Less than an hour after Harrison Beck led NC State to a win over William & Mary NC State Head Coach Tom O’Brien made it clear that Russell Wilson will start under center for tomorrow’s game against Clemson. BJD ran a fantastic analysis of this last weekend.
Although few people explicitly criticized Coach O’Brien’s decision, there seemed to be some whispers questioning the decision (and its timing) from some in the media and on internet message boards. Why?
Folks, Coach O’Brien could not have handled this quarterback decision/situation any better from a (1) media-management and (2) football perspective.
(1) The LAST thing that NC State needs/needed was to go through this week – and future weeks – with a faux ‘quarterback controversy’ manufactured by the media.
By announcing the decision IMMEDIATELY last Saturday night TOB diffused any potential momentum and controversy that could have grown on the heels of Beck’s strong performance. As Caulton Tudor said in this very insightful blog entry this week:
The upside for the Pack is that there’s a reasonably viable Plan-B with Beck and Daniel Evans should Wilson sustain another injury and the option series has to be ditched. While neither is the ideal alternative, both at least have experience in the offense of ‘07.
That should be good enough for everyone. The fact that Beck had the chance to step on the field and remind everyone his natural abilities are far superior to those of Evans and that he deserves the opportunity to be next in line should be more than enough benefit from Saturday’s experience. That’s one helluva improvement from where we were before when Evans was Wilson’s backup (please see pretty much every play from scrimmage run this year with Evans under center for supporting evidence).
(2) From a strategic football perspective, Coach O’Brien really had no choice in the matter. So that we are all on the same page – please allow me to recite a set of FACTS that you probably have forgotten or discounted over the last couple of weeks:
* Russell Wilson started his first college game on the road in front of 80,000 people at South Carolina of the SEC.
* With less than four minutes to go in the first half of that football game, NC State and South Carolina were tied 0 to 0.
* In the process of creating 2 or 3 turnovers, NC State had not yet suffered a turnover and had amassed more offensive yards than South Carolina.
* The Wolfpack had possession of the ball on USC’s 35 yard line in a drive that saw State create solid momentum by running eight consecutive plays and move the ball approximately 45 yards down.
* Then Russell Wilson got hurt. Then Daniel Evans entered the game. Then NC State was forced to run a different offense than had been the focus of practice since the spring. Then the wheels immediately came off the bus.
Again, Tudor explains the rationale behind the decision perfectly with some of the following comments:
But from O’Brien’s perspective, going back to Wilson is the percentage play now that we understand what really took place in the team’s practice sessions last spring and during preseason camp.
Amid serious secrecy, State’s offensive staff made radical schematic changes from its previous tactics by installing a full-blown option package that obviously revolved around the speedy Wilson’s ability to make defensive reads while on his feet and in the fact of defensive pressure.
The move, no doubt, reflected great reservation about the offensive line’s chances to adequately protect a traditional passing game and execute basic I-formation rushing plays.
Due to Wilson’s early-game head injury at South Carolina and running back Jamille Eugene’s ongoing injury problems, there’s still no way to actually determine whether the offense is functional. That still could be the case after the Clemson game, too. But O’Brien invested a lot of time in developing the strategy, and he simply has to know if the system will work. The longer he waits, the less likely the chance that the season can be salvaged. Up next are games against East Carolina and South Florida, both of which have defenses good enough to victimize an offense in flux.
But for now, the coach and his staff have little choice except to play out the schedule as far as possible with their original intent.
What O’Brien really had in mind for ‘08 was buying time with an offense that few of his opponents were expecting. It may not work. Odds are, it won’t. Clemson is favored by 18 points either way. But O’Brien made the decision to go optional last spring, and you can’t blame him for trying to find out if the 180 was worth it.
Unfortunately, NC State has now lost the opportunity to ‘surprise’ South Carolina our new offense and quarterback (Russell Wilson). We have lost the opportunity to hone the offense with game-practice against William & Mary to gear up for the rest of the schedule. But, we all still need to see if Wilson’s playmaking ability and leadership skills are enough to help compensate for the Wolfpack’s weak offensive line and inexperienced wide receivers. Daniel Evans limitations and Harrison Beck’s historical inconsistency and decision-making mandate it.
The odds are high that we still won’t have the answer of how effective the Wolfpack’s 2008 offense can be after Saturday’s game at Clemson. But, hopefully we will at least have had the opportunity to get Russell Wilson and the offense some practice and experience in hopes to win some games later in the schedule.