Lail: Pack lacks focus, not confidence

NC State has a bye this Saturday, giving the Wolfpack two full weeks to prepare for the October 12 visit to archrival North Carolina. State desperately needs this time off. Chuck Amato's team is banged up and doubting itself since the Pack's 56-24 thumping at the hands of Massachusetts

What? State won?

"You'd think we got beat by 50 by the way I'm talking," a disgruntled Amato said to the press following the game. "I'll get over that -- maybe."

Just like the thrilling, 51-48, overtime win over Texas Tech, the victory against the Minutemen could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. NC State once again fell asleep at the wheel against an inferior opponent, only to see the foe not go down quietly. But unlike State's win in Lubbock, UMass didn't have the talent to overcome NC State's big lead.

That won't be the case next Saturday in Chapel Hill. Wolfpack fans (thanks to The Strutting Wolf and friends) are planning an impressive showing at Kenan Stadium. The guys on the field will need to do the same if State is to win.

The outcome of this year's game is not predestined. Yes, State is 6-0, while Carolina is 1-3 so far. But the Tar Heels are a couple of turnovers away from being 3-1. Both teams have the talent to win the game, though NC State may have a little more.

When it's all said and done, the team that plays the smartest game and keeps its wits about it will end up victorious. State has had trouble sustaining focus for 60 minutes; Carolina has had trouble GAINING focus. The Heels must first focus on a red-hot Arizona State team on Saturday. The Pack needs to focus on downfield coverage, containing the quarterback and special teams - problem areas for State in the past two games.

"That's intensity," Amato said after the UMass win. "That's missed assignments. That's not having your mind in the game. That's coaching.

"That's all those things we need to correct or we'll get our brains beat in when we get into that seven-game [ACC] schedule."

And the Heels would love nothing more than to administer the beating.

(Note: be sure to check out Athlon's ACC basketball preview magazine on stands now. The publication features a 1-on-1 interview with Julius Hodge conducted by The Strutting Wolf's Matt Lail.)

ACC Standings -- One Man's Opinion:

  1. NC State: The Pack won't stay on top as long as its DBs continue to get burned.
  2. Clemson: The Tigers hope to get a big, garnet & gold monkey off their back on Thursday night.
  3. FSU: The Noles have an uphill climb if they hope to stake their claim for a national title - or even the ACC one.
  4. Georgia Tech: What a gutsy performance by the Jackets in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
  5. Virginia: Al Groh's team showed tremendous fortitude in coming back on a pretty good Wake team last Saturday.
  6. Wake Forest: The Deacons are a penalty away from being 1-1 in the league and 3-2 overall.
  7. Maryland: It's been bad enough for the Terps not having Bruce Perry so far. Things just got worse.
  8. tie. Duke and North Carolina: The Tar Heels have more talent than Duke, but right now the Blue Devils probably have more confidence. If the two teams were to play today, however, it'd be a tossup.

This Week's Predictions:

Clemson at Florida State: FSU called off classes for Thursday and Friday, thanks in large part to this game. If the Tigers win, then maybe Clemson should call off classes for all of next week. It won't happen, though. Florida State 30, Clemson 27

Virginia at Duke: Both teams could be a thorn in the side of some of the more prominent teams in the ACC (that means you, NCSU and Clemson). Call it a "feeling," but I'm going with the Blue Devils on this one. Duke 24, Virginia 17

Wake Forest at Georgia Tech: Wake Forest has the tools and coaching to get it done in Atlanta, but Tech knows it can overcome a great deal and still be successful. Georgia Tech 28, Wake Forest 24

Maryland at West Virginia: The Terps need a good showing to prove to themselves that they can put together a solid season. West Virginia 35, Maryland 14

North Carolina at Arizona State: When UNC's schedule first came out, this was one many circled as a Tar Heel win - or at worst a tossup. The Sun Devils, however, are for real. The Heels are for dinner. Arizona State 42, North Carolina 27

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Matt Lail is the former Managing Editor of As a student at NC State, he was the Sports Editor of Technician. He has also worked for the News & Observer and as the Managing Editor of The Wolfpacker.

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