Much like our previous breakdown of the entire Atlantic Coast Conference, today we’ll take a look at the 2008 Wolfpack with a focus on trends and issues that are likely to carry over to the 2009 version. I actually starting planning this article during the 2007 season, when I was rudely awakened to just how badly State’s talent had dropped off towards the end of Amato’s tenure. At that time I documented State’s roster by class and the Scout.com ranking from high school. Any rational review of those tables would come to the conclusion that TOB and staff had walked into a nearly total rebuild job.
Luckily, Russell Wilson almost single-handedly turned what could have been a truly disastrous season into a bowl appearance. While it’s unlikely that 2008 will be one of those seasons that people like to wax philosophical about during their rocking chair years, at least it wasn’t the complete disaster that I was prepared for.
For those that don’t like my tables, here’s an executive summary of the 2008 football season:
1) Russell Wilson emerged from no where to lead the Pack to the Pizza Bowl with wins over UNC and ECU along the way. A lightly recruited, two-sport QB quickly showed that those people that hand out “stars” on recruiting sites don’t always find all of the players that you really want on your team. Even though Russell missed several games due to injuries, he was selected as the first-team All-ACC QB….a first for a freshman QB. Anyone that doubts what Russell meant to the Pack only needs to re-watch the second-half of the Pizza Bowl to see what State’s season would have been like without him.
2) Injuries riddled the Pack starting with a spring injury to Donald Bowens and running throughout the season. As one would expect after looking over the 2007 roster, State lacked quality depth to adequately cover for injured starters. At one time during the season, State had seven walk-ons (or former walk-ons) on the two-deep roster.
3) Outside a few disgruntled BC fans, Tom O’Brien and his staff are widely regarded for getting the most out of his players. Their first two years in Raleigh has done nothing but reinforce that image for me. TOB and staff probably won’t get the recognition they deserve from the national media….but I can’t imagine that there are any State fans that aren’t excited about what the future holds for NC State football.
Now for some tables…….
OFFENSE (or the GOOD NEWS)
In looking around the internets this summer, I found a link to a new (to me) site that I want to point everyone’s attention to:
While I really like the NCAA’s web site for stats, cfbstats.com offers the option to look at the records considering only the conference games (and many other selections). This option is really useful for two important reasons:
- Looking at only conference games will tend to give a better view of the conference since the quality of OOC games vary so widely.
- As seen during the Pizza Bowl, State was a completely different team when Russell Wilson was hurt…..which coincidentally occurred during the OOC games. Thus the conference standings will show how State matched up when Russell was playing.
Side note: I frequently ridicule people who draw conclusions based on ignoring games where key players were injured. However, our purpose here is not strictly a look at 2008….we are laying the groundwork for looking ahead to the upcoming season. The backup QBs from 2008 are gone so the games that they played in provides us no useful information when we are “evaluating” next season.
Here is a look at the 2008 ACC season looking at only the conference games (and the ACC CG):
- Remember the 24 point ceiling from past seasons?
- After rushing for a measly 67 yards against William and Mary (freaking W&M !!!!!), who would have thought that State would do so well rushing against ACC teams.
- When we flip back to the national rankings, we see that State’s offense still has a long way to go to approach national significance, but I like seeing an offense with relatively balanced results. I consider continuing this type of production one of the keys for the upcoming season (more on this later).
As I went back and reviewed the entire article, I was struck with the feeling that I am not giving Wilson (and the offensive coaches) enough credit for last year’s results. However, most of what needs to be said, has already been documented by anyone with a pulse that watched the Pack last year. Let me just say again that the offense, and especially Wilson, turned what would have been an absolutely horrible year into a bowl appearance. While there is still much room for improvement, I am confident that the offense is headed in the right direction.
DEFENSE (or the BAD NEWS)
I pointed out the troubling trend of defensive decline before the season started last year. Unfortunately, the defensive slide continued in 2008:
Going back to cfbstats.com, we can pull out the numbers generated during conference games. But unfortunately, the picture doesn’t improve much:
In various pre-season summaries, I have read the statement that State’s defense improved “down the stretch”. In general, I hate this type of comparison because there is no effort made to separate “improvement” by State’s defense from scheduling quirks that might (and did) put weaker teams at the end of the year.
So I decided to take a look at how State’s defense did chronologically through the conference schedule. I compared each opponents “average” offensive production versus ACC teams against how that particular opponent did against State. Even though that last sentence has been reworded several teams, it still reads like mumbo-jumbo…so let’s try and illustrate what I am talking about.
