Saturday is the first game of the football season for the 2014 version of the Pack and with a lot of new faces on the field. We’ll have a better idea of what the Pack will bring to the table this season after facing the Eagle’s but win or lose let’s all keep a level head about projections for the rest of the season based off the first game. Without reinventing the wheel this week I’ve decided to do the smart thing and stand on the shoulders of those who’ve already done the work. (See this is what happens when Jury Duty and family life gets in the way of writing an article until the last possible second.) Next week I promise to do something more original (maybe).
Brett Friedlander (starnewsonline.com)
This week’s ACC/ECU football preview capsules
NC STATE-GA SOUTHERN
When: Today, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583), Raleigh
Records: N.C. State 3-9, 0-8 ACC, Georgia Southern 7-4, 4-4 Big South
TV/Radio: WSFX, Channel 26; WSFM (98.3 FM), WTAB (1370 AM), WLNC (1300 AM), XM 194, Sirius 113.
The Blitz: QB Jacoby Brissett makes his long-awaited debut for a Wolfpack team anxious to put last season’s disappointment behind it. A transfer from Florida, Brissett should have plenty of targets to which to throw, led by senior Bryan Underwood, sophomore Marquez Valdes-Scantling and freshman Bo Hines. Defensively, senior DTs Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill headline a young unit featuring 20 freshmen or sophomores on the two-deep chart. Although Georgia Southern had a new coaching staff and has switched its offensive scheme from the triple option to the spread, the Eagles are still dangerous thanks to the return of QB Kevin Ellison. Defensively, LB Edwin Jackson led the team with 92 tackles last season, including 10 in an upset of Florida. If the game comes down to special teams, State has the edge with veterans Wil Baumann and Niklas Sade handling the punting and placekicking.
Forecast: N.C. State 31, Georgia Southern 24
Everything will be new again on Saturday when NC State hosts Georgia Southern in the season opener at Carter-Finley Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m., and as far as both teams are concerned, it can’t get here soon enough.
The Wolfpack has endured a long offseason, one that has given coaches and players plenty of time to deal with the many disappointments that piled up during last year’s 3-9 campaign. A new season, however, brings hope and a chance for atonement.
“As the summer went by, we had it in the back of our minds during the offseason that this is going to be a new season,” said senior defensive tackle T.Y. McGill. “I believe the leadership we’re going to have really shows how great of team we’re going to have.”
The leadership theme is something NC State head coach Dave Doeren and his seniors have been pushing since January, and perhaps no team in America will need more leadership from its upperclassmen than the Wolfpack. As many as 19 true or redshirt freshmen could see action against the Eagles on Saturday, meaning a lot of fresh faces will be playing in a college football game for the very first time.
“The talent we have in the freshman class is very evident, and several of them are going to play,” Doeren said.
True freshman Tony Adams is slated to start at right guard, while rookie receivers Bo Hines and Stephen Louis will get plenty of chances to make plays as well. On defense, first-year defensive linemen B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street figure to play prominent roles in the rotation up front.
“All of them have really impressed me,” said senior defensive end Art Norman. “They’ve really picked up the defense quickly. It’s really surprising because it was new to me last year and I thought it was pretty tough. I think they’ll make a positive impact sooner than later.”
When the injuries were piling up throughout all of last season, Doeren and his staff scrambled to hold things together with a roster that lacked quality depth at many positions.
If nothing else, the youngsters in the freshmen and sophomore classes have given this year’s Wolfpack team more athleticism across the board.
“It’s been a different camp this year primarily because there’s more depth,” Doeren said. “There’s more competition at certain position groups, especially with the receivers, the D-line, and running backs. I’m excited about the depth and quality competition at some of those positions, although, as documented, a lot of those players are young.”
Ironically enough, one of NC State’s oldest players almost seems like a freshman as well. After sitting out all of last season to comply with NCAA transfer rules, quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s long wait will finally come to an end when he makes his first start for the Pack. In two years at Florida, Brissett completing 55 percent of his passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games and three starts.
The redshirt junior believes the tough decisions he had to make off the field will ultimately enhance his performance on it.
“I feel like I’m a lot more mature,” Brissett said. “The transfer process helped me grow up a lot because at the end of the day I left somewhere where I knew everybody and knew where everything was. Then I had to pack a bag and go and make it work. The team and the coaches made me feel so welcome that it went smoothly. I’m happy.”
Joe Giglio (N&O)
NC State wary of Georgia Southern’s running game
Georgia Southern changed coaches in the offseason but N.C. State coach Dave Doeren doesn’t expect the Eagles to change their philosophy.
