2008 NC State Football Review


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…….


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:

College Football Statistics

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):


Random Observations

– 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.


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.


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.


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.


College Football News (scout.com)


Phil Steele

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982

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61 Responses to 2008 NC State Football Review

  1. GAWolf 07/13/2009 at 10:28 PM #

    Nice work! I speak to a former Sheridan-era defesive lineman regularly through work. He said Buddy Green and Serida cared about only one defensive statistic and talked about it incessantly: scoring defense. They said if our guys led the conference in scoring defense they’d have a legit shot at a conference title. This seems to support that theory.

  2. blpack 07/13/2009 at 10:41 PM #

    This is good stuff. It’s realistic and who knows where we will end up. Why not us? Can’t wait for football.

  3. wolfwarrior 07/13/2009 at 10:42 PM #

    Excellent work.
    Your comments/observation on the kicking game would be good to read.
    The team is now going to be in the 3rd year of TOB system of practice and conditioning. The 2008 season gave the team more reps and practice time due to bowl appearance is another positive factor for improvement.

  4. BJD95 07/13/2009 at 11:00 PM #

    I think Archer employs the scheme he has to keep us from giving up 50 points per game last year. You won’t hear me complain about him!

  5. VaWolf82 07/13/2009 at 11:43 PM #

    Scoring offense and defense is often as much of a team stat as it is a unit stat. Turnovers (for or against) can often skew the scoring at no fault/credit of the unit being discussed.

    We talked about this a little during the ACC review. UNC’s offense in particular “benefited” from this where there is a substantial difference in “total offense” versus “scoring offense”.

  6. tj foose 07/14/2009 at 2:11 AM #

    Great post! Thanks

  7. Wufpacker 07/14/2009 at 4:51 AM #

    Awesome write up, as usual. Personally, I’m one that likes tables, and have always loved your analyses when structured in table form.

    Regarding the defense, specifically referring to the table “Opponents Ave Offense vs. NCSU Defense”, I can’t help but wonder what the frick happened during the UMd and UNC games. I mean, UMd unleashes a delta of +100 yds in the rush, but only manages -92 passing yds. Was their rushing game that superior to most ACC teams and was their passing game that weak? The “Offensive stats versus ACC ONLY” table would seem to suggest the exact opposite. Does that maybe represent less emphasis on the passing game by UMd? I can’t remember off the top of my head, but was the UMd game one of the ones Nate Irving missed due to injury? If so that is a troubling trend (ie weak run defense without him, so weak the other team doesn’t bother to pass…but I am only speculating since I can’t remember).

    And the UNC game…it just looks like the entire defense stepped up that day and decided to show the folks in Chapel Hill how it was done. Being later in the year, likely when some players had returned from injury early and younger players were getting the hang of it, so to speak, I’m hoping that is a trend that we can expect to continue into 2009.

    Regarding Nate Irving, you said it quite well. Even if someone does step up, they likely would have been playing ALONGSIDE Nate if he weren’t injured, and therefore any way you look at it his injury will have an impact. His absence also lessens the chances that #5 (under Best Case Scenario) regarding the run defense and getting pressure on the opposing QB turns out as a plus.

    I agree with you though…its sure nice to be looking FORWARD to football.

  8. VaWolf82 07/14/2009 at 8:25 AM #

    According to the NCAA stats site, Nate missed USF, BC, and UMd.

    The stats from the UNC game were heavily influenced by all of the Tarheel turnovers. However, those turnovers did not affect their average gain per play….which was about 3.8 yds/play (by far State’s best defensive numbers for 2008). The UNC game was State’s best defensive stand in every way imaginable.

  9. mafpack 07/14/2009 at 8:45 AM #

    Fantastic write up VaWolf – as always!

    Didn’t we lose a few key DL during that same stretch of games if my memory serves? Perhaps it was a bit before that stretch when we lost Alan-Michael Cash.

    Edit: Just checked NCAA Stats, Cash didn’t play against ECU, USF and BC.

  10. StateFans 07/14/2009 at 9:06 AM #

    ECU scored on the first play after Nate was injured last year. They then scored on the second play they next time they touched the ball, resulting in scoring on two of the three plays after Nate was hurt. It was amazing.

    I’m pretty sure that he then got hurt in the middle of the Clemson game after intercepting and returning (their first pass?) for a touchdown.

  11. StateFans 07/14/2009 at 9:07 AM #

    Yep…Cash didn’t play vs BC which obviously helped account for their ridiculous offensive output against us.

  12. choppack1 07/14/2009 at 9:26 AM #

    I’d go this far – I think our 4 best defensive players were Irving, AMC, Young and Clem Johnson. 3 of those guys missed a big chunk of the season…and I think all 3 missed a big part of it together.

