Tom O'Brien knew he had a rebuilding effort when he took over as head coach at NC State, but there is no way he could have seen this coming.
Entering the spring with just 12 returning starters from a disappointing 3-9 2006 team, O'Brien and his staff installed new systems on offense and defense. The team appeared to make major progress over the course of spring practice, and the offense looked productive during the Red/White Game... and then the injuries hit.
How bad has the Wolfpack been hit by injuries? Of the 28 players listed on the Wolfpack's opening two-deep depth chart for Central Florida (including specialists), nine players have missed at least one game. That's not including projected starters DeMario Pressley, Jerrail McCuller, Anthony Hill and reserve John Kane who were not even on the opening depth chart due to injuries and an off-the-field issue.
The Wolfpack also lost Nate Franklin and Levin Neal as transfers, two players who opened the season as starters at their respective positions. They just lost Andre Brown during the Florida State game, likely for the rest of the season with a broken foot. Finally, senior starters Marcus Stone, LeRue Rumph, and Miguel Scott have spent time on the injury report, and John Dunlap missed much of fall practice fresh off knee surgery.
Therefore, as it stands now, the Wolfpack have lost 12 players off the initial two-deep depth chart for various period of time, four others who were expected to be major contributors, and four senior starters have missed valuable practice time nursing injuries.
Not to mention, three of those players, Anthony Hill, Toney Baker, and Andre Brown, are arguably the Wolfpack's top offensive players and were potential all-league candidates. Five weeks into the season, the trio is done for he season.
That's a lot to overcome for a team coming off a 3-9 season with a new coaching staff installing brand new systems.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS STINGING WOLFPACK
NC State's defense hasn't been overly impressive. You can blame that on injuries, changing systems, inexperience, or whatever you'd like, but the fact remains the numbers don't lie.
The Wolfpack is No. 85 nationally in total defense, yielding 419 yards per game. They have really struggled against the run, ranking No. 114 in rush defense (226.5 yards per game). The pass defense has been stout, but the inability to force turnovers has allowed numerous drives to continue.
Where has NC State really struggled? Preventing the "explosive" plays. In last weekend's game against Florida State, the Seminoles tallied 381 yards of total offense. 6-foot-6 wide receiver Greg Carr had just four catches, but they totaled 140 yards. In the first half, seldom-used fullback Seddrick Holloway broke off a 40-yard run before being tackled from behind by DeAndre Morgan. On just five plays, the Seminoles tallied 180 yards. The other 58? 201 yards.
That has been the story all season. In the opener versus Central Florida, UCF churned out 299 yards of total offense. Three plays resulted in 116 yards. The other 64 plays? 183 yards. Two weeks later against Wofford, the Terriers totaled 154 yards on just six plays. The other 74 plays? 199 yards.
If NC State is going to turn it around defensively, the Wolfpack must start preventing big plays from opposing offenses. You see glimpses of an emerging defense... the Pack just has to step up the consistency. As the younger players continue to gain experience, that will likely happen.
TURNOVERS A TREND
NC State is currently dead last in the nation in turnover margin, No. 119 in the country. Through six games, the Wolfpack has committed 21 miscues (15 interceptions, six lost fumbles), while taking the ball away from the opposition just five times (two interceptions, three fumbles). What's even more costly is that 72 of the opposition's total points this season have come following a Wolfpack turnover. Think about that. Teams average 12 points per game strictly off NC State turnovers.
Wolfpack fans are probably used to this. Since 2004, NC State has posted a negative turnover margin every season (2004: - 17, 2005: -1, 2006: -9, 2007: -17 (six games). In 40 total games over that timeframe, the Wolfpack has an astounding -44 turnover margin.
In only four ACC games (out of 27) has NC State netted a positive turnover margin: '05 Maryland, '05 Florida State, '06 Georgia Tech, and '06 Clemson.
In 10 of the 40 games, NC State had a turnover margin at or above -3. Again, in 25% of the games over the past four seasons, NC State has given away the football three more times than they have taken it away. On the contrary, in only two games over the same time period has the Wolfpack posted a +3 turnover margin (FSU, UMD 2005 -- two NC State wins).
In nine games over this "fumbling" period, NC State has actually "won" the turnover battle... just 22% of the time.