Curle: In Search of the Complete Game

TSW Staff columnist James Curle takes a look at the Wolfpack's #10 national ranking. Is the Pack really as good as advertised?

Mark this date on your calendar, because it's a good time to be a Wolfpack fan. A perfect 7-0 record, a 10th-place position in one poll, 13th in the other and national media spotlights featuring Chuck Amato, Philip Rivers and T.A. McLendon are gaining truckloads of positive exposure for the Pack all across the college football landscape.

To boot, the Pack is but a few days removed from its second victory over UNC-Chapel Hill in the burgeoning Amato era, a conference win made doubly sweet by being over an archrival.

Yes, yes, things really are good up here on top of Mt. Wolfpack.

But hold the phone, chief. Are they? Is the Pack really as good as advertised? Are they, as one poll would suggest, the 10th best team in the country?

Take a step back from all the hype--the sunglasses, the Heisman theories, the Ted Brown comparisons--and you'll have to say that no, despite its record, the Pack is not the 10th best team in the country. Take a closer, objective look. The Pack has yet to play a complete, wall-to-wall game against a quality opponent. Two full halves of dominating football. And until that day comes, I don't think the Pack can stand up and say that, on any given Saturday it can beat the remaining 15 teams behind it in the polls.

The last three games, in particular, have highlighted the fact that the Pack can be great for 30-45 minutes of any given game. It's those last 15 minutes that are causing all the headaches.

Week 5: Texas Tech. Right from the start, this game figured to be a showdown between two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Rivers and Tech's Kliff Kingsbury. The deciding factor was supposed to be State's highly rated pass defense, one of the best in the nation. Things went to plan from the outset, but after posting a 38-10 lead midway through the third quarter behind the passing of Rivers and McLendon's breakout rushing performance, State's superb secondary wilted before Kingsbury's passing prowess. He recorded most of his 301 passing yards and all three of his passing scores in the last two quarters while mounting the comeback that sent the game into overtime.

Week 6: UMass. The game against the University of Massachusetts was supposed to be a cake walk--a tune-up, of sorts, against a Div. I-AA team heading into the bye week at the midpoint of the season. But what the Pack found was a Minutemen team eager to prove itself to a capacity crowd at Carter Finley. They did just that. After falling behind 28-0 in the second quarter, UMass scored on a 29-yard pass play with 9:03 left in the half, booted a 28-yard field goal with 2:03 left and then opened the second half scoring with a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown. They would add the final points of the game on a 50-yard TD bomb, leaving the Pack with a bittersweet 56-24 victory. What was supposed to be another I-AA domination actually underscored the fact that Texas Tech lapse wasn't a fluke. The Pack had some major focus issues to address heading into the off-week.

Week 8: UNC-Chapel Hill. After an open date to rest and reflect on the previous two games, the Pack felt certain that maintaining focus for an entire 60 minutes against the Tar Heels would not be an issue. Surely the second half lapses that plagued State in the previous two games would not factor in this. And they were right--it would be the first half that Amato and crew would struggle with. For the first time this season the Pack would trail heading into the locker room, behind 10-7 and showing no signs of offensive life whatsoever against a defense that was one of the worst in the conference. The Pack changed strategies the second half, played smashmouth football and wore down the Heels, but not before giving the Wolfpack faithful in Kenan and across the state a major scare.

These issues are raised not to make the point that the Pack is a bad football team--they are, in fact, a very good football team. But there are weaknesses the Pack must overcome before they can be called a Top 10 team. They must be able to play 60 minutes of quality football with no exceptions. The Pack should be able to score as reliably in the first quarter as it can in the fourth, and State's defense should generate as many three-and-outs on tired and weary legs as it does in the first few drives.

Until that day comes, the Pack, I feel, won't have truly earned a Top 10 ranking. But that day should come, and when it does the Pack will be a team that every team in the nation, one through 25 and beyond, will be uneasy about facing.

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While attending NCSU, James Curle was a sports writer and photographer for Technician. He has also written for several other area publications, including the Cary News and The Wolfpacker.

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