GAMEDAY: NC State vs. Syracuse

NC State returns to action today at 3:30 in a home game against Syracuse. The game can be viewed on RSN.

NC State vs. Syracuse
Saturday, October 12, 2013
3:30 pm (EST), RSN
Raleigh, NC
Carter-Finley Stadium

NC State Links
Official Site

Syracuse Links
Official Site

CFN's Take

Syracuse (2-3) at NC State (3-2) Oct. 12, 3:30, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Syracuse and NC State will be looking to shake off losses in a matchup that could go a long way toward determining eventual bowl eligibility. The Orange took on it on the chin from Clemson, 49-14, falling to 0-3 this season versus opponents from an AQ conference. Syracuse doesn't return to the Carrier Dome until the beginning of next month, so seizing some momentum will have to come on the road. The Pack suffered what could become a fork-in-the-road loss to struggling rival Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. State, too, has not beaten a name brand team, though it did perform much better against common opponent Clemson on Sept. 19.

Why Syracuse Might Win: When the Pack has the ball, the Orange is going to cause problems at the line of scrimmage. State is laboring to protect QB Pete Thomas, especially since LT Rob Crisp remains out with a concussion. Syracuse ranks No. 15 nationally in sacks, while allowing just 3.2 yards per carry. DT Jay Bromley is blowing up opposing lines, which is allowing linebackers Dyshawn Davis, Marquis Spruill and Cameron Lynch to roam more freely in the pursuit of the ball.

Why NC State Might Win: Fueled by a talented D-line, the Pack defense has played surprisingly well so far this season. Heck, State is the only team to hold Clemson below 30 points so far this season. It collectively gets off the snap in a hurry, pressuring the pocket with a combination of DE Art Norman, LB Robert Caldwell and a collection of very quick tackles. The Pack is only giving up 107 yards rushing a game, which could neutralize two of Syracuse's best weapons, backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley.

Who To Watch Out For: If the Pack is going to ignite its passing game, this would be a good time to do it. Syracuse ranks 111th in pass efficiency D, and will be without starting CB Keon Lyn for the balance of the year.

- Someone is going to target the depleted Orange, but will it be Thomas or Brandon Mitchell? Mitchell, the Arkansas transfer, started the opener, but has been out since with a broken bone in his foot. He's out of a boot, but his status for Saturday remains up in the air.

- The Pack had trouble last week containing the happy feet of Wake Forest QB Tanner Price, who scrambled for 82 yards. Orange QB Terrel Hunt, also a good athlete, will attempt to victimize NC State outside the tackles as well.

What Will Happen: In a toss-up game, the edge goes to the team that doesn't have to travel this week. NC State has played well in Raleigh, a trend that'll continue on Saturday. The Pack will survive a back-and-forth affair versus Syracuse, with PK Niklas Sade earning MVP honors.

Prediction: NC State 26 … Syracuse 23
Line: NC State -5.5 o/u: 54
Must See Rating: (5 Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight – 1 I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding) … 2

Saturday's Keys

NC State Offense vs. Syracuse Defense

Defensively, every team wants to take something away from the opposing offense to make them one dimensional. It's no secret that Syracuse is going to try to take the run away from NC State much the way Wake Forest did a week ago.

The Deacs were able to stifle the Pack on first and second down and force them into predictable passing situations on third down. As the game progressed, NC State had to play from behind which all but removed the run game from the play book. Once the Pack became predictable, the Deacs simply pinned their ears back and went after QB Pete Thomas.

Wake Forest's defensive game plan worked and you can probably expect Syracuse to attempt to replicate it on Saturday.

The Wolfpack running backs and receivers managed a measly 55 yards and just over three yards per carry versus the Deacs. If that happens on Saturday it's likely to be a long day for State.

The good news is State will have Matt Dayes back in the lineup and Rashard Smith is a possibility. Last weekend showed that State needs all their weapons and like in previous games this year, the Pack has to manufacture rushing yardage through an unconventional run attack. The Orange yielded 206 yards on the ground in a loss at Northwestern and 156 yards in a home loss to Clemson. While certainly not as highly regarded as those two teams, State has shown big play ability and they have to stay committed to run.

