Version 2002 as Good as Advertised|
Fans Grapple with Newfound Swagger
Despite all the questions facing the Pack this year, an undeniable optimism permeated fans' anticipation of football season. Saturday's game justified this positivity, as NC State soundly outplayed New Mexico while displaying capabilities that surpassed the already high expectations of fans.
This offseason State unexpectedly lost its defensive coordinator and projected starting tailback, and questions hovered about the ability of the revamped offensive line and how the defense would recover from key personnel losses. But fans' excitement never faded into concern. Legions of Wolfpack faithful arrived well before noon to brave record 98 degree heat and swirling thunderstorms, eager for kickoff. Once things got started, the Pack showed us a team that looks to indeed "Step Up."
Putting the Game Away
Make no mistake, New Mexico is a better team than previous opening opponents Indiana or Arkansas State. And those games were won much less easily. Critics will mock our excitement over this game, but to fans who have supported a program fraught with inconsistency over the years, the strong victory represents a potential stepping stone to a new level of success.
After the game someone asked New Mexico coach Rocky Long if he thought his team was outmatched. He said no, responding defiantly "Are you saying we were manhandled?" Physically, New Mexico's starters were hardly that much smaller or slower than State's. New Mexico has Texas as its recruiting backyard, after all. The Lobos were more inexperienced, though, and coupled with the playing conditions, the difference-maker was the Pack's "quality depth," which Amato has preached about obtaining since his arrival. Well, maybe that was only part of the difference. Philip Rivers had a pretty good game, too.
Rivers Reveals Versatility
Never mind the stats, Rivers looked more like Brett Favre than the steady pocket passer he's known to be. Even with an admirable performance by the offensive line, New Mexico's nonstop blitzing afforded Rivers several opportunities to improvise, which was when he was at his best. Some of the offense's biggest gains came with Rivers scrambling and shedding defenders, buying just enough time to hurl the ball downfield before his legs fell from under him. Additionally, Rivers picked up several key first downs by decisively tucking the ball and charging ahead as though he were Olin Hannum reincarnate.
Rivers' numbers were certainly aided by Marty Galbraith's aggressive play calling. As opposed to what seemed like a hesitancy last year to go for the long pass, Galbraith opened things up against a tough defense. If not for some heavy first-game rust, State's receivers could have had at least three more touchdowns on the day.
Ground Game Convinces
Everyone expected the receiving corps to be a team strength this year, but Greg Golden, T.A. McClendon and the bigger but younger offensive line proved NC State's backfield to be sound as well. Everyone's buzzing about the long runs McClendon made, showcasing his ability to power through tackles and burst away from pursuers. Yet Golden's performance was most astounding, considering he only made the switch from corner a few weeks ago, yet found holes and absorbed hits like no 190 lb. cornerback should. Watching him pick up blitzing linebackers and chop them down sure was something to see, as well. We didn't even really get to see former Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year Josh Brown, who missed snaps because of a knee injury. With the emergence of this stable of backs, NC State's ground attack has a completely new dimension. Their youthfulness is even more exciting, ensuring the presence of a deep running game for several years to come.
Holt and Company Come Through
So What Bowl Game Are We Going To?
Saturday, NC State held true to its pledge to "Step Up", as everyone from the freshmen to the coaches met the challenge of improving upon last year. While the effort was not without letdowns or errors, Amato has turned us into the kind of fans so confident in our team we that can proudly discount dropped passes, pentalties, or turnovers with the all-sweeping proclamation: "Without those mistakes, imagine how badly we would have beat them!"
Wetzell: Version 2002 as good as advertised
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