My reaction is somewhat mixed. It seems clear from the N&O’s writeup of Tom O’Brien’s comments that the coach and I saw Beck’s performance similarly. Beck was light years better than a shellshocked Daniel Evans (last night was his worst performance in a Wolfpack uniform – and that’s really saying something). However, Beck continues to be somewhat reckless with the ball, and makes at least half of his throws off his back foot. He can (and did) throw the ball 40-50 yards downfield that way…but it’s still not a good idea. A legitimate defense will bait Beck into serious mistakes, and have CBs better suited to defend the jumpballs that Beck frequently throws. The biggest red flag last night was not the late pick six – it was a throw that Beck completed. Harrison scrambled under pressure, and at the last second found the tight end across the middle for a seven yard gain. However, the throw was against his body, off his back foot, and in the general vicinity of five defenders. If that extremely difficult pass floats, or is off just a little bit, it’s intercepted, with 50/50 odds of being returned deep into Wolfpack territory. Simply put, it was a major risk for a fairly small reward – and over time, those kind of decisions will bite you in the ass, hard. Russell Wilson knows how and when to throw the damned ball away.
On the other hand, I don’t like Russell Wilson getting back into the lineup so quickly after a serious head injury. I have no doubt that he is receiving top-notch medical care, and that team doctors have cleared him to play. But next week’s game is again in a hostile environment, with a big, athletic front seven that will likely get several clear shots at the QB. It’s also a game that the Pack will lose by at least two TDs, regardless of who’s under center. I would rather re-insert Wilson at home against ECU or South Florida, and see if we could still a win (with the opponent having very little tape to study). But these are the hard decisions that Tom O’Brien is paid to make.
The N&O coverage also noted that the Pack WRs were able to get open for Beck, as they had been unable to do for Evans. Their analysis stops there, and does not mention three crucial factors:
1) Opening up the field. Any coaches who have not been lobatimized have no doubt seen the tape of last year’s game against Maryland. The lesson is clear – put 8 or 9 men in the box. Don’t let State run, and aggressively cover the short routes. Evans can’t keep defenses honest with deep or even intermediate throws. William & Mary employed this tactic, and Evans led the Pack to zero first downs over his 7 or 8 possessions. Beck came in, and immediately challenged the Tribe deep, and with intermediate seam routes. After converting several big plays, the shorter routes opened up significantly, and the Pack began moving the ball crisply (at least through the air).
2) Opening up the playbook. With Evans in the game, it seemed as if the Pack only ran four or five plays. Evans’ one deep throw was a third down duck, aimed in the vicinity of a pair of Tribe defenders (but no Pack receiver). William & Mary intercepted the ball and returned it to NC State’s 20. Evans was bailed out by a fumbled option pitch that killed the Tribe’s chances to take the lead. Beck used the whole field and at least double the number of pass plays, and even had a few nice runs. A defense that doesn’t know what is coming is one that plays back on its heels, and is far less aggressive and confident.
3) Confidence/Hope. The rest of the team had some bounce in its step once Beck came into the game. From reading the players’ body language (this was confirmed by several people who attended the game in Columbia), they have no confidence whatsoever in Daniel Evans. When you have little to no faith in your QB, you can’t help but be a step slower. Watching the players interact with Beck, it is clear that they like him and at least have some hope with him under center. This should be even more the case when Wilson returns, as every offseason report we heard praised Wilson’s leadership ability.
Last night was an important win, because it was a win. We don’t have to worry about going 0-for-12, and that most certainly was a realistic fear in the South Carolina aftermath and throughout most of the first half last night. Now, the focus shifts to a handful of remaining games against several non-descript ACC foes (Maryland, Duke, UNC, Boston College). An upset against ECU or UCF also can’t be ruled out, as these teams will not have overwhelming personnel advantages. I would be shocked if State can even be competitive against Clemson, Wake, Miami, or Florida State.