The run game is definitely a key for NC State on Saturday but Syracuse has shown that they can be exploited through the air.

In their three losses this year, Syracuse averaged giving up nearly 380 yards per game through the air. The Orange will likely stack the box which means play action could work and their may be opportunities to go deep. State hasn't been consistently effective doing that this year but they have to take their shots and they need to convert to loosen up the Syracuse defense.

350 yards of total offense appears to be the magic number for NC State. When Syracuse has given up that much yardage, they're 0-3. When they've stayed below that number they're 2-0.

With a bevy of receivers to work with, State simply has to figure out a way to get the ball in their hands and allow them to make plays. If they can make that happen, the alignments they face defensively could play to their advantage.

State took a step back last week with eight penalties, two turnovers and four sacks. They also lost the time of possession battle and that's something they've been pretty good at this year despite running a no-huddle offense.

State HAS to eliminate the pre-snap penalties. This is the sixth game of the season and there's simply no excuse for two men moving prior to the snap or not enough men on the line of scrimmage. Sure, maybe it happens once but State cannot afford to keep getting side tracked with first and 15.

Just like every other week, with such a slim margin of error between winning and losing, the Pack has to protect the ball and the Wolfpack QB whether it is Brandon Mitchell or Pete Thomas.

State has to make Syracuse work for everything they get and if they do, should be in fine shape with the Carter-Finley crowd behind them.

NC State Defense vs. Syracuse Offense

Priority No. 1 for NC State's defense is to come out and squash any confidence or optimism that Syracuse might have.

The Wolfpack will be playing without contributors like Darryl Cato-Bishop, but facing a run-based offense that hasn't been extremely effective against comparable teams, the Pack 'D' should be able to start fast and make a statement.

Syracuse comes into the game ranked No. 61 nationally in total offense (418.2 yards per game), No. 47 in rushing offense (192.4), and No. 46 in scoring offense (32.8). However, those numbers are a bit skewed as they scored 52 and 54 points respectively in home games against Tulane and Wagner. The Orange scored 14 (Clemson), 17 (Penn State), and 27 (Northwestern) in their other three games.

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt will also be making his first career road start. NC State must come out and pressure Hunt... rattle his confidence. They can't allow the young quarterback to get going early on.

The strength of State's defense so far has been their ability to stuff the run. State is currently No. 18 nationally in rushing defense, yielding just 107.6 yards per game and it has been due to the effective play of the front seven and sure-tackling in the secondary.

Junior defensive tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal are coming on strong and making their presence felt, and the Wolfpack's depth across the front line has allowed them to rotate in defenders and stay fresh all game.

The front seven must come up big this weekend because Syracuse brings in a potent running game that can bust big plays. Their offense is geared towards establishing the run, and they do it by being physical at the point of attack and running downhill.

Syracuse utilizes a two-man rotation at tailback with bruiser Jerome Smith (342 rushing yards, 7 TDs) and scatback Prince Tyson-Gulley (184 rushing yards, 3 TDs). They are different in styles but both have been effective.

To win this game, NC State has to shutdown Smith and Gulley. To do so they must be physical and aggressive defensively, and it all starts by winning the battle in the trenches.

If there has been a major flaw defensively for the Wolfpack this season it has been on third down.

The Pack is allowing conversions 40% of the time on third down, which ranks No. 68 nationally. That's not good, and even worse, some of the conversions were on third-and-long... a down that is heavily in the defense's favor.

Success for the Pack will start by winning on first down and getting the Orange off schedule. The Pack needs to limit Syracuse's run game on first and second down and force their inexperienced quarterback to make plays.

Look for State to try and apply pressure with their front four and allow their trio of linebackers to flow and make the plays. If Syracuse is forced into long third downs consistently, it forces them to attempt to make plays they don't want to have to make. This will also open the door for potential turnovers.

