2008 Preview: NC State

Kickoff between South Carolina and NC State to open the 2008 football season is now just 73 days away. Read inside as GamecockAnthem.com takes an in-depth look at USC's season opening contest, and talks with PackPride.com's James Henderson about what to expect from the Wolfpack on August 28th.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Last year: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)

Key Players Returning:

RB Jamelle Eugene - 1038 all-purpose yards with 6 touchdowns last season.
TE Anthony Hill - All-ACC as a junior.
RB Andre Brown - 5 touchdowns on 447 yards rushing last year.
WR Donald Bowens - 1029 all-purpose yards with 3 touchdowns last year.
CB Jeremy Gray - led team with 3 interceptions last year.

Key Players Lost:

S DeJuan Morgan - NFL Draft's 82nd overall pick (round 3, pick 19 to the Kansas City Chiefs).
DT Demario Pressley - NFL Draft's 144th overall pick (round 5, pick 9 to the New Orleans Saints).
KR Darrell Blackman - star kick returner signed with the Detriot Lions.

Key Players Added:

QB Mike Glennon - 4-star, rated fifth best quarterback in the nation.
LB Terrell Manning - 4-star, rated sixth best weakside linebacker in the nation.
OT R.J. Mattes - 4-star, rated eleventh best offensive tackle in the nation.
ATH Brandon Barnes - 4-star, rated fourteenth best safety in the nation.
LB Sterling Lucas - 3-star, rated twenty third best middle linebacker in the nation.
DL Shea McKeen - 3-star, Nassau Junior College.
DL Kyle Linney - 3-star, Hargrave Military Academy Prep School.

Following last year's debut 5-7 season under new head coach Tom O'Brien, expectations are higher in Raleigh heading into the 2008 season. North Carolina State expects to compete for a bowl bid in their second season under O'Brien. The Wolfpack hope they can continue to build on last year's momentum, as Coach O'Brien was able to learn which players he wanted to play and which players were willing to learn the system.

James Henderson, publisher of PackPride.com, weighed in on NC State's expectations for 2008.

"[NC State] plays in the Atlantic Division, which is the toughest division in the ACC. With Florida State and Clemson getting the ball rolling, Boston College wins 8-9 games a year, and Wake Forest has won 20 games in the last 2 years. Tom O'Brien is still bringing in his players, and six, seven, or eight wins with a bowl game would be real good year for them."

Coach Tom O'Brien believed that he could make a winner out of the Wolfpack, so much that he left a Boston College team that was poised to compete for the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. He believed in the Wolfpack enough to pass up a chance to coach the NFL Draft's number three overall pick, quarterback Matt Ryan. Coach O'Brien spent his entire first season looking for a reliable quarterback to lead his team. Daniel Evans, Harrison Beck, and Justin Burke were all given a chance to succeed, but they all fell short of expectations. Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon will join that trio in trying to lead O'Brien's Pack this season.

Henderson said, "Daniel Evans is going into the fall on the top of the list, given that he was the incumbent last year. I think it's going to be a wide open race. I don't think anyone is the starter at this point. If I had to say, it'd be out of Evans, Mike Glennon, and Russell Wilson, who played really well in the spring. Glennon will be given an opportunity to come in and play as a freshman. Glennon's high school ran a similar offense, and he shouldn't have much of an adjustment."

The last time South Carolina met up with the Wolfpack, the Gamecocks lost 10-0 on the way to an 0-11 season in Lou Holtz's first year as USC head coach.

One of the storylines of this year's matchup will be the players that had the Gamecocks in their top 3 when they chose to go to NC State. Terrell Manning, R.J. Mattes, and Sterling Lucas all considered USC very strongly. Junior college transfer Shea McKeen originally signed with the Gamecocks out of high school, and it looks like he'll finally see some playing time at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"NC State recruited (Mckeen) with the mindset that he'd play right away," stated Henderson. "He's someone that, if he learns the system they are working on for fall practice, he could be in the two deep by the first game."

The Gamecocks and Wolfpack were similar last year in that they seemed to field two different teams in the first half of the year and the second half of the year. While the Gamecocks started out 6-1, the Wolfpack started 1-5. In the second half of the season, the Gamecocks went 0-5, while the Wolfpack finished up by winning four out of six. NC State hopes it can build off of their late season success, while USC is ready to start off with a clean slate.

"O'Brien came in and set the expectation of reaching a goal. He wanted to get his system implemented on both sides of the ball, and you really didn't see that early on in the season," Henderson stated. "As the season went on, they had a better feeling of how the players could fit in and who should be playing."

Henderson believes that this will be more of a battle of who doesn't beat themselves.

"Being the first game of the season, you'll probably see a lot of sloppy play. The first game of the year for every team is sloppy with a lot of turnovers. Both teams have questions at quarterback, and I think it'll come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes. I think whoever has less turnovers will win this game."

South Carolina's Keys To Victory:

1. Keep pressure on the Wolfpack quarterback - The front runners for the starting quarterback job seem to be Daniel Evans, Russell Wilson, and freshman Mike Glennon. When considering that the Wolfpack lost two starting offensive linemen and the starting fullback, the NC State offense could have a very long game handling USC's athletic defensive front.

2. The running game - The Wolfpack lost two of their starting linebackers, and another linebacker with a good bit of experience. They also lost their best defensive lineman. Mike Davis and Brian Maddox are capable backs that could have big games. On the other side of the coin, the Wolfpack return their two leading rushers (Jamelle Eugene, Andre Brown), and the Gamecocks' run defense is hoping to show progress after ranking last in the SEC last season.

3. QB's need to stay conservative - Whether Tommy Beecher or Chris Smelley - or more likely, a combination of the two - is taking snaps for USC, the quarterback will need to not try to do too much. Beecher and Smelley were both interception-prone in the Spring Game, and NC State had 10 interceptions last season. They will need to play efficiently in this game. If Beecher/Smelley take advantage of the lack of experience at linebacker and "dink and dunk" the ball down the field, utilizing the tight ends and establishing a good running game, the Gamecocks should come out victorious in the first game of the season.

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