Improved Defense Could Be the Catalyst

Whenever NC State and Clemson get together on the gridiron - especially with Chuck Amato and Tommy Bowden, respectively, at the helms - you can expect offensive fireworks.

Whenever NC State and Clemson get together on the gridiron - especially with Chuck Amato and Tommy Bowden, respectively, at the helms - you can expect offensive fireworks. Heck, usually you demand them. Sometimes those fireworks only come from one team (such as last year's 38-6 win by the Wolfpack). But generally, the battle between cats and dogs is a score fest. Case(s) in point: Clemson wins in recent years have come by scores of 45-37 and 34-27; State wins have been 35-31 and 46-39.

That's why last Thursday's 17-15 win by the Wolfpack seemed like such an anomaly. Thirty-two points? Between the two of them? And though the game probably didn't have enough firepower appeal to draw viewers to ESPN from Game 7 of the Yankees-Red Sox ALCS, the performance on the field by the Pack should've been enough to quiet some concerns by the Wolfpack faithful - at least where defense is concerned.

It was the State defense that carried the Pack to victory over the Tigers, and if NCSU is to make any serious run at an ACC title - be it this year or in the future - its defense is going to have come to play every game and for every play.

Last Thursday may have been the beginning of something special.

"You remember teams that finish strong," State slasher Tramain Hall told the media after the game. "Right now, I think we're on a streak. ... We can win out and have the season that we all want to have."

Possibly. But it will take a "bend but don't break" performance of the Pack's defense each week from here on out if that is to happen.

State fans who have followed the team during the past 20 years know well the "bend but don't break" mentality. Former coach Dick Sheridan's teams were famous for it, and the Pack won a lot of games implementing it. Thursday night's win over Clemson was reminiscent of those days; however, the Pack's win also featured the characteristics of the Amato era - namely, an aggressive, attacking style - such as a roughing the kicker penalty on a Clemson punt. The Tigers got the ball back and along with it, new life. Amato & Co. will rarely apologize for such miscues (it was fourth and 25 for the Tigers at the time), instead saying that the Pack defense should never play it conservatively.

The task at hand now for State is to somehow balance that conservative side of defense with the attacking style.

"We always say we want the game in our hands," said cornerback Greg Golden, who was the target of ire by some fans during the game for the cushion he gave Clemson's receivers. (That's where he was "bending.") "It's a matter of attitude, and I think we're getting our swagger back."

And just in time for a key stretch of games, too, beginning Saturday at Duke. Another State win, and any negative comments about the Pack's 'D' may be an afterthought.

Of course, State fans always have Noel Mazzone to complain about.

'Now' ACC Standings

1. Florida State: Bobby's boys couldn't quite keep their feet on the Wahoos' throats last week, but so far this season the Noles have had little trouble putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the ACC.
2. Maryland: Don't you just know that the Fridge wishes he could replay that FSU game now?
3 (tie). Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest: Not exactly the "Fab Five," though they all have neat, super, delightful uniforms.
8. North Carolina: Carolina must be snake bitten. Another loss on the last play of the game? Twice in the same season? And they say God must be a Tar Heel.
9. Duke: The Blue Devils fired a good man in Carl Franks. They also fired an inadequate football coach.

'Later' ACC Standings

1. Miami
2. Virginia Tech
3. Florida State
4. Maryland
5 (tie): Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest
10 (tie). Boston College
11. North Carolina
12. Duke

This Week's Predictions:

Maryland at Georgia Tech (Thursday): Ralph Friedgen returns to his old stomping grounds - and he'll probably do some more stomping. Fridge 38, Chan 20

North Carolina at Clemson: Two teams with coaches on the hot seat battle it out. You'd hate to be on the losing end of this one, but someone's got to. He's no Danny Ford 27, He's no Mack Brown 21

NC State at Duke: Yes, State has owned this series in recent years, but it's not as if the games have been blowouts. Why should this one be any different? See above. (Hint: it rhymes with "prevents.") NC State 42, Duke 14

Troy State at Virginia: Cavs fell just short in a must-win game against FSU. Look for UVa to take it out on Troy State. UVa 35, TSU 10

Wake Forest at Florida State: Another middle of the pack ACC team takes its best shot at the leader of the pack. Unfortunately, Wake can't sneak up on teams anymore. FSU 32, Wake 17

Also ... Virginia Tech 46, West Virginia 24 (Game was Wednesday, but the prognostication was made beforehand) Boston College 28, Notre Dame 21

Prognostication Record This Year (as far as picking the correct winner goes): 38-11

Matt will be on vacation next week and will not file a column.

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