Syracuse has been just as bad converting third downs. They are rated No. 72 in the nation, converting just 39.8% of the time. Obviously the Orange has had issues on that down, and NC State has to make sure it stays that way. This will obviously be a key down in the matchup.

QUOTABLES: Dave Doeren

Opening Statement:
We're looking forward to a home game here in the month of October, and playing a very physical Syracuse team. Looking forward to the opportunity of competing against them. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff.

They have a tremendous tailback and middle linebacker, two really physical, fun players to watch and great competition. That's for sure.

Look forward to that opportunity. I know our guys are excited to get back on the practice field this week and go back to work.

Last week they rushed for well over 300 yards against Clemson. I know your run defense has been pretty solid. Is that a concern going into this week's game, their running game?
Well, yeah, their tailbacks, both of them kind of got two different personalities back there. I think they're both really good players, and that is the personality of their team. They want to stop the run on defense. They want to run the ball on offense and they sellout to do both. For us, it's going to be a challenge.

We're looking forward to that opportunity. But we know that you don't beat Syracuse unless you stop what they do after contact. They're very good at running through the first defender. So we've got to make sure we leverage and get off blocks and tackle well and play with good technique and that we're gap sound.

At the same time their young quarterback who has been very good up until this point seems to be rattled a little bit by some of Clemson's pressure. That's something y'all did pretty well against Clemson. Is that a key to get pressure on him and shake him up a little bit?
Yeah, I think any quarterbacks that play would tell you that they'd like to have time to throw, and Clemson has a tremendous defense, not just their pass rush, but they played great coverage in that game. He threw some balls and they went up and made interceptions. They got up on them early and took them out of their game plan. So that's hard on a quarterback when he can't rely on the run game.

Obviously, for us it would be great to be able to get pressure on them and be able to defend their receivers and contest routes the way Clemson did, but we'll see if we're capable of doing that.

A couple of weeks now into your ACC career, I was just wondering is there anything that surprised you so far from making the switch from Northern Illinois to N.C. State? What are the things you're able to take from your previous experience to this league?
Well, I mean, I've been in the Pac-10 when I was at SC and Big 12 at Kansas and Big Ten at Wisconsin. So I felt like I was ready to be in this conference. I've seen a lot of different kind of teams out there and played against the ACC in bowl games at different stops. There are really no surprises.

As far as Syracuse and a lot of people know their running backs and also Terrel Hunt has some attention, but the wide receivers were held without a catch, actually against Clemson. With them, they don't have a true number one guy. Is there a way that you defend a team that has a bunch of different options but not necessarily a true number one threat?
Well, I think that there are multiple guys that give touches, like you said. It's really about the progressions. They do a nice job of working through receivers to the side and have concepts to the back and away from the back.

They've got big targets. Their leading receiver is a big kid. He's 220 pounds and a big target for the quarterback. You've just got to have good underneath coverage from your linebackers and make sure you play on top of receivers because they will run some double moves and short spot and go type routes. So when you play man-to-man, those guys do a nice job of containing the quarterback because he'll take off on you if you have a bunch of people running down man coverage, it can hurt you.

Until they've settled on a QB, I know it's somewhat of what we went through, it's hard to get a rhythm in your pass game. Now they're starting to have more of a personality, I think, of what he's good at. That will only continue to grow the more he plays.

How is Brandon Mitchell progressing? Is there a chance he'll be ready for this weekend?
Well, there is a chance. He was out in pads yesterday. He's throwing the ball well every day. He feels really good in the pocket. He's just getting more and more comfortable with the side-to-side and straight ahead movements that you have to do.

So we're day-to-day with them. I'm not going to put him out there until I feel like he's in a place of comfort and when he feels protected. So we've still got 72 hours until game time. But last week he was in a boot and this week he's in cleats.

So there is progress. It's just how long will it take him to feel like he can be full speed? I think every day is a new day for him.

What extra dimensions does he bring to your offense?
He can do the entire thing. Right now we feel like we're kind of a two-quarterback system to be able to run the ball at times with our QB, and not that he can't, because he's running the ball effectively.

