Saturday, August 31, 2013
12:30 pm (EST), ACC Network
Louisiana Tech (0-0) at NC State (0-0) Aug. 31, 12:30, ACC Network
Why You Should Give A Hoot: New coaching staffs in both locker rooms will be looking for the kind of fast start in Raleigh that builds player confidence and a head of steam.
NC State canned underachieving Tom O'Brien last year, replacing him with upwardly-mobile Dave Doeren, who earned his promotion while at Northern Illinois. Mired in mediocrity for far too long, the Pack last won at least 10 games more than a decade ago, and last wore an ACC crown in 1979. While there are no quick-fixes here, Doeren was rather hasty in his two seasons in DeKalb.
When Sonny Dykes got promoted to Cal, Louisiana Tech looked to a familiar face in college football circles, filling its opening with deposed South Florida coach Skip Holtz. Holtz takes over a Bulldogs' team that peaked with nine wins in 2012, but begins its first year in Conference USA with just a handful of returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The offense may be undergoing an overhaul, both staff and personnel, but it still has a chance to be rather potent in 2013. Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young is a former four-star recruit, and RB Kenneth Dixon is coming off a Freshman All-American season in 2012. If WR Paul Turner, an import from LSU, is given the green light to join South Florida transfer Sterling Griffin right away, they'll face an overhauled Pack secondary breaking in three new starters.
Why NC State Might Win: The Louisiana Tech D was arguably the flimsiest in America last year. It won't be much improved this year. The Wolfpack has yet to announce who'll be the starting quarterback, but that guy is going to enjoy throwing on an FCS-caliber defensive backfield. Even as Quintin Payton nurses a protracted injury, State's receivers remain deep with the return of Bryan Underwood. RB Tony Creecy is capable of carrying the load on the ground now that Shadrach Thornton has been suspended for the opener.
Who To Watch Out For: Compelling game for those who like to watch quality D-linemen in action. Both teams are stacked up front; State will get after Young with ends Art Norman and Darryl Cato-Bishop and underrated tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal. Tech's best defenders are DE IK Enemkpali and DT Justin Ellis.
- Doeren will keep everyone in the dark until game day on his choice for quarterback. It's narrowed to two transfers, Colorado State's Pete Thomas or Arkansas' Brandon Mitchell. The smart money is on Thomas.
- Young has a very live, but will Holtz unleash it? The coach has had a penchant for running offenses that are—too—conservative.
- NC State is looking for breakout stars on defense. Senior CB Dontae Johnson, for one, is ready to answer the call, beginning with this Saturday's opener.
What Will Happen: Someone is going to capture his first win on a new campus. And that someone is Doeren. Yeah, his team is a work-in-progress, but this week's opponent is starting at an even more rudimentary stage. The Pack will have its way with the Bulldogs' defense, racing out to a lead that it never surrenders.
Prediction: NC State 38 … Louisiana Tech 20
Line: NC State -13.5 O/U: 62.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 N'Sync at the VMAs) … 2
NC State Offense vs. Louisiana Tech Defense
TACKLING THE UNKNOWN
For the most part, the quarterback position has been a given for NC State over the last five years. Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon gave the Wolfpack NFL caliber play at the position and State's offense revolved around the talents of those two players in particular.
The Wolfpack won't have that luxury in 2013. The QB spot is somewhat of an unknown and it's likely the State coaches will adjust on the fly as it determines which player- Pete Thomas or Brandon Mitchell- gives them the best shot at winning.
Thomas is more of a pass first guy while Mitchell will use his athleticism to bring an added element to NC State's run game. Perhaps the most important factor here, as was mentioned by head coach Dave Doeren earlier this week, is not to try to do too much. State needs their quarterback, whether Mitchell or Thomas, to simply manage the game, avoid mistakes and get the ball in the hands of the play makers
The first game in particular will be a feeling out process as the coaches figure out what each of the two QB's are comfortable with while developing a strategy to take advantage of each player's strengths.
FIND THE PLAYMAKERS
While the quarterback position is a big question mark, the skill positions are not. The Wolfpack returns a bevy of players with experience and big game potential.
While not flashy, the NC State coaches know exactly what they're going to get from junior RB Tony Creecy. He's going to run tough between the tackles, he's not going to fumble, he's not going to drop passes and will not make any glaring mistakes.
There has been a ton of buzz about freshman RB Matt Dayes during fall camp and when you combine that with the run ability of Brandon Mitchell, you've got a solid 1-2-3 punch of running threat.