“They’re a running football team,” Doeren said. “They’re doing a lot of the same option principles, just doing it out of spread formations.”
Under Jeff Monken, a former assistant to Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, the Eagles ran a staggering 626 times in 11 games last season, compared to only 102 pass attempts. Even Johnson’s Yellow Jackets got off 203 passes in 13 games last season.
The Eagles averaged 360.4 rushing yards per game, the best at either Division I level.
Fritz inherits a veteran team at Georgia Southern with four returning starters on the offensive line and sophomore quarterback Kevin Ellison, who ran for 886 yards last season.
On the flip side, N.C. State could not stop the run with a net last season. The Wolfpack allowed 5.02 yards per carry (last in the ACC) and 180.2 yards per game (second-to-last in the ACC).
GETTING TO KNOW THE OPPONENT
Akula Wolf (Backingthepack.com)
Getting to know Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern Football
Affiliations: FBS, Sun Belt Conference
First Game: 1924
All-Time Record: 356-200-9 (.638)
Head Coach: Willie Fritz (first year at GSU; 176-67-1 career record)
Bonus Non-Football Fun Fact: GSU has a live eagle mascot named Freedom, because #Merica.
All-Name Team: Sophomore safety Vegas Harley, junior linebacker Deshawntee Gallon, senior wide receiver Kentrellis Showers, junior wide receiver Sam O’Babatunde, sophomore linebacker Russell Wilson
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
Base Offense: Spread option
Base Defense: 4-3
Akula Wolf (Backingthepack.com)
The Georgia Southern defense: Looking for traction in a much scarier place
The leader on the field figures to be senior linebacker Edwin Jackson, who led GSU with 92 tackles last season. He also had 2.5 sacks and a team-high five quarterback hurries. Jackson will start alongside veteran Antwione Williams, who missed all of 2013 with injury but has 25 games’ worth of experience.
The Eagles also have veterans at the back end, where senior corner Valdon Cooper and senior nickelback/safety Deion Stanley should be key contributors. Stanley already has 32 starts to his credit and led the SoCon with three picks last year. Returning junior safety Matt Dobson started every game last season.
Everything starts up front, though, and if there’s reason for pessimism about this defense’s ability to transition to FBS, it’s there. Southern lost a trio of starters from the 2013 team, which will press younger players into larger roles. Nose tackle Bernard Dawson and defensive end Jay Ellison–both projected starters before camp started–saw time in 2013, but they’re just true sophomores. Dawson’s backup, Quaun Daniels, is a linebacker-turned-defensive end who missed all of 2013 because of injury.
Jamal Johnson will be in the rotation at defensive tackle but is listed at only 245 pounds. The man ahead of him in the starting lineup, Jonathan Battle, might be the most important member of the line. Battle is the team’s leading returning tackler up front and the sort of proven contributor that GSU lacks in that spot.
Jacey Zembal (TheWolfpacker.com)
Georgia Southern attacks in multiple ways
Georgia Southern used more of a flexbone option attack last year, but some wrinkles are different. Huxtable could learn about the Eagles’ returning personnel while watching their film, and then see the nuances of Fritz’s offense by viewing Sam Houston State’s games.
“You kind of have double-duty,” Huxtable said. “They are a spread option team, so there are similarities in it. Option is option, so you have to be option responsible.”
The first step is take care of the dive handoff up the middle, and getting as many hits on the quarterback is always a staple for defense.
“They have the spread offense, so there is the power game, inside zone game and you are really preparing for a multiple offense,” Huxtable said.
Georgia Southern averaged 33.5 points per game last year, and rushed for 360.4 yards per contest. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Ellison is the catalyst. The 6-foot, 190-pounder rushed for 886 yards and eight touchdowns on 127 carries, and went 41-of-79 passing for 756 yards and two scores.
“He is a really good athlete and fast, and he’s a tough guy for a quarterback,” Huxtable said. “He has good shake to him and good speed. He’ll lower the shoulder and deliver a blow.
“When he drops back to pass, he is always a threat to run. They’ll have some movement passes with him, and some boots to defend the run or pass. We have to always contain him.”
Neither sophomore running back Matt Breida, who is 5-10 and 185 pounds, or 5-11, 210-pound redshirt freshman L.A. Ramsby have one career carry between them in college. Bruising fullback Nardo Govan, who rushed for 245 yards and two scores on 45 carries in eight games last year, has been moved to tight end.
Four of the five offensive linemen are seniors, with the fifth a junior. Senior left tackle Garrett Frye and senior center Manrey Saint-Amour lead the way.