But we don't want to get him beat up. Once Brandon's in there, you have both where he can stretch the field. There is just one extra runner in the back field all the time that the defense has to be concerned about.

It seemed kind of a schizophrenic season for you. Obviously, you look so good against Clemson one week, and then you have the performance you had against Wake or what you had earlier in the season against Richmond. Have you got a handle on who this team is and how to capture the same kind of consistency week to week?
Yeah, well, the big part of it is we've got nine starters that aren't playing because of injury. So every week you insert a new guy into the lineup, and it's hard to be the same team week-in and week-out when your lineup changes every week.

I think that is the biggest issue. I think any great team I've been on has had continuity where you can grow as a football team. Unfortunately, for us we haven't had a lot of position groups with the same lineups every week due to injuries. That's just the world we're living in and we'll try to survive the best we can and do everything we can to help our players within it, and it's helping our youth.

There is no doubt we're going to grow long-term because of how many young guys are going to play right now.

But the continuity is the biggest issue. You go from one week to the next and you don't have the same guy next to you. We're doing everything we can. Our guys will continue to work hard. We'll get a few guys back this week. After this game we'll have a bye week, and hopefully we'll get healthy down the stretch and be able to get back to form.

I know gaining Matt Dayes and Valdes back this week is a nice spark for us. Copeland is progressing for us. He was out the first three games, and now he's playing in his second game.

There are some guys popping back in there and then you lose a couple, so I think that is the biggest thing that you look at. It's just part of the game. You've got to learn how to deal with it. When you have more depth after you've been somewhere for a while, it's easier. You have a little bit more dropoff probably in your first year from an injury standpoint than you will in year two, three, or four.

QUOTABLES: Scott Shafer

Opening Statement:
Good to be on. We look forward to our first ACC road game, going down and playing a well-coached NC State team, and we're just excited to get back on the road.

What concerns you most as you look at that State team on film?
Well, you know, they're well-coached. Defensively they're going to play a good, fundamentally sound brand of football. I have great respect for the way they coach them over there, Coach Doeren and that whole staff. They've got a really good coaching staff. They're going to have to really work hard. They're stout up front, and I think they do a good job with their scheme. So that's the defensive side for our offense.

And then offensively Matt Canada, their offensive coordinator does a great job. He's really good at scheming you up and making things look one way and then changing them, a vast array of formation sets. They've had a lot of success with their jet sweep families. I think they're averaging about nine, ten yards a play on that particular play with different people running the ball. And then they do a great job with their power, both quarterback power and running back powers, and they run counters. So there's a lot of misdirection football, there's a lot of misdirection formational sets. So you really have to be on task with making sure you're getting lined up correctly and putting your eyes in the right place. Those would probably be the top things that would be of concern.

I wanted to look into what you're grabbing from the last game against Clemson. You always talk about controlling the controllables. What have you been trying to really control and practice since starting up yesterday and what you saw that you wanted to make better going into this game versus NC State?
Yeah, great question. You know, the first thing is as we get back to work, getting back to improving our 1st down on both sides of the ball. That was an area that we were poor. I've mentioned in the past we'd like to be around that 60 percent. We were in the 20 percent, 26 percent, I think, offensively, and 42 percent defensively, so we targeted that hard yesterday in practice as well as our takeaways and giveaways.

We gave away four, and we got two, but we need to really get back on pace there. So that was the starting point. But I think there's a lot of other lessons learned from getting beat by a good Clemson team, and that's just making sure we're doing a good job seeing what we're supposed to see defensively. We gave them a couple big ones early, and it really made it difficult on us. They were earned but they were also given up at the same time with regards to the way we played a couple of those particular plays.

Going back, working those specific plays that we didn't play well and trying to turn them into learning moments, and the big thing is learning from your mistakes. And then as you get through that you try to accentuate on the positives, and some of the things that jumped out were we obviously ran the ball well.

I thought Jerome and the O-line did some good things. But defensively a couple great interceptions by Ritchy Desir and Whigham, two guys that stepped up and made some plays, and up front Jay Bromley played well. So trying to accentuate on some of those things, and saying, hey, we made some good plays, let's see if we can get another couple of those and work hard at it during the week.

