issues all game, Glennon held on to the ball too long at times, and the pass-catchers had a couple of drops.

However, State cleaned up the "mistakes" that definitely plagued them against Tennessee, and it is why they won the game. Grade: 5

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.

Mustafa Greene

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: Mixed results here.

State was much more balanced offensively, finishing with 32 rushes by the tailbacks and 30 passing attempts, compared to 26 and 48 respectively against Tennessee.

However, it didn't lead to much success and the offense never really got going. The offensive line had problems picking up blitzes and opening holes for the tailbacks.

While State was more balanced, the Pack has to find an identity offensively and some efficiency over the next couple of weeks.Grade: 5

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.

Bryan Underwood

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: This is an area where State had major issues because Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood never really were able to get going.

Underwood had the 46-yard touchdown, but it was also his lone catch. Glennon looked for him a couple of times on crossing routes but couldn't connect with him.

Palmer finished with five catches for 46 yards, but three of those receptions came on the Wolfpack's final drive. Glennon obviously looked for Palmer when he needed to, but the redshirt senior, arguably State's most dynamic player with the ball in his hands, was a non-factor for much of the game.

It was also concerning to see the tight ends, who had nine catches for 96 yards in the season opener, not record a catch. If Glennon is going to be under the pressure he was yesterday, he has to be able to find Mario Carter and Asa Watson as they should be reliable targets underneath.

Finally, State could have looked to exploit UConn deep more. Sure, Glennon was pressured throughout the game, but the one time he took a shot deep it was off a quick drop and release, and Underwood ran right by his defender for the touchdown. Maybe the Pack should have took more shots deep to test UConn's corners because few out there can match Underwood and Palmer's vertical speed. Grade: 3


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.

Dontae Johnson

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: UConn did what we said they would do... keep Lyle McCombs involved. He got his 20 carries and added another two catches for 22 "touches" and finished with 111 total yards.

111 total yards and a score sounds fairly good, but that also includes two plays that totaled 58 yards. You remove those two plays and State held UCONN's best player to 53 total yards on 20 touches.

State effectively took McCombs out of the game, and if you keep him in check you're going to be able to disrupt UConn's offense because they aren't built to win games throwing the football or playing from behind. Grade: 8

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.

Thomas Teal

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: This might have been the biggest key of the game for the defense, as Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien was extremely concerned with defending UConn's Wildcat package.

State is inexperienced at linebacker, and maintaining gap control and being lined up correctly is essential to defending the Wildcat. The Wolfpack defense was outstanding in this regard.

UConn had two players lining up at quarterback in the Wildcat for them, Michael Smith and Scott McCummings, and the duo combined to finish with -1 yards on three carries. Both actually left the game for a period of time due to injury... State's defensive tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal were all over them.

The numbers back it up, State was terrific in defending the Wildcat and it forced UConn to play conventional which they had a lot of problems doing against the Pack's defense. Grade: 10

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.

Brandan Bishop

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.

Pack Pride's Thoughts: State won the game because they were able to continually turn UConn over and limited big plays.

The Huskies turned the ball over six times (three interceptions, one fumble, and twice on downs). State's defense flew to the ball, hit with authority, and made the plays it needed to make to pull out a win with the offense struggling.

The Pack also did a great job of limiting big plays. They didn't allow any in the kicking game and held UConn's offense to just two plays of 20+ yards (0 touchdowns) after yielding five (three for touchdowns) against Tennessee.

Once again, this was another area where State's defense was outstanding. Grade: 9


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