At wide receiver, Quintin Payton gives State a versatile, reliable, possession receiver. Bryan Underwood and Rashard Smith are quick in space are should be natural go-to guys in Matt Canada's spread offense.
Asa Watson gives State good speed and athleticism at the tight end spot while David Grinnage is a player that big things are expected from as he develops.
Collectively, this group is experienced, talented and should be the work horses of the NC State offense. Their success should take much of the pressure off the Wolfpack's quarterbacks as they square off against a Louisiana Tech defense that is being rebuilt after ranking 120th in the nation last year in total defense.
AVOID SELF-INFLICTED MISTAKES
Perhaps nothing is more crucial in the opening game than avoiding self inflicted mistakes on offense whether it be turnovers or penalties.
You need look no further than last season so see how critical turnovers were to NC State. 14 of the 17 interceptions thrown last season came during the Pack's six losses. Collectively, State had 33 turnovers last year with 24 of those coming in the Wolfpack's losses.
While Carter-Finley will certainly be raucous on Saturday, the great equalizer to that energy will be mistakes. If the Pack can get out of game one on the plus side of turnover margin and with five or fewer penalties, they should be in a great position to get an opening day win.
NC State Defense vs. Louisiana Tech Offense
STUFF THE RUN
NC State has to make Louisiana Tech one-dimensional, and it all starts with stuffing the run.
Louisiana Tech is one of 11 teams in the country this year that is entering the 2013 season with zero career quarterback starts on its roster. However, they return Kenneth Dixon, a terrific running back who set a freshman record with 27 rushing touchdowns last year. He will certainly test the Wolfpack defense, along with talented backup Tevin King.
Last year each had a 200-yard rushing game, proving that both are potent with the ball in their hands.
Look for NC State to rely on their defensive front to try and take away both backs. The Wolfpack believes the strength of their defense could be the defensive line, or "front eight" as head coach Dave Doeren refers to them due to their depth.
The last time a NC State head coach played his first game in Carter-Finley the Wolfpack, in a loss, allowed 200+ yards by Central Florida great Kevin Smith.
They can't do the same on Saturday.
Louisiana Tech's offensive gameplan/system is an unknown, given the change in coaches, but the Wolfpack must do what they can do to be successful, and that includes playing aggressive.
Regardless of what the Bulldogs throw at the Wolfpack, the Pack 'D' needs to play fast, physical, and aggressive. There is depth on that side of the ball... go all out and play hard, don't hold anything back.
If La. Tech is showing spread looks, pressure up on the edges and eliminate the screen game. If they try a power running game, load the box and force quarterback Scotty Young to beat them over the top.
If State can pressure Young, push him out of the pocket, and force him to make plays on the run, the Wolfpack defense should be successful. Doing so should/could force some Louisiana Tech turnovers and that is crucial.
This might be the biggest key of the game for State's defense. They can't allow Louisiana Tech to dictate the pace and find their groove early on.
The Wolfpack must come out and play aggressive, smart, fast, and physical.
START FAST... LIMIT BIG PLAYS
NC State's defense needs to come out and set the tone early. Carter-Finley should be rocking, and if the Wolfpack can come out and make a few big plays early they can potentially ride that momentum to a victory.
State's defense has some question marks. There are three new starting linebackers... new safeties... turnover up front. However, a fast start should ease concerns and give confidence to the younger players who are in this situation for the first time.
What the Pack must also do is limit big plays. State has to force Young and Louisiana Tech to march up and down the field. State can't give up any big plays because frankly, the Wolfpack offense is an unknown as well. They may come out and score 40 or 10 on Saturday... no one knows.
It can't be said enough... State has to limit big plays and get off to a quick start if they want to start the season 1-0.
NC State Game Notes
The Pack's season opener versus Louisiana Tech will be full of "firsts" on both sides of the field. The game marks the first meeting between the two schools, which combine to boast 236 years of football. Both squads will have a head coach that is directing his first game at his new school - as Dave Doeren took over the helm of the Pack on December 1, 2012, and Skip Holtz was named head coach of the Bulldogs just 12 days later.
If recent history is any indication, the game could contain some offensive fireworks. LA Tech led the nation last year in total offense, averaging 577.9 yards per game, while Northern Illinois, Doeren's former squad, ranked 20th with 469.57 yards. NIU ranked 12th nationally in rushing offense a year ago with 238.2 ypg, while the Bulldogs ranked 17th with a 227.2 ypg mark. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada led the Wisconsin offense that ranked 13th in rushing in 2012, gaining 236.4 ground yards per contest.
