We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs to talk with during game weeks. This week's edition of our 2011 Opponent Blogger Q&A is a chat with Backing The Pack. Blog manager Akula Wolf joined our TN wolfpack to talk injuries, QB's not named Russell Wilson, Notorious TOB, and more injuries.
TN: Florida State and North Carolina State have shared one common nemesis this year - the injury bug. Tell us a little bit about the health of the ‘Pack and which, if any, players you expect to return to action against the ‘Noles on Saturday.
BTP: Well, let's see here. It's been so bad this season that we've had two guys get hurt in pre-game warmups and miss time. Just this past week, wide receiver Tobais Palmer collided with another receiver in warmups and suffered a mild concussion. He's back on the depth chart and should be available against FSU.
Our best defensive tackle, JR Sweezy, broke a bone in his foot during fall camp and missed more than a month of the season; he played about 25 snaps last week and will play against FSU as well. He's playing with pain. Our best defensive end, Jeff Rieskamp, remains out of the lineup with a shoulder injury. Initially it appeared this was a minor thing, but for whatever reason his condition isn't improving.
Two other defensive linemen will miss Saturday's game, as will fullback Taylor Gentry, who got hurt while filling in at defensive tackle. Several other linemen on the two-deep have missed time with injuries. It's been unbelievable.
Hit the jump for more!Bonus video!
TN: The Russell Wilson saga has obviously been a chronic topic of conversation around the nation this year. However, Mike Glennon is an excellent prospect at QB and has seemed to grow into his starting role as the season has progressed, as one might expect. How has Glennon handled the situation and what have been your thoughts on his performance to date?
BTP: Mike Glennon has handled everything well both on and off the field. He's exceeded my expectations with the way he's thrown the ball, and he doesn't seem bothered at all with the whole Russell Wilson ordeal. I feared the worst coming into this year; it took us forever to find a competent replacement for the last all-conference quarterback that played here before Russell Wilson, and it was tough not to think about that happening all over again.
But Glennon's been good, and he is getting better every week. He could use a little more support from the receiving corps, which is dropping a lot of his passes, but I don't have many complaints. Glennon has been the least of NC State's problems this season.
TN: The two most visible areas of struggle that have plagued the Wolfpack this season, from an outsider's perspective, have been the running game and the defense. Were these struggles expected? To what extent are they due to underachievement, coaching, or injury luck? What are their prospects for improvement moving forward?
BTP: Tom O'Brien and his staff had a reputation at Boston College for building good offensive lines, and I think a lot of us thought that group might really distinguish itself this year. It took a long time to reconstruct the line and build depth after the, uh, gaps left there by Chuck Amato, and this season's group looked on paper like the first that could become a strength rather than merely a thing that's there and kinda does stuff.
For whatever reason, it hasn't worked out that way. The low point was without question the Cincinnati game, where NC State was held to negative rushing yardage. Since then there has been progress, and the pass protection has been decent enough, but the ground game still isn't something the team is gonna hang its hat on.
A lot of the defensive issues are related to injuries, there's no question about that. Nobody can handle the sort of attrition we've had at defensive line without feeling it to some extent. And when you're talking about a program like NC State getting down the the fifth, sixth, seventh option at defensive tackle, that's an enormous issue. As I mentioned, we had our fullback taking reps at DT. That's the sort of extreme we've had to go to in order to put the requisite number of defensive linemen on the field.
With Sweezy hindered by soreness, and without Rieskamp, I'm not sure how much better this group can be. I will say, though, that the latest combination up front--we went big across the board against UVA--worked out very well. It was the first time this defense looked anything like last year's. Maybe that's something they can build on. The back seven has stayed relatively unharmed, though linebacker Terrell Manning missed a couple weeks with a knee injury.
TN: Has Backing The Pack had to reassess its expectations on what would constitute a successful season for NCSU? What do you look for going forward with the 2011 season?
BTP: Sure. It became clear enough early on that this team wasn't going to be as good as it was in 2010, though it was surprising that this had little if anything to do with the absence of Russell Wilson. Before the year began, we were talking about contending for the division; now simply reaching bowl eligibility (we need 7 wins) would have to be considered a success given how the year has gone.
The win over Virginia at least allows us to entertain the thought of getting to seven wins, but I'm not sure this team is capable of winning more than six games.
TN: George Bryan is obviously a phenomenal talent and garners most of the attention with respect to star power for NC State. Which other impact players should ‘Noles fans look for in Saturday's matchup?
BTP: We have several guys with the speed to get behind a defense and make a big play, even if they tend to be wildly inconsistent. What we lack this year is a big, physical receiver like Jarvis Williams who can go up and get a jump ball here and there.
TJ Graham leads the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and he averages more than 21 yards per catch. He is extremely fast and handles kick returns as well; he's the big-play threat that can break one at any time. Both Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood have similar skills and potential, but again, these are slot guys, and they're pretty raw.
As for Bryan, given his disappearing act this season, I wouldn't expect him to have much of an impact on the game. Defenses have done a nice job taking him out of the equation, and when he does get looks, he's struggling to keep his hands on the ball. (Which is highly uncharacteristic.)
Thanks to Akula Wolf for answering our questions! Our answers to theirs are here.