If a depth chart could have a title, the Wolfpack’s depth chart this week would be known as, “The Return of Robert Crisp”. You can click here to see the dominoes that have fallen due to the return of our starting left tackle.
Crisp’s return means that State will take the field down only two starting offensive linemen for this game (and the rest of the season). And, make no doubt about it — the Wolfpack’s offensive line and more notably our ability to run the ball
Carolina has struggled to stop the run this season. Duke consistently ran the ball right into the mouth of the Tar heel defense with significant success last Saturday night; no matter the down and distance, the Blue Devils felt confident with hand-offs designed to quickly hit the hole right up the gut. It worked much more often than not. State is going to have to do the same.
One of my primary concerns today lies with NC State’s traditional lack of offensive innovation. We have a tendency to “do what we do” and sometimes not necessarily attack opponents’ weaknesses with tons of originality. Duke ran against Carolina with quick hand-offs and bursts through the middle of the line. State’s running game has struggled MISERABLY in the last three seasons with slowly developing runs designed to stretch the line of scrimmage, often out of the shotgun formation – taking longer for running backs to accelerate (relative to what Duke was doing and/or running out of the I-Formation.)
I will be dumbfounded if State doesn’t find a way to run behind fullback Logan Winkles from the I-formation today. Unfortunately, I’ve been dumbfounded for the last five and a half years at how rarely we’ve run out of the I relative to the success it has generated the few times we’ve chosen to use it.
A lot has been made about the surprising play of NC State’s defensive dominance and strong play in both trenches versus the Heels in recent years. This year could be different as Carolina’s super experienced offensive line is considered to be one of the best in the nation. In addition to leading the way for Gio Bernard’s strong rushing performance this year, the Heels are 8th best in the country in sacks allowed. Additionally, State seems to be without any super-studs at linebacker this year; and the likes of Terrell Manning and Audi Cole successfully stepped up on some huge plays for us over the last couple of years.
If you carve away the importance of the rivalry for a moment, today’s game remains very important for sides relative to the 2012 season. Despite some early miscues and along with a little (uncustomary) luck, NC State still has a legitimate shot at a strong season and a 9-3 or even 10-2 regular season record. On the other side, Larry Fedora would love nothing more than to use whatever home field advantage exists in Kenan Stadium to halt State’s current streak in the series at five games after dropping to 0-2 vs the Big Four with losses at Wake Forest and Duke this season.
Carolina is an 8 point favorite today, which means that all of the Carolina-based blogs are picking the Heels (as they have each of the last five years) and most of the NC State folks are calling for an upset. As if it means anything, the N&O’s Caulton Tudor and ESPN’s Heather Dinich have called or a Tar heel victory.
North Carolina 24, NC State 21: The hex is over. NC State’s inability to run the ball consistently will be the difference in the game. In last Saturday’s win over the Tar Heels, Duke’s ability to establish a ground game was the difference. The Pack is too one-dimensional to control the clock and keep Giovani Bernard off the field.
At the end of the day, I think this game might come down to the most cliche of cliches – turnovers. In recent years, there has been no predictor of a State win or loss that remotely rivals turnovers. We generally avoid penalties and play ‘good enough’ offense and ‘god enough’ defense and ‘good enough’ special teams to keep ourselves in the game enough for turnovers to make the difference. I see no reason for today to be any different.
Looking for more State-Carolina talk to get prepared for today? Then we highly encourage you to check out: