On the eve of the first meaningless bowl game (North Texas and Southern Miss! Woo-hoo!), it’s time to reflect upon NC State’s football program and de-bunk some myths heard around the water cooler and throughout cyberspace:
1) NC State’s Offensive Woes Can Be Blamed Fully on Noel Mazzone
Look, I am the last person to come across as defending Noel Mazzone. His play-calling was bewildering, to say the least. He frequently called high-risk, low-reward passes (most notably the out pattern that travels all the way across the field, but only 2-3 yards DOWNFIELD – you know, the direction you have to go in order to get first downs and ultimately score) that his QB simply could not throw well. Defensive lineman made game changing plays twice this year on such predictable high-risk throws (the tipped pass at UNC that was returned to the NC State 2, and the Clemson DL that took the INT in for the score). These DL’s clearly dropped back in anticipation of such a throw. That would not happen if we weren’t so predictable.
That said, Mazzone is no magic bullet. Jay Davis was horrible all year, making slow reads and panicking repeatedly. He provided neither the leadership nor the physical ability that you MUST HAVE from your QB to succeed at this level. And of course, there was also the poor offensive line play, which leads to Myth #2…
2) 2004 was Basically an Injury-Induced Fluke
Again, spectacularly and 100% wrong. The Wolfpack entered 2004 with depth unlike any year in recent memory, which was, of course, the reason we were so giddy about recruiting. Quality depth! Injury insurance! Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way, but you can’t blame the OL entirely. Play calling needs to adjust to the OL losses. Jay Davis needed to make quicker reads, and learn to throw the ball away sometimes. The play-action fake utilizes precious time that a bruised OL can’t spare – so use it ONLY when the situation makes it effective.
Also, it’s not like this was the worst NC State offensive line – even after the injuries – in recent memory. The OL from Rivers’ freshman year stands out as pretty bad. We were never a dominant unit under Mike O’Cain, but still produced offensively. Plus, I actually expected some Keystone Kops action when we had to put in our third team center, but it never happened. Given that history, you can hardly excuse what was clearly the worst NC State QB play since Cam Young filled in for an injured Erik Kramer back in 1986. Better coaching and a better QB would have clearly produced a better offensive product. We can’t count on having a great and healthy OL every season. We have to adjust, and as fans we have every right to expect at least DECENT offensive production regardless.
Also, you can’t write off 2004 as a fluke because NC State significantly underachieved in 2003, as well. We had a record-setting season from perhaps the best player in NC State history, and finished an anemic 4-4 in the ACC and 7-5 overall, before spanking a pathetic Kansas team in a mediocre bowl attended by less than 30,000 fans. This underwhelming effort really set the stage for the 2004 season, but it was to a large degree camouflaged by Philip Rivers’ individual efforts. In my book, 2 mediocre-to-poor seasons qualifies as a trend. I’m not saying we can’t turn things around, but we have to recognize that there is a problem before it can be fixed.
3) Playing in the New ACC and Against Ohio State Cost NC State a Bowl Game
This is absolute loser-talk, and I hope to never hear it again. According to the Sagarin rankings (the most objective and accurate resource, IMHO), we played the 33rd most difficult schedule this season. That’s just about right, don’t you think? And if we can’t go 6-5 against the 33rd-ranked schedule, then it’s pretty clear we deserve to stay home and watch North Texas on TV.
We turn this thing around by producing a better football product, not by lowering expectations (which is what going to a bunny schedule tacitly does – admit that you can’t beat good teams). In a sense, I’m glad we can’t hide behind the banner of “5 consecutive post-season trips under Amato!” nonsense, and instead have to face our problems as a program head-on. Hell, it did seem to work for the basketball program after Sendek’s 5th season, yes?
And ultimately, the new ACC will only help us. We were already playing Florida State annually, and the only other new team in our division is Boston College. THAT is our immediate competitive challenge – to win our division and get into the ACC championship game, where the exposure for the program would be fantastic even in a loss. These are opportunities we simply did not have in the old ACC, and the new configuration OPENS doors for NC State, not the other way around. Unless you are of the mindset where just qualifying for a low-profile bowl game is the goal. It’s not Amato’s, and it shouldn’t be yours.
4) Winning Six or Seven Games in 2005 Would Be a Step in the Right Direction
Perhaps the biggest, most dangerous myth of all. Our schedule, after losing a very interesting contest with Louisville, is pathetic in 2005. Essentially, we take a middle-of-the-road schedule (see above), and replace Ohio State (Sagarin #30) with Temple (Sagarin #125), and Miami (Sagarin #10) with Boston College (Sagarin #36). A 6-5 or 7-4 season would represent NO PROGRESS from 2004’s result. The only way we can really claim forward momentum for our program is to win 8 or more regular season games. No ifs, ands, buts, or excuses. All of our OOC games should be automatic wins even for our 2nd string players. That leaves 8 ACC games, of which we need to win at least 5. The only game where we should be a clear underdog is at Florida State, where we have won before. We have the talent to get it done, and it’s not asking too much of Amato, in his SIXTH season, to at least get the 2005 team to 8-3. That is the MINIMUM bar – we could very well contend for the division title – or even win it. The talent is there.