THE DOEREN OF A NEW ERA
Dave Doeren was introduced as the 34th head coach in NC State football history at a press conference on Dec. 1, 2012. He immediately began to evaluate his new team as it went through bowl practices, hired a staff, signed a recruiting class, moved his family and began putting his stamp on Wolfpack football history.
The youngest coach in the ACC, the 41-year-old Doeren posts a 23-4 record as a head coach. Among FBS coaches, only Alabama's Nick Saban has more wins since the beginning of the 2011 season. Doeren led Northern Illinois to back-to-back MAC titles and the first BCS bowl berth ever by a team from that league.
Doeren, who has never lost a home game as head coach, has also coached in the Big Ten (Wisconsin), Big 12 (Kansas), Pac 12 (USC), Missouri Valley (Drake) and in the FCS ranks at Montana, where he was on the staff that led the Grizzlies to the national title.
BOYS FROM THE BAYOU
The Wolfpack has a little Louisiana flavor on the 2013 squad as it opens the season against the Louisiana Tech squad from Ruston. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell hails from Amite, Louisiana, while left guard Duran Christophe is a New Orleans native (Christophe went to high school in Georgia while his family temporarily relocated after Hurricane Katrina).
Mitchell played against many of the Bulldog players during his prep days at Amite High School and his high school coach, Alden Foster, was a college roommate of Jabbar Juluke - La. Tech's running backs coach at Southern University.
He is no stranger to the Louisiana Tech campus either. During his playing days at Arkansas, he had several cousins and friends who attended that school and he would drop them by the Ruston campus on his way back to Fayetteville.
The decision of who would stand behind center for the first offensive snap of the Dave Doeren era at NC State is one that will go down to the wire.
Heading into game week, head coach Dave Doeren was still comparing the strengths of Brandon Mitchell, a graduate student who transferred from Arkansas in July, and Pete Thomas, a redshirt junior who transferred to State from Colorado State and sat out last season under the previous coaching staff.
Mitchell is known as being a stronger runner, while Thomas has more experience as a drop-back passer. Both players have played in exactly 21 career contests, although Mitchell played wide receiver in eight games and Thomas played quarterback in all 21 (starting every one).
LAND OF THE LOST (STARTERS)
When the 2013 season opens, State fans better buy a program. There won't be too many familiar faces lined up when the Pack takes the field on either side of the ball. Among schools from BCS conferences, Dave Doeren's squad ranks sixth in fewest number of starters returning with 11. Doeren and company will have just four returning starters on offense following the season-ending injury to fullback Logan Winkles in preseason camp. On defense, only five starters return from last year and the Pack does return its placekicker and punter.
In the season opener, the fans traveling with LA Tech will also benefit from purchasing a program. If you look at the returning starters for all FBS schools, the Bulldogs are tied for second, with only eight starters returning. The Pack is tied for 11th on that expanded list.
The success of the Pack's new up-tempo, fast-paced offense will rely heavily on having a large group of wide receivers. Dave Doeren has said he will dress 8-9 wideouts for each game. Only five wideouts caught passes for NC State last season and only four of those - Charlie Hegedus, Quintin Payton, Rashard Smith Underwood - are returning for 2013. That leaves a wide open opportunity for some true freshmen to see the field at that position.
Rookie Bra'Lon Cherry has the advantage among the group of rookie wideouts. He graduated from high school early and started school in January, going through winter conditioning and spring practice with the team. He enters the season as the backup to veteran Bryan Underwood at the slot receiver position.
Lanky Marques Valdes-Scantling may have turned the most heads in fall camp with his acrobatic catches. He has worked his way onto the depth chart behind senior Quintin Payton at split end. Other freshmen who could see significant action at wideout in 2013 are Johnathon Alston and Jumichael Ramos. Alston, Ramos and Valdes-Scantling are each listed at 6-3.
The happiest man on the field when the Wolfpack kicks off against Louisiana Tech in the season opener might be the guy wearing No. 31 on defense. Linebacker D.J. Green will be back in action after missing the entire 2012 campaign due to an NCAA suspension.
Green started six games at strongside linebacker in 2011 before being sidelined with an abdominal injury. He came back and started one contest but a foot injury ended his season. In an attempt to gain weight following the injury, he took a nutritional supplement without checking with the sports medicine staff and ended up with the suspension.
Green, who was allowed to practice with the team, promised at the time to "work hard every day in practice to help try to make my teammates better." That hard work has paid off and he will be back in his starting slot at LB when the Bulldogs snap the ball for the first time. He tallied five tackles for loss during his abbreviated 2011 campaign, while also pulling down an interception. He played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 at the strong safety spot.
ISN'T THAT SPECIAL?
The most experienced players on the 2013 Wolfpack squad in terms of games started is the talented tandem of Niklas Sade and Wil Baumann at placekicker and punter. Sade has started all 26 games of his State career, while Baumann, who entered school along with Sade in 2010, missed just one game due to a pregame injury in 2011 (he did hold for extra points in that contest but did not punt).
Sade enters his junior campaign ranked sixth in school history with 90 career PATs, while his 24 field goals made is the 10th-best mark ever for a Pack player.
Baumann ranks eighth in the career record books in career punts, seventh in yardage.
Transfers could play a major role in the Wolfpack's fate this season, as five players who took their last snap at another school are listed in the Wolfpack two-deep heading into the opener. Both players who are vying for the starting quarterback spot are transfers - Pete Thomas redshirted at State last year after transferring from Colorado State and Brandon Mitchell graduated from Arkansas in May and joined the Wolfpack as a graduate student. Travares Copeland, a talented wideout, received an NCAA waiver after transferring from West Virginia and is eligible for the Pack in 2013.
The Wolfpack defense should get a workout in the month of September. Two of NC State's first three opponents, Louisiana Tech and Clemson, each ran more than 80 offensive plays per game last year. The Bulldogs led the nation by averaging 87.8 plays per contest, while Clemson wasn't far behind with 81.6 offensive snaps per game.
YOUNG MAN DOEREN
At 41 years old, Dave Doeren is the youngest coach in the ACC by two years and is one of the youngest head coaches in the BCS conferences. Doeren is the 13th-youngest among coaches at schools in those leagues. He is 26 years younger than the oldest coach in the ACC (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer will be 67 in October) and 32 years younger than the oldest BCS conference coach (Bill Snyder of Kansas State will be 74 in October).
OLD MAN DOEREN
At 41 years old, you would think that Dave Doeren might be one of the youngest coaches ever to coach the Wolfpack. However, only three coaches in the past four decades have been older than Doeren when they took the reins of the Wolfpack. When Lou Holtz was named head coach in 1972, he was 35 years old. Bo Rein was 31 in 1976 when he was named head coach. Monte Kiffin became head coach in 1980 when he was 40 and Tom Reed was 38 in 1983 when he took the job. Mike O'Cain was 39 when he was named head coach in 1993.
Since 1972, only Dick Sheridan (45 in 1986), Chuck Amato (54 in 2000), and Tom O'Brien (59 in 2007) were older than Doeren when they were named the Wolfpack's head coach.
ON THE JOB TRAINING
Not only is NC State's number of returning starters for 2013 among the lowest in the nation (11), the starters who are returning don't boast a great deal of starting experience. The most experienced players on the team in terms of games started are the Pack's talented pair of junior kickers. Placekicker Niklas Sade has started 26 games while punter Wil Bauman has started 25. The only other player with more than 20 starts under his belt is senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop, who has started 22 career contests.
Only 23 players who can play in 2013 have every started a game for the Wolfpack and of those 23, 11 have started five games or less. Another 11 have started 10 or more games.
The excitement surrounding NC State football has translated into rapid ticket sales, as the Wolfpack sold its entire allotment of season tickets for 2013 two weeks before the opener. State posted its highest number of season tickets sold since the 2008 campaign.
Fans eager to see the team play also snatched up all available five-game Mini-Packs within two weeks.
A NEW DAYES
Several freshmen turned heads during fall drills, but perhaps none more so than rookie runner Matt Dayes. Wolfpack fans should find out quickly how good Dayes is, as he is listed as the backup to veteran Tony Creecy for the season opener, while sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for the season opener.
At 5-9, 213, Dayes is a compact player who runs low and has great vision, according to his head coach. In the Pack's first scrimmage of fall camp, just a couple of days after putting on pads, Dayes ran for a team-leading 78 yards on 11 carries, scoring on a 53-yard run.
Dayes rushed for over 1,800 yards last season at Cypress Bay High School, scoring 31 TDs. He played at the 8A level and rushed for 174 yards and five touchdowns in the 8A championship game.