Countdown to Kickoff
Fans in the parking lots and passing through the gates of Carter-Finley Stadium will notice several key improvements aimed at enhancing the fan experience for the 2014 season:
* A multi-million dollar DAS (Distributed Antenna System) aimed at improving connectivity has been installed throughout the venue compliments of AT&T. Over 225 antennas have been distributed between Murphy Center, Vaughn Towers, and the Finley Fieldhouse and certain parking areas. The system will serve AT&T subscribers initially with plans for more carriers to join in the coming months.
* An improved GoPack.com Gameday Live mobile app is now available (iPhone/iPad or Android). In its updated version, the GoPack.com mobile app includes live and on-demand streaming media content, news and headlines featuring greater mobile optimization, Twitter integration and sport-specific facility information, including seating and parking maps.
* The new ACC in-stadium video board replay policy will allow us to show unlimited instant replays, including plays under review, provided by the television broadcast partner for that game.
Joe Giglio (N&O)
NC State to honor ‘Super Mario’ on Saturday
N.C. State will honor Mario Williams during Saturday’s home opener against Georgia Southern.
Williams, a star defensive end for the Wolfpack in the mid-2000s, will have his No. 9 honored the same way Russell Wilson’s No. 16 was during the spring game.
Williams, who plays for the Buffalo Bills but has an offseason home in Raleigh and regularly comes back in the spring to spend time around the program.
“I just love how humble he is and how he treats people,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
“He’s a great role model for our players on how to act and how to treat people when you come home.”
Williams’ name and No. 9 will be placed alongside the other retired and honored jerseys on the west side of Carter-Finley Stadium. Like Wilson’s number, Williams’ number will be re-circulated and worn by future players with a “Wolfpack Legend” patch honoring Williams.
Michigan uses a similar legend system with their honored jerseys, which Doeren liked and adopted for the Wolfpack.
Doeren said Thursday that the numbers for Williams and Wilson will be used by players at their respective positions as a reward for those players.
• Two (2) hydration stations will be provided in the Carter-Finley Stadium Parking Lots.
• One (1) hydration station will be located inside Carter-Finley Stadium on the Southeast Concourse (by Gate 6).
• There will be eight (8) ice stations around the concourse providing free ice.
• Four (4) misting tents will be setup inside Carter-Finley Stadium, including two (2) on the north end under the scoreboard and two (2) on the south end in front of the Murphy Center.
• Fans may stop by Wolf Assist tents for water.
• Rally towels that can double as cooling clothes will be distributed to the first 20,000 fans through the games compliments of the Wolfpack Club.
Pre-Week 1 ACC Power Ranking
1. Florida State
As you may remember, the Seminoles beat each of their nine ACC opponents last season by at least two touchdowns. What’s scary is that they might be even better this year. Will complacency be an issue? That’s still to be determined, but for now, Jimbo Fisher’s squad is a no-brainer for the top spot.
Just like each of the last two years, the Tigers will face an SEC foe in the opener. We view the matchup as the game of the week, both in the ACC and nationally. Clemson already has an excellent defense, and if Dabo Swinney is right about the offense still being one of the best in the country, then the Tigers might just get the win in Athens.
Not many people ever doubted that David Cutcliffe was a great fit for Duke, but it’s still hard to believe that he’s turned the Blue Devils into one of the three best teams in the conference. Preseason injuries unfortunately played a role during the month of August, but Cutcliffe has built the depth necessary for his team to remain one of the favorites to win the Coastal.
7. North Carolina
Aside from recent off-field distractions that the Tar Heels are probably used to by now, UNC enters the year with questions all over the offensive line. If those questions are answered, then No. 7 may be a little low, but the Heels will have trouble winning the Coastal if they can’t figure things out in the trenches.
T-11. Georgia Tech
Offensively, the Jackets might be in better shape this year, but they’ll be playing a lot of new faces on defense. A rocky offseason filled with suspensions and dismissals didn’t help, but Paul Johnson is still confident that his team will show improvement. Georgia Tech could win the division or miss a bowl, but our guess is that they’ll finish somewhere in between.
T-11. NC State
The good news: NC State had trouble at the quarterback position and on the offensive line last year, but it looks like the Wolfpack now has a quarterback. The bad news: The Pack is still not a tremendously talented football team. A repeat of last season’s 0-8 conference finish isn’t likely, but don’t expect the record to be much better.
If Virginia’s offense was as solid as its defense entering this year, the Cavaliers really could fall into the pool of Coastal Division teams that have a realistic shot at making it to the ACC title game. The offensive line is a mess, though, and Greyson Lambert doesn’t have many weapons to work with.