Ohio State linebackers coach Mark Snyder has watched quite a bit of film on NC State quarterback Philip Rivers and is impressed with what he has seen. Rivers is a good pocket passer, but can also do some damage when he improvises.
"He's dangerous," Snyder said. "When the play breaks down, that is when I think he is the most dangerous. It's a lot like an option quarterback. When the play breaks down, that's when he seems to be at his best."
Rivers, entering his fourth year as a starter, is like a coach on the field for the Wolfpack. His responsibilities are endless.
"It looks like to us that he calls all the protections," Snyder said. "He calls the plays; he motions people; he shifts people; he changes up his cadence. He just does a lot of good things. He's a field general. He's a lot like our guy (Craig Krenzel). Our guy is very smart too; very brilliant. He understands our offense. But (Rivers) has been in that system for four years now, where our guy has only been in ours for two."
Like Snyder said, Rivers likes to make a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage. Nothing extreme like Peyton Manning, but he will be barking instructions at the line all day. Snyder would like to see the Ohio Stadium crowd makes things difficult on NC State's offense.
"What we need from our fans is for them to be as loud as they can possibly be," he said. "Crowd noise is going to be a big factor. Hopefully, our fans are really, really loud all afternoon."
Snyder is overseeing a five-man rotation at linebacker. Rob Reynolds, Fred Pagac and AJ Hawk are the starters, while Bobby Carpenter and Mike D'Andrea are the "reserves." Snyder likes having that much depth in case injures pop up.
"Usually, players will separate themselves," he said. "The longer it goes that there is no separation, the more repetition the guys are getting. And the more repetition you get, the more depth you create as the season goes along. It's hard to go a whole season with no injuries and the more those guys can play - if we would unfortunately have some kind of an injury - those guys will have some reps and there will be no big drop-off."
Snyder is not worried about who starts and things like that. He just wants there to be a lot of competition between the 'backers.
"Rob is our mainstay," Snyder said. "AJ is playing a lot, and I think Fred, Mike and Bobby are all showing up and making plays. It's good; it's healthy. We've got competition and competition is always good.
"I think all of those guys bring something different to the table. It depends on who we're playing in terms of who starts and who will get the most playing time."
D'Andrea seems to be really coming on lately. The more he plays, the more comfortable he obviously feels.
"The one thing with Mike, he's got to play," Snyder said. "Because, the more he plays, the better he is getting. So, we're going to continue to get him in there a lot."
Snyder broke down the rest of the LB rotation.
"Bobby is playing a lot also," he said. "When Rob goes inside, Bobby comes in. And when Rob needs a blow, Bobby goes in. So, he's playing a considerable amount. Him, Fred and Mike are all playing about the same right now. AJ and Rob are playing the most. I'm rolling them at different positions; they are all learning different positions.
"With our scheme - because our linebackers do run it - they are starting to understand where everybody else is and how everybody else fits. Rob already knows that, because he's been in the system for two years. So, it's great for those guys to be able to play different positions. And, like I said, the more reps they get, the better they are getting."
Snyder thinks that all five of them bring different strengths to the table.
"We're trying to put them in successful situations," he said. "Bobby is a good blitzer. He's a real good blitzer. Mike's a good blitzer too; very stout against the run. Fred does a great job of controlling the huddle and bringing a calmness over the huddle. And Rob, he can play all three positions and play them very efficiently. And AJ, he is probably playing the most right now and he is getting better with every rep too. But he has the most playing time of all my guys, so obviously he is going to be a little further ahead than those guys."
Ohio State's defense was burned on some "jailbreak" screens last week against San Diego State. Snyder was asked how the Buckeyes like to defend the jailbreak.
"We have an outside piece, a middle piece, an inside piece and then the D-line has got to re-trace," he said. "That's the scary thing about the jailbreak: it slows down your pass rush. It's a way to slow down the pass rush because those guys have to re-trace and come back. As they form that tunnel down through there, we've got to hit it and turn it back to the D-linemen re-tracing and then the backside piece can't let it out the back door."
The Bucks started to defend the screen better in the second half against the Aztecs.
"As the game went on, we started getting a feel for it," Snyder said. "Everybody runs a jailbreak different. They ran it very well - differently than we have ever seen. But by the second half, we had an indicator that told us, ‘Hey, this could be the missile.' And Mike D'Andrea came up and hit the receiver and knocked the ball loose and it was a big play. After we figured out how they were running their jailbreak screen, we defended it pretty well."
It was good practice for the Bucks because NC State also likes to throw a lot of screens.
"They run the jailbreak a lot like everybody else," Snyder said. "They are going to run the jailbreak and they're going to try and slow down the pass rush and get their great athletes in space. So, I would say the thing that makes it work is the quarterback looking off the play, and then the speed they have at wideout making it happen."
Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman is a former coach at NC State (1983-85). He was the assistant head coach all three years and also served as the offensive line coach (83-84) and the inside linebackers coach (85).
"I was down there for three years and the program was nothing like it is now," Bollman said. "There was a lot of turnover in the program during those years. We had some good players in the program, as I remember. Some good kids. There's some great folks down there - some great fans.
"When I left there, I went up to Youngstown State with coach (Jim) Tressel."
Bollman's offense will be going up against a green NC State defense on Saturday. Only three full-time starters return.
"On defense, they have a lot of good athletes," he said. "Yeah, some of them aren't natural yet. They're not as experienced as you would like them to be as a coach, but there's some guys who are really going to be good players. They are good players now, but there just on their way."
Bollman is not sure if tailback Lydell Ross will be able to play on Saturday. Tressel hinted earlier in the week that Ross would be in there, but then said on Thursday that he isn't 100 percent yet.
"Too soon to say," Bollman said. "He started doing some things today. So, what his role will be? We'll have to see as we get closer to kickoff."
Freshman tailback Ira Guilford received a steady diet of carries this week in practice. The coaches know that he could be a big factor as the season progresses.
"I think as we move along, he has to become more in the plans," Bollman said. "He's getting more and more familiar with the offense now and he'll be able to develop a role.
"It would be nice if we can get some of our young guys in some situations where they have some specific roles in the offense. I think, sometimes, you ask guys that age to try and do everything and you're lucky if you get anything done. But if they can learn a few of the base things, or a few special plays, they will be able to help us out."
The Bucks are coming off of their worst offensive performance since the '01 UCLA game and Bollman knows that several improvements need to be made. Against a team like NC State with a lot of offensive firepower, the Bucks can't have another lackluster offensive game.
"We've got to get better in every area," Bollman said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing; we've got to get better."
But against a team like the Wolfpack, isn't there added pressure on OSU's offense to put a lot of points on the board? This could finally be the game that the defense needs the offense to bail it out, not the other way around.
"No question," Bollman said. "We've got to do everything we can to help the team. And, certainly (Rivers) is a player with great potential and you've got to be aware of that. Certainly, it would be one of those kind of games where if you can control the ball, put a few points on the board, it would sure help a lot."