How does one team go from averaging over 40 points a game to just 16? How does a team go from number 8 in the country to ESPN's "Bottom 10"? And how, just how, is the faith of NC State fans supposed to be maintained? These are questions swirling around the shocking disappearance of the Wolfpack football team's offense, and causing many fans to proclaim, "It's time for basketball season."
As a member of the World Wide Web psuedo-media, the kind of journalists who can reap the benefits of spammed hate e-mail without the burden of a having to worry about getting a paycheck, I feel compelled to get to the bottom of this mystery. A crime is being committed, and the suspects are many.
It is clear that the general sentiment of the public is that the theft of NC State's offense was performed by an inside operator, somebody on the team. All eyes are on offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith and quarterback Philip Rivers, but should we really rule out opposing teams as the primary suspects?
In short, yes. But, in keeping with the stringent guidelines of web psuedo-journalism, I feel it necessary to thoroughly investigate this obviously dead-end lead. Let's start with the most recent, and most heinous of the three crimes, the UVa game. More than one eye-witness has indicated that UVa's defense does, in fact, suck. Yet, NC State scored it's lowest point total of the season against them. Perhaps it was the wet conditions and slick field, forcing the Pack to stick with a ground game. Reviewing the evidence, it comes to light that two of NC State's home games were played in torrential downpours, as is the tradition in recent seasons. In wet games against East Tennessee State and Duke the offense scored 34 and 24 points, respectively. Well below the 40+ the Pack was averaging at the time, but much more than the 16 points State has averaged in the last three losses. Thus, UVa cannot be blamed for the loss, which leaves only Maryland, Georgia Tech, the referees, and UNC as possible non-Wolfpack-affiliated suspects.
No, the blame clearly falls on the Pack for these losses. Theoretically, the "sting" from that first Yellow Jackets loss could swell enough to immobilize NC State for the rest of the season, but then the defense would be affected as well, which has not been the case, right? Maryland might be held accountable for State's second loss, but who to blame for the other two? A popular group of suspects are the refs. Due to taking away an obvious Terrence Holt interception against Georgia Tech, they certainly merit investigation. But, in that same game they rewarded the Pack with a couple third and long conversions on ridiculous calls against the Yellow Jackets. And at UVa, the refs gave NC State a chance to win with a questionable fumble ruling against the Wahoos. These incidents put the men in stripes in the clear, which puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Wolfpack.
Unless UNC did it. Face it, the tarheels have a long rap sheet and have plenty of motive to steal from NC State. It didn't take long to search Kenan Stadium, though, and not a sign of positive yardage or red zone scoring was found.
So which Wolfpacker is to blame? Sources have pointed to the young Mr. Philip Rivers being distracted by fathering a baby too soon, and as the chief cause for wilting performances in the 4th quarter of each loss. Some have suggested that marriage alone, much less a child, is enough of a force to confuse Mr. Rivers' priorities. Clearly he has not been protecting the offense with his normal care. In the last three games, Rivers has thrown four interceptions, two of which were on game-ending drives. In the previous nine games he had only thrown six total. Perhaps the offense was not stolen, but in a haze of domestic responsibility, it was lost?
Or, perhaps Marty Galbraith had in fact sabotaged the offense. But why? A review of video capturing the crimes revealed counter-intuitive play-calling. Why, on 3rd and 9 would he call a run up the middle? NC State seemed insistent on running the ball directly into the back of Center Jed Paulsen. And should Paulsen be a suspect? And notably missing were the big plays. There was a time when fans lamented that NC State was always "too cute" on offense, routinely utilizing half-back passes, direct snaps to Brian Peterson, and diamond wideout formations. Did Galbraith do as the fans suggested, just to prove them wrong? Clearly, somebody took away the fun from the offense. It's as though winning convinced the Pack to try to simply overpower opponents and control the ball. NC State has won the time of possession battle in two of its three losses, but it's the scoring statistic they've had trouble with.
Tapes appeared to show a team more willing to run the ball than ever, but closer inspection revealed that NC State has only attempted an average of 30 rushes in its three losses, compared to 40 per game in the previous nine. However, that could be because in the other games NC State was actually getting first downs, and simply had more opportunities to run.
Then I noticed a telling number. Turnovers. In the first nine games, though NC State's defense was giving up more yards, it forced an amazing 24 turnovers, giving the Pack an average starting field position at its 40-yard line. In the last three games NC State has had no interceptions, one questionable fumble recovery, and had blocked no kicks, which it had been doing prolifically before. As a result, starting field position has been only at NC State's 30-yard line.
Tired of the national exposure Rivers, McLendon, and Co. were receiving, I learned that the seeds of jealousy sprouted within NC State's defense and special teams. Would Dantonio Burnette and Terrence Holt actually engineer a campaign to smear the offense? And could that campaign go horribly wrong, resulting in the murder of three innocent wins? The plan was perfect on paper. The defense would look good, but they'd stop making it so easy for the offense, and the Pack would win some close games with dramatic goal-line stands, giving all the glory to the D. But things didn't go as planned. Georgia Tech converted a 3rd and 17 and drove the length of the field for the win. Maryland would set Steve Suter loose on the Pack for 64-yard TD run and a 36-yard reception in the closing moments to get the winning field goal. And UVa would rush for 233 yards against State, yet only convert 3 of 10 first downs. If the offense would have just put up some points maybe NC State would have won, but the defense didn't provide the freebies they'd grown accustomed to. The defense wanted the offense to suffer!
This may not be the same conclusion many of my esteemed journalist peers have reached, but the evidence does not lie. Now that they've been found out, the defense will have to acquit itself this weekend by catching the badly thrown balls of FSU rookie Andre McPherson, and taking advantage of the absence of ACC rushing leader Greg Jones. NC State's defense is (ok, was) a big play defense. Don't be surprised if our friend Shawn Price gets himself another touchdown Saturday. Otherwise, NC State might be sentenced to the Seattle Bowel. No, that's not misspelled.
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