To get our readers ready for the Homecoming game, I swapped bounced some questions off Akula Wolf of BackingThePack.com, the premiere N.C. State site. He also asked me a few. My answers are here, check them out.
A lot was expected out of Russell Wilson this year by some in the national media. How has he lived up to the hype? What are some of the reasons for his shortcomings?
He's struggled a bit in conference play, at least by his standards. He's averaged a modest 6.3 yards per attempt over the last three weeks, completed just 53% of his throws, and has as many INTs as TD passes. The frustrating thing about it is the pass protection has been there. I thought he would shred Wake Forest and Duke, and it just didn't happen despite all the time in the world to find receivers downfield. Some of that's on the receivers, no question. It's a decent group but nobody's emerged as a guy who catches 5-6 balls consistently. TJ Graham, for all his speed, has never been much of a factor offensively. Owen Spencer, for his uncanny knack for the big play, has mediocre hands and disappears for extended periods.
I think also that teams are throwing primarily zone looks at Wilson, which is giving him a hard time both in terms of finding his receivers and in finding running room. If there's one week where FSU's coaches should maybe ease off their philosophy a bit and play more conservative coverages, it's this week. From what you've told me, though, it doesn't sound like that's going to happen. Bless their stubborn hearts. Owen Spencer one-on-one? Yes please. And when Russell gets out of the pocket against that sort of coverage, that's when he can run for days. Contain contain contain. That's critical for the Seminoles defense.
NCST has given up a lot of points on defense this year, has there been any talk of personnel or scheme changes for the upcoming game? Where do you think NCST matches up well against FSU's offense, if at all?
I don't expect any significant changes simply because the staff's options on that side of the ball are extremely limited. In the secondary, for example, we've got underclassmen backing up all four positions. There's not much to like about NC state's back seven, but at the same time, I trust that they are playing the best guys available. Which is truly frightening.
With the defense flaming out so spectacularly over the last few weeks, defensive coordinator Mike Archer has earned the attention of the Fire Somebody crowd. Tom O'Brien voiced his support earlier this week both for Archer and for our zone-heavy bend-but-don't-break scheme. If there are some wrinkles in that scheme on Saturday, I would think they'll come in the form of a little more man pressure. But that's just not who these guys are, so I'd expect the conservative approach most of the time. Hope I'm wrong about that. Everybody's killed this poorly-executed zone, and Ponder won't be an exception. Teams are doubling defensive end Willie Young and effectively neutralizing him, and none of the other guys are stepping up to make plays. Take Willie out of the equation, torch the secondary. Rinse, repeat.
So, no, there is nothing I like about how the Wolfpack defense matches up with FSU's offense. Perhaps they'll be able to limit FSU's unimpressive ground game, but I don't figure that to matter.
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What do you think O'brien's major strengths and weaknesses are in a coach thus far for NCST? Do you think the players trust in him at this point (and the staff)? Seeing at this is O'brien's 2nd year have you seen improvement in areas other than just record and do you feel that improvement is encouraging?
His organization and his ability to bring a more tangible structure to the program are a couple of things he has going for him, both of which are refreshing after that last guy, what's his name. O'Brien knows what works and he brought the bulk of his staff down from Boston College, which has been a bonus from the familiarity/continuity standpoint.
His track record as a recruiter is not so good, and he tends toward a conservative strategy, with support from a pair of meh coordinators. Those two things won't necessarily doom his tenure here, but they're worrisome.
The stretch run that earned the team a bowl bid in 2008 (which was his second year, for the record) was encouraging and seemed a solid step forward, hence all the positive talk heading into this season. But this team has clearly regressed in year three, scuttled by a defense in flames. It's tough to feel good about the program's near-term prospects mainly because the defense has a long way to go. That said, I still have faith.
Why did NC State stop stealing guys from that awesome track program you guys got there..? FSU was shocked when NCSt seemed to be the first team to match their speed in ACC play. I thought it was working out good for NCSt..
Good question. We wouldn't even need guys who can catch. Throw some fast dudes into the secondary and see what happens.
Finally, I'm not sure how to phrase this. Can you give a rundown of starters or key backups who have missed time this year due to injury or suspension? Are they back? If so, how much do you think their return will help. If not, who replaced them and how have they performed. (I ask this because it seems that NC State has suffered more injured than some other teams.
Where to start. Saying that NC State has suffered more injuries than some other teams is putting it mildly to say the least. A couple of years back I wrote that one of Tom O'Brien's hobbies is hurling black cats at mirrors. It's also possible that in this difficult economy we replaced the strength and conditioning staff with hobos willing to work for malt liquor. I can see no other explanation. In all seriousness, though, that S&C staff is the same one he had at BC, and they never had problems like this. It's baffling.
If we have an impact player, he's been hurt. From Toney Baker to Russell Wilson to Alan-Michael Cash to Nate Irving to various offensive linemen, tight ends, and receivers. This year's team was hurt by a pair of offseason defections by kids who could have been useful players in the secondary. One of whom may have started at corner. Safety Javon Walker, who was very good two years ago, was lost to a knee injury and never got back on the field. Freshman corner Rashard Smith, one of the few pleasant surprises in the secondary, is done for the year. Linebacker Nate Irving survived a horrific car accident (he's incredibly lucky to be alive: http://cdn2.sbnation.com/imported_assets/261038/3963847410_f27c3a05b8.jpg) that cost him his season.
The problem, particularly on the defensive side, is that these losses expose the program's lack of depth. The replacements have been adequate at best (but mostly not).
Thanks again to BackingThePack.com !