    I’d also say that when AMC is on the field – especially when we have a lead – he collapses the middle better than any lineman I’ve seen at NC State in recent memory. Simply put, if the man doesn’t have to honor the run, he’s coming – and this makes Willie Young much more effective too.

    As for the D itself – we definitely employed a bend/don’t break style D that kept us in every game played last year into the 4th quarter. I really would have liked to have seen us turn up the heat on BC’s last drive – but that’s the only one I can complain about.

    I thought the D looked pretty solid the last 4 games – when Irving, Johnson and AMC were available.

    For the year, looking at the scoring average:
    Clemson +6 above average
    BC +14 above average
    FSU-1 under average (I think Irving played 1st half of this game before being injured again.
    UMd +11 above average
    Duke – scratch
    Wake – scratch
    UNC – 13 under their average
    Miami – +.6 above their average.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that having ALL 3 OF THOSE GUYS healthy really turned things around. It would also appear that we had some significant improvement at the end of the year, but again, I think that just may be the fact that we were finally healthy.

    It will be real nice if someone can step up for Irving this year.

  13. RickJ 07/14/2009 at 9:32 AM #

    You guys are all over it – We played the second half of the ECU game and the entire USF & BC games without Irving or Cash. We went from a below average defense to a complete sieve. It was during this period that many thought we might actually run the table with losses. Irving also only played a few plays against FSU.

  14. RegularExpression 07/14/2009 at 10:00 AM #

    The Maryland game was played in a driving rainstorm for the most part so that probably explains their inflated rushing numbers and deflated passing numbers.

  15. Scooter 07/14/2009 at 12:58 PM #

    Excellent analysis of 2008 and preview of some things we might expect in 2009. One thing we can’t really measure in statistics will be the injury factor — will we be injury-hit again? We had the injury swine-flu for the majority of both 2007 and 2008. Given the available talent for those years, it is hard to say whether or not the injured players would have made such an impact that results would have been different, but it is still interesting to note. If we only sustain a minimal amount of injuries this year, I would hope that our performance results rise with the “cohesion” factor. For the first time in several seasons, I can’t wait for the fall.

  16. Wufpacker 07/14/2009 at 2:09 PM #

    ^^ Yes, I do seem to recall that now. There was a time when I could remember just about every pertinent fact about pretty much every individual game, including weather conditions. As I get older I find that particular skill set to be fading, though I do still remember the driving rainstorms of the Clemson game in ’86, the SoCar game (vs Lou Holtz) and the Purdue game (sometime in the early to mid 90’s if memory serves)…watched a big part of that game under the scoreboard at the south end zone, when there still was a scoreboard in the south end zone.

  17. choppack1 07/14/2009 at 2:19 PM #

    That USF game last year was one for the books – probably worst rain I’ve had to endure since the South Carolina game in 99. Of course the 99 game, you knew the weather was going to be awful.

  18. bradleyb123 07/14/2009 at 2:30 PM #

    Well done, VaWolf. This was a great read!

    This is not a criticism of your analysis. I think that was spot on right. This is a criticism of the defensive stats themselves. I think the defensive stats are skewed somewhat due to our lack of an OFFENSE in some games. For example, take the SC game. The defense played well for MOST of that game. But the continual 3-and-outs by our offense kept our D on the field until the point of exhaustion. And we got blown out on the scoreboard. But not until late in the game. That was not entirely the fault of the defense. If you look at the score, you would think we had no defense at all. But this information doesn’t factor into the statistics. I think our overall defense was a *little* better than the stats would indicate.

    Of course injuries to our defense should be taken into consideration. But so should a lack of an offense, since that can result in the defense never getting a chance to catch their breath.

  19. VaWolf82 07/14/2009 at 2:52 PM #

    I think the defensive stats are skewed somewhat due to our lack of an OFFENSE in some games.

    You are wrong for several reasons.

    First of all, you must have missed the part where I said that the OOC games were not in the stats. Thus your comments about the SC game do not matter since they are not included in any of the tables discussed here.

    Russell Wilson played in every ACC game. State’s offense might not have been great in some games, but it was still the best offense that we had.

    If the defense got tired during a game, then you can only blame part of that on the offense. If the defense could have forced a punt, then they would have gotten a chance to rest.

    When you talk about a team’s defense, then you are talking about the 20-25 games that play in a given game. “Good” defenses normally include quality depth. “Bad” defenses often lack quality depth. Excusing the play of the defense because of injuries is just that….an excuse. Excuses don’t change the final score or my conclusions.

