NC State-Western Carolina: The Good and Bad

N.C. State's 59-20 victory over the Western Carolina Catamounts gave the Wolfpack faithful a glimpse of what we might can expect to see this season. <P> Here is a look at the good and bad in the Wolfpack's season-opening win.



Tramain Hall – From the opening series I knew it would be a special day for Hall and it certainly was.  The red-shirt sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Florida caught all four passes on the opening drive (catches of 12, 18, 11 and six yards) including the season's first touchdown.  In the second quarter he highlighted the day with an outstanding 67-yard punt return down the Wolfpack sideline for a touchdown.  Finishing the game with 7 catches for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, Hall's work as a H-back and Slot Receiver gives QB Philip Rivers another "toy" to play with. 


Philip Rivers – Senior Quarterback Philip Rivers is blessed with his most impressive collection of weapons since he's been in Raleigh and against Western Carolina he had the offense working at full throttle.  Rivers ended the day going 26-30 for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Rivers' .867 passing percentage (26-30) is a career best and is the best NC State individual performance since Terry Jordan was .920 (23-25) against North Carolina on Sept. 26, 1992.  He hit ten different receivers on the day, had no interceptions, and was able to exit in the middle of the 3rd quarter, allowing Jay Davis to get some quality mop-up duty.  What more can you ask for from your quarterback on opening night?


Wolfpack Receivers – On a day when passing was a premium, the Wolfpack receivers delivered, as the RBs, WRs, and TEs all made big plays.  I counted only one "drop" on the day and when nearly 40 passes are attempted, that's big-time.  Led by Hall, Jerricho Cotchery, and Sterling Hicks, the receivers all ran great routes, flooded the Western Carolina zones, were sure handed, and gained yards after the catch.  Finishing with 34 receptions for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns, they were all in top form early on.


Jay Davis – Davis has often been a target of ridicule for some Wolfpack fans, but today he was very impressive taking over for Rivers in the third quarter.  Jay finished the day going 8-9 for 83 yards including a 25-yard TD strike to WR Brian Clark.  He led the offense while in the game and looked better then I've ever seen him before.  Davis definitely appears to be a solid option as the #2 QB early on in the season.


#44 Adds Two More – on a day when his rushing numbers were where he might not have wanted them to be, Sophomore Running Back TA McLendon reached "pay-dirt" two more times, on scoring runs of 17 and 8 yards respectively.  The Albemarle, NC native finished the day with 14 rushes for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns, numbers he's surely to build on as the season moves forward. 


Offensive Line – Great job by the O-line today, allowing no sacks and churning up 494 yards of Total Offense.  The unit opened up holes and protected the QBs as they always do, a common trait in recent Wolfpack games.  The starting offensive line featured John McKeon, Ricky Fowler, Jed Paulsen, Leroy Harris, and Sean Locklear, with only one returning from last year to his original position (Paulsen @ center).  Their fine play is a testament to new OL Coach Mike Barry who's done a great job with a new group of guys.  Look for this line to continue improving and hopefully All-ACC Tackle Chris Colmer can return next week against Wake Forest.


Rushing Defense – The Wolfpack defense and young frontline did a terrific job playing against the rush in the first game of the season.  The Catamounts finished with 43 yards rushing on 24 carries, and the defensive line and linebackers did a good job of stuffing the run on obvious rushing downs.  What makes this stat even more impressive is that with the Wolfpack generating no sacks, it's an actual rushing total (rushing #'s are usually reduced a lot by QB sacks, which are taken into consideration). 


Special Teams – The Special Teams unit performed well against the Catamounts, blocking an extra point attempt, returning a punt for a touchdown, and converting all extra point attempts.  Senior Adam Kiker added a 21-yard FG in the 4th quarter to end the scoring for the day, and Freshman John Deraney did a relatively good job on kickoffs, including one touchback and a few more that reached the endzone.  Overall, it looks like special teams have improved and will continue to be a strong point for the Wolfpack.


Opening Night Yields New Players - 18 Wolfpack players made their collegiate debut against Western Carolina including a total of 9 true freshmen: Mario Williams, DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, Lamart Barrett, Maurice Charles, Stephen Tulloch, Ernest Jones, Garland Heath, Chris Hawkins, and James Martin.  With such a big lead, the Wolfpack coaches were able to get in some young players who may need the experience later on in the season, and freshman such as Williams, Leroy Harris, and John McCargo entered the game as starters. 


Fans Show up and Cheer Loud – Opening night's always a big night in the football season, but a full house on a Labor Day weekend for Western Carolina?  Granted Western's not exactly North Carolina, but the Wolfpack faithful showed up early and cheered loud for State against an obviously inferior team.  Expect nearly 54,000 fans to be the norm for each home game from here on out, as the demand for Wolfpack football is at an all-time high!




Where's "ROY?" – Due to "Disciplinary Reasons" sophomore Wide Receiver Richard Washington did not participate in Saturday's contest against the Catamounts.  Although Coach Amato didn't comment following the game, Washington's expected to make his debut this weekend against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.


Defensive Pass Rush – The NC State defense failed to record a sack against the Catamounts, a stat that obviously baffled the NC State Coaching Staff.  WCU QB Brian Gaither was hurried all game but did a good job of releasing the ball quickly and throwing it away to avoid sacks.  However, the Cats did a good job of maintaining maximum protection units on passing downs to limit the pass rush.  Look for rushing the Quarterback to be a point of emphasis this week at Wolfpack practices.

Rushing Offense – The Wolfpack rushed the ball 34 times for 91 yards (2.7 YPC). That total is almost 50% less yards-per-carry then NC State finished with against
East Tennessee State, UMass, and Navy last season.  The Offensive Line and Running Backs must do a better job of opening holes and creating long runs as the season continues because the Offense cannot become one-dimensional under Philip Rivers and the passing game.  One Bright Spot? Starting Tailback T.A. McLendon did average 4.9 yards per carry and was able to find the holes when he touched the ball.


Turnovers… We Need Them – Considered a Wolfpack Trademark, NC State didn't generate a single turnover on Saturday, losing the turnover battle on McLendon's second-quarter fumble (which led to Western Carolina's first touchdown).  The Wolfpack defense and special teams need to continue to work hard at causing fumbles and interceptions because games can turn on the momentum of a turnover.


Who had Reeder? – Western Carolina Wide Receiver Michael Reeder had a career day, finishing with 9 catches for 132 yards and a 30-yard touchdown catch in the final minute of the second quarter.  With talented Receivers such as Craphonso Thorpe, Jason Anderson, Derrick Hamilton, and Chris Gamble looming on the schedule, the Wolfpack secondary will have to do a better job of keying in on certain targets.  One positive note, Western's top wideout coming into the game, Lamont Seward, was held to only 29 yards on 5 receptions.  




A high-noon showdown this Saturday with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Winston Salem is next on NC State's agenda.  Look for the Deacs, coming off an electrifying 32-28 comeback victory against Boston College, to be ready for the Wolfpack.  Can they establish the running game early and keep Philip Rivers and that high-powered offense on the sidelines?  Will the Wolfpack defense force Wake Quarterback Corey Randolph into 3rd-and-long situations?  Check back next Monday for the breakdown!






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