Going back to the first table let’s compare the average Clemson offense (taken only from games against ACC teams) to what Clemson’s offense did against State:
So from this table we can see that State’s defense would be “below average” when compared to the other ACC teams that Clemson played. So here is the same analysis applied to State’s conference schedule:
For me, the bottom line seems pretty obvious. State’s run defense did “settle down” and play pretty well, but the pass defense pretty much sucked all year….almost as much as the 2003 version.
If you watched any of the games last year, there were many times where the DBs lined up way off the line of scrimmage on obvious passing plays….even those of relatively short yardage. This observation was discussed in several game-day threads here and there are only two logical explanations that I can think of:
1) The State coaching staff has decided to institute an absolutely horrible defensive scheme versus the pass. OR
2) State’s coaches based their defensive schemes on the abilities (or lack thereof) of the secondary AND the ability to get pressure on the QB.
Regardless of the exact reason(s), there is clearly a ton of improvement required in the State defense.
WHY NOT US?
As we transition from a review of the 2008 season into a preview of the 2009 season, let me take a few minutes and shoot this particular “fish in a barrel”. I would not call it an “internet consensus”, but I have seen this statement posted several times in discussing the race for this year’s divisional title. Skipping over the stupidity of arguing from an admitted state of ignorance; let me summarize my reasons for not picking State to win the Atlantic this year:
1) DEFENSE…..see discussion above
2) DEPTH. A team that had seven walk-ons (or former walk-ons) on the two-deep roster during the 2008 season simply does not have the required depth to get through the “normal” injuries that usually show up over the course of a season.
3) NATE IRVING. If Nate is indeed lost for the 2009 season; it is difficult to describe just how devastating his loss is to the Pack. Nate led the Pack in interceptions and was second on the team in tackles for loss. From the first quarter of the SC game, it was obvious that he was one of those rare players that can be counted on to make spectacular plays each and every week.
Having Nate Irving playing gives State the same sort of odds that a puncher has in a boxing match. They might not win on points….but they might land the knock-out punch that ends the match. State definitely needs as many “punchers” as it can find on defense.
Frankly, State does not have many people playing on defense that have any chance of playing on Sunday when their college careers are over. Nate is one of those players and State simply doesn’t have anyone that can make up for him (if he is lost for the year). Even if the replacement plays well enough to make up for Nate, then it is likely that he would have ended up starting along side Nate if Nate were healthy…not backing him up.
As I was reading one of the media previews (linked below), I noticed something strange about the classes on their version of State’s two-deep. So I parsed the roster by class and found this:
22 players on the two-deep depth chart from one recruiting class seemed note-worthy to me (Note that this is TOB’s first real class). It looks like TOB shares my opinion of the over-all talent level that Amato left on the team.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
I don’t care too much for predictions, but I think it is worth listing those things that need to happen for State to have as good a year as possible:
1) Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene need to stay healthy and continue the improvement in State’s running game. Both players need to hang onto the ball and help Russell Wilson once again lead State to a really good turnover margin. (Odds of this happening – turnovers: pretty good; injuries: unknown).
2) State’s OL will not be good enough to generate holes against an eight-man front….but they don’t need to. They need to play solid…open holes for the RBs and buy Wilson time to make a play. (Odds of this happening – pretty good).
3) Russell Wilson needs to play as well as he did last year and hopefully even improve. Quicker decision making should keep him from taking as many hits…which will hopefully reduce the chance for injury . (Odds – pretty good.)
4) State’s offense needs to control the clock and put a lot of points up on the board. State’s best defense in 2009 will likely be its offense. (Odds – hopefully pretty good)
5) State’s DL needs to improve against the run….but most definitely needs to generate more pressure on opposing QBs. The goal would be to consistently generate enough pressure to take the heat off of the DBs. (Odds – run defense…OK; more pressure on QB – unknown).
6) State needs to find some DBs that can provide improved pass coverage. (Odds – not so good).
Two years ago, UVA walked the tight rope and strung together a nine-win season out of a bunch of lucky breaks. A number of people have described WF’s conference title season the same way. So if you have enough pieces, then a lot of good things COULD happen if you get some breaks along the way.
If State could add small improvements in a number of different areas (while continuing to have one of the best offenses in the conference) then State COULD do the same sort of thing this year. So an 8-9 win season wouldn’t surprise me, but a 6-7 win season wouldn’t surprise me either. I’m just happy to have a FB season that I am looking forward to, rather than dreading like the last several years.
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