  20. bradleyb123 07/14/2009 at 3:12 PM #

    ^ “First of all, you must have missed the part where I said that the OOC games were not in the stats. Thus your comments about the SC game do not matter since they are not included in any of the tables discussed here.”

    I just cited that game as an example. There were other games where the offense had several players out and could not produce. It was just best illustrated in the SC game.

    “If the defense got tired during a game, then you can only blame part of that on the offense. If the defense could have forced a punt, then they would have gotten a chance to rest.”

    Hence, my point. I didn’t say the defense stats were WAY off or anything. I said the stats were SOMEWHAT skewed by the poor offensive performances, and that this is not factored into the defensive stats. And when the offense is not producing, it gets tougher and tougher for the defense to force that punt as they get more and more exhausted.

    First you told me I was wrong, then you made a comment that reinforces exactly what I said. Which is it?

    My only point is that our defense was not quite as bad as the stats would have us believe. Not YOUR stats, but the stats for the season. We had areas of weakness, like pass defense, obviously. But when the offense was healthy, I’m sure the defensive numbers would be better than the games where the offense doesn’t show up.

    And again, I wasn’t knocking your analysis in any way, shape or form. It’s just that in 2008, for the first half of the season, we had games where either the offense didn’t show up, or the defense didn’t show up (mostly due to injuries and a lack of quality depth). But when the offense didn’t show up, it really affected the defense, and made them look somewhat worse than they really were, IMO.

    Was our defense really bad enough to give up 34 points in such a short amount of game clock to SC? I don’t think so. That’s all I’m saying.

  21. choppack1 07/14/2009 at 3:24 PM #

    Bradley – I don’t know about that.

    The BC game is the perfect example of a game where our D didn’t show up. It was probably our worst defensive performance all year.

    Our offense hung up 31 on ’em.

    If you go to your memory bank – you should probably recall our D just getting absolutely killed in the first few conference games on 3rd down and long. During the losing streak – the problem was that the D could not GET OFF THE FIELD. The good news is that we fixed it – and ended up playing solid D the last 4 games of the year.

    I do agree that our D was not as bad as the stats indicated. Of course, I think the reason our D really stunk it up against BC had a lot to do w/ our injuries.

    Does anyone know if Irving, Cash and Johnson were available for the UMd game?

  22. DRW 07/14/2009 at 3:41 PM #

    bradley: Do you have to argue about EVERYTHING?

  23. bradleyb123 07/14/2009 at 3:59 PM #

    choppack1, our D had some problems. Especially our pass defense. All I said was I don’t think our D was quite as bad as the stats made us out to be. That’s all. I never said we were great or even good on defense.

    Frankly, I thought I was contributing to a conversation by pointing out something that no one had considered yet.

    And DRW, it wasn’t an argument until VaWolf made it one. I just posted my opinion about defensive stats, and I preceded that by saying VaWolf’s analysis was exactly RIGHT. I wasn’t arguing with him. But he replied and told me I was completely wrong for several reasons, one of which confirmed the very point I was trying to make. I thought his reply was argumentative, so I replied to it. Am I supposed to just roll over when someone does that?

  24. Wufpacker 07/14/2009 at 4:00 PM #

    ^^ Not a fair accusation against bradley

    FWIW, bradley was very careful to state he was not criticizing VaWolf’s work and even said it was a “great read” and thought his analysis was “spot on”.

    What he did say was that he thought stats made our defense appear to be worse than maybe he believed it truly was, and that fatigue, at least partially due to being on the field for longer periods because of the offense’s inability to keep the ball, contributed to this appearance (bradley…I’m paraphrasing what I perceive to be your thoughts…if I’m in error please let me know).

    He wasn’t rude, he wasn’t really even argumentative. He was merely discussing a point, correctly or incorrectly, that he thought was at least somewhat of an issue.

    SFN: You are 100% correct. Bradley most definitely has a right to be wrong and we’ve got no problem with him publicly expressing his personal conclusions even if he chooses to ignore key facts and items that would lead most people to draw different conclusions.

  25. bradleyb123 07/14/2009 at 4:06 PM #

    ^ “What he did say was that he thought stats made our defense appear to be worse than maybe he believed it truly was, and that fatigue, at least partially due to being on the field for longer periods because of the offense’s inability to keep the ball, contributed to this appearance (bradley…I’m paraphrasing what I perceive to be your thoughts…if I’m in error please let me know).”

    Thanks, Wufpacker. You paraphrased EXACTLY what I was trying to say. 🙂

    It’s an obvious point, that a bad offense can hurt an otherwise good offense in this way. But it seems in 2008, we had a handful of games where the offense just wasn’t there, mostly due to key injuries. I think this hurt us worse last year than in most years. That’s why I brought it up.

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