We chart everything during practice and see where we are after every period, both with the down and distance categories that we work as well as turnovers, and those are probably the biggest focus points that we've started with on a Tuesday practice, and then today we'll move forward to a little bit more 3rd down situational stuff.

How do you feel the team has been performing in your mind where they're at right now on 3rd down?
Not bad. You know, we've left a few on the field, I can tell you that. But defensively we have pretty good-- real good 3rd down numbers. Offensively we've gotten better as the season has gone on. Clemson did a real good job. Difficult processes that we had with that game was they put us way behind the sticks, so they weren't as manageable 3rd downs as you would like. But I've seen steady progress there. We just need to keep on keeping. The best way to get better at it is to practice every day in practice on the grass, and that's what we'll be doing again today.

Looking at the secondary that you had mentioned with Brandon Reddish coming bark, Henry Rashard and then mixing in a guy like Wayne Morgan, what can you say about where you are at at the secondary right now and Julian Whigham as well and how comfortable you are with guys that you've worked with before in playing this game against NC State?
Yeah, I'm confident and comfortable with the kids we're playing. I have great confidence in those kids. They're good football players, they just-- a couple of them happen to be behind a guy that started for three plus years in Keon Lyn. It's been one of those things where we're like, hey, we've got some good corners here for the future, but they were sitting behind a pretty good player in Keon.

Opportunities come up and arise, and the best thing that happened was Julian made a nice interception and made some good tackles, and I think he's got the two picks for the year, so I've got great confidence in him, and I know Wayne Morgan is excited to get his shot at getting some reps at corner, as well.

I feel real comfortable with those kids. They've worked really hard and they've got a great attitude and a great approach this week. I've been pleased with that, and that's half the battle.

I've been watching the evolution or development of Terrel Hunt at quarterback. He had his first real struggle this time. Can you talk about how that impacted him and how you feel about his performance Saturday?
Yeah, you know, I think no one was more disappointed than Terrel. He wanted to play well. The thing you always have to understand is as a quarterback and as coaches that position is going to get the most scrutiny, but we all understand that it's the whole big picture and everyone around you, too. We talk about it's always on your shoulders and you always take it because that's what we signed up for being quarterbacks at this level, but also the pieces and parts that you have to work on to continue to improve are all-inclusive. It's not just you.

We struggled with getting off the line of scrimmage a little bit at the wide receiver position. Protection was up and down at times. So there's a lot of things that come into play, and a lot of it has to be given credit to a good football team in Clemson. Very good defensive football team with a lot of talent.

I know Terrel can't wait to get back at it. He had a good practice yesterday, and as always, he's got a great attitude. With great attitude and effort, he'll continue to get better because he does have good ability.

Clemson leads the league in sacks. Can you talk about their pass rush, specifically Vic Beasley, a guy that leads the nation in sacks, what kind of problems they present?
Yeah, he's a great player. We've had some good D-ends here at Syracuse. Chandler Jones is one that comes to mind that I had a chance to coach, and obviously everybody knows Dwight Freeney. When you look at Beasley you say he's one of those guys. He's special. He moves like a wide receiver when he puts his foot in the grass. He just does it with a lot more force, and he's got great powerful hips that when he bull rushes people he keeps them honest that way.

From an athletic point of view, you've got to worry about his speed. You've got to worry about his counter move, but also his ability to bull rush, which is probably like if it was a pitcher, it might be his third pitch. It's kind of speed, movement and then bull rush. But that bull rush is very explosive. He doesn't use it as much as his athleticism, but he causes a lot of problems because now you're thinking, all right, we've got to account for him in two or three different ways by putting another guy there or trying to cover it up with a tight end coming in and make the edge longer. But he's a great player, and he's going to do really well for himself.

NC State Game Notes


Syracuse Game Notes


NC State Depth Chart


Syracuse Depth Chart


Thanks to NC State and Syracuse Athletics for much of the information in this preview.

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