NO ROAMING CHARGES
The Wolfpack won't have to wander very far from its home den during the 2013 football season, as NC State will play eight games in Carter-Finley Stadium and two others in the state of North Carolina. The Pack won't have to play a game outside of its home state until Oct. 26, when the squad heads to Florida State.
The only other game played outside North Carolina will be the Boston College contest on Nov. 16.
Louisiana Tech Game Notes
After an offseason of immense change, Louisiana Tech enters the 2013 season a brand new team with a brand new look as the Bulldogs open the year at NC State (0-0).
LA Tech is entering its first year in Conference USA and first season under the direction of new head coach Skip Holtz.
LOOKING TO CONTINUE RECENT SUCCESS VS. BCS TEAMS
Normally guarantee games only guarantee a large check and a big win for the paying team. However in recent years, Louisiana Tech has bucked that trend in a dominating way.
Over the last two seasons, the Bulldogs are 3-2 against teams from BCS automatically qualifying conferences with both losses determined by one possession.
Last year alone, Louisiana Tech beat a pair of BCS in consecutive weeks on the road - a feat that notable Goliath-slayer Boise State has yet to achieve - as LA Tech collected two wins and $1.6 million in guarantee money.
The two blemishes over the last two years have been an overtime loss at Mississippi State in 2011 and a thrilling 59-57 loss to No. 22 Texas A&M in 2012 that ranked as ESPN's No. 8 game of the 2012 season.
LAST FOUR GAMES VS. BCS TEAMS... TECH DEFENSIVE OR SPECIAL TEAMS TDS
Louisiana Tech's opportunistic team seems to have a heightened sense of opportunity when it faces a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference. In its last four games vs. BCS-level teams (of which Tech has won three), the Bulldogs have scored a touchdown on either defense or special teams.
The first came in Tech's 27-7 win at Ole Miss in 2011 when Chad Boyd returned a fumble 33 yards for a score then came Tech's 52-24 dismantling of Illinois as Antonio Mitchum recovered a fumble in the end zone for six points. The following week, Chip Hester ran back an interception 32 yards for a touchdown.
Then on Oct. 13, 2012, Shakeil Lucas returned an interception five yards for a touchdown against the 22nd-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
...HIGH-POWERED OFFENSE LED TO WINS, TOO
It wasn't just opportunity knocking that led Louisiana Tech to knock off BCS-level teams in three of its last four meetings but also a high-powered offense that kept the Bulldogs out of reach. In its wins over Ole Miss (2011), Illinois (2012) and Virginia (2012) LA Tech outscored its opponents by 54 points (123-69). For the math whiz kids out there, that is an average winning score of 41-23.
When you add in its 59-57 loss to No. 22 Texas A&M from Oct. 13, the average score differential is 45-32.
ACC? Check. Big Ten? Check. SEC? Check.
Since November 2011, Louisiana Tech has recorded wins over teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Virginia), Big Ten Conference (Illinois) and the Southeastern Conference (Ole Miss).
FRESH FACES AT QB
Louisiana Tech is one of 11 teams in the country this year that is entering the 2013 season with zero career quarterback starts on its roster. While the Bulldogs have several QBs on hand, none of them have ever started a collegiate game at the FBS level. The only asterisk to that is Paul Harris, who started several games at FCS level Northwestern State before transferring to Louisiana Tech.
MAYBE WE SHOULD LIST THE RECORDS KENNETH DIXON HASN'T BROKEN...
There obviously was a reason Kenneth Dixon was named to the 2012 Freshman All-America Team and it wasn't just because of his baby-faced good looks.
During his rookie campaign in 2012, the Strong, Ark. native set numerous records on the school, conference and national levels. Most notably were the three NCAA Freshman records held by Marshall Faulk that Dixon broke.
Dixon's 2012 Records
Rushing TDs in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 27 (21, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991... 21, Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech in 2009)
Overall TDs in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 28 (23, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991)
Points Scored in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 168 (140, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991)
KING AND DIXON GO FOR 200+
Before Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King arrived in Ruston, a Tech freshman had only run for over 200 yards once. That quickly changed in 2012 as both Dixon and King achieved that feat.
Dixon rushed for 232 yards against Idaho and King had 204 yards versus Rice.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2013 NC State Depth Chart|
Thanks to NC State and Louisiana Tech Athletics for much of the information in this preview.