Tomorrow night begins a 2-game stretch of games that one must watch differently from the remainder of the schedule (games that all but the shittiest of the shitty < < cough >> UVA – win fairly easily). Fortuntely, we’ve already seen State play a legitimate opponent, so we know some areas of improvement to judge. Unfortunately, there are some items (such as Wilson’s running ability – was he tentative? slow? a poor match for a fast, physical Gamecock defense that executed a perfect gameplan exceptionally well? some/all of the above?) that can’t really be judged until the Pitt game. So, what should you look for?
1) Wolfpack RBs should net at least five yards per carry. Against a 1-AA defense, anything below 5.0 YPC would raise huge red flags for the Wolfpack running game. There might not be that many big runs, especially if Baker takes the majority of first-team carries (he’s just not that kind of runner), but we need to see consistent, positive movement. This most definitely did not happen against Bill and Mary last year, and that game was a disaster waiting to happen before Harrison Beck rode to the rescue in his last moment of Wolfpack glory. But you can stack 8 or 9 in the box against Daniel Evans – not Russell Wilson. Against a 7-man front, the backs and OL really need to be able to do damage tomorrow. It would be nice to see James Washington break a big one, too.
2) Russell Wilson should get at least 8 yards per passing attempt. Murray State is the kind of opponent where the staff will, in all likelihood, legitimately ask Wilson to focus more on his passing. There’s no reason to take extra hits in a game you have a 99.9% chance of winning. And while dropped passes were unquestionably a huge part of the problem against South Carolina, Wilson’s accuracy was also significantly off. Owen Spencer nearly drove us insane with his drops last season, but Wilson still broke 7.0 YPA for the year (which is the minimum number that an efficient passing attack must meet). I would like to see Wilson finish closer to the elite level (7.5 YPA) this season, and he has some catching up to do after Week One. 8.0 YPA is the bare minimum against Murray State.
3) Cohesive offensive line play. Obviously, this will have alot to do with Goals 1 and 2. An offensive line is only as strong as its weakest member, and there will be much shuffling with Vermiglio out:
Julian Williams, who started the opener at left guard, will move to left tackle. Andy Barbee will start at left guard, and Henry Lawson will be the backup center in place of Wayne Crawford, who’s out with a foot injury.
I expect (based on zero inside knowledge) that Vermiglio will be back and close to 100% for Pitt. In the interim, we need to see the line work together with minimal penalties and blown assignments.
4) Minimal missed tackles, especially by the first team defense. Lost in the good overall performance were a disturbing number of missed tackles by the Wolfpack front seven. We were very fortunate that the Gamecocks didn’t take better advantage of the sloppy tackling, but other offensive units won’t be as kind. Murray State is another team unlikely to make State pay, but I really wouldn’t worry about the overall stat line against the Racers. If the missed tackles ever become noticeable before the third string enters the game, you can continue to worry about this – even if we pitch a shutout.
See everyone tomorrow for another nice weather night, with lower blood pressure all around.