Quick and Dirty Look at Saturday’s NCSU-ECU Game

It’s a wierd time of year to play an out-of-conference game against a non-BCS opponent, but that’s the task in front of the Wolfpack: in the middle of their ACC schedule, NC State will take a quick drive  to Greenville to play Conference USA’s ECU before finishing up the season with five straight ACC games, followed by a probable bowl berth later on.  While it would have no affect on the ACC standings and any possible conference championship, the ECU game is a rivalry game and is important not only for bragging rights but also for in-state recruiting…an area where it is always important to have as many advantages as possible given the crowded field of five Division FBS teams in North Carolina.

Many folks, including the prognosticators who set the betting lines, are predicting a walk in the park for the Pack by naming them a 6-7.5 favorite.  It may end up that way, but State has every reason to be wary: ECU is on a roll and playing far better than anyone ever expected, their offense is nearly as powerful a juggernaut and scoring machine as is NC State’s, and for them at least, it is a bitter rival on their home field in a game that they would dearly love to win.  While some Wolfpack fans like to dismiss ECU as a “not-a-rival” be sure that the ECU players and their fans certainly do, and that whether or not the Wolfpack fans who like to overlook the Pirates like it or not, by definition it is a rivalry game and will be played and cheered with the intensity that one can expect from a rivalry game.  Moreover, the overall series record stands at 16-10, and that relatively even number comes with the fact that the Wolfpack rarely has made the trip down east to play it’s brother UNC system school on their field.

First of all, a win for ECU would give them a great deal of bowl credibility – a win over a BCS team always helps a non-BCS team’s resume.  Secondly, NC State has been a thorn in the side of the Pirates of late, winning the last two games between the two, including one where ECU came into Raleigh flying high and thinking of a possible at-large BCS berth for themselves that season. In 2008 the Pirates were ranked #15 in the country, but lost in overtime in what turned out to be the coming out party for All-Conference QB Russell Wilson.  To get the win, Wilson drove the Wolfpack down the field at the end of regulation to tie the game, and then he led the Wolfpack to an upset victory in the team’s first OT possession.  You can be sure that ECU fans and their players would like to extract revenge for that game, and it is fair to say that right now it is the Wolfpack who will wear the bullseyes on their back.

In other words, ECU has every reason to be more than fired up, and NC State has every reason to be wary and to go into the game with their chinstraps on tight and ready to do battle for sixty full minutes.  And with ECU, that might mean a full sixty minutes, as the Pirates have secured a win on the last play of the game once already in 2010.

To win, NC State will have to face down an offense that’s slightly ahead of their own in the national rankings, where currently ECU has the 12th best scoring offense nationally, and the Wolfpack, the 13th.  Through five games, ECU has scored 25 touchdowns, and scored an impressive 188 points for a 37.6 point average.  One might say that they’ve played lesser competition, and to some extent that may be true, but keep in mind that ECU has also played Virginia Tech and they were able to keep that game close for a couple of quarters.

State, for it’s part, has piled up 225 points in its six games for a 37.5 PPG average.  So far this season, no one has been able to stop the Wolfpack completely, as even in a loss to Virginia Tech, the team put up 30 points onto the scoreboard.

For both squads, defense is a question mark, but here is where the differential is the greatest: NC State is ranked #34 in total D, while ECU is a woeful #114 of 120 Division 1 schools.  The Pirates have  surrendered a pitiful 457.6 yards per game, for an average 6.3 yards-per-play.  State is giving up 326.2 yards per game and 5.4 yards-per-play in its own right, a distinct advantage, but not so much of one that it would be reasonable to think that on paper that the Pack stopping unit will be able to shut down the Pirate offense.

Pirate Head Coach Ruffin McNeill commented in his weekly press conference yesterday that he is pleased with the defense so far, despite their results. “The kids are growing up,” he said. “You have to be patient. We know as coaches we have to be and I’ve been through it before. When you have nine new starters and 16 guys who are playing significant reps now who had not before, they have to go through it and learn their way. They have to get knocked down and learn to get back up.”

Against Russell Wilson and his plethora of skilled players to choose from, that may be a difficult task.

Of his own young quarterback, McNeill is very pleased with his growth mid-way through the season: “People have gone into the games against us with totally different packages than they have shown on film. That’s a compliment to our offense and to Dominique for being able to adjust. Southern Miss, which had been at 18-20 percent blitz, probably blitzed in the 35-40 percent range Saturday, which is very high.

“Once the offense got it handled, Dominique made the throw to Michael Bowman on the hot read. It was big. Dominique was really calm. He’s growing right in front of our eyes. He’ll be fine and a great quarterback in this system.”

In other words, the NC State defense and secondary are more than likely to face a significant challenge in Greenville this weekend, and again, it is one that they cannot take lightly if the Wolfpack players are to return to Raleigh with a win under their belts.

Everything about this game on paper  leads one to believe that ECU and NC State will be in a shootout, and that’s the sort of game where anything can and probably will happen.  If each team is capable of scoring, it puts the onus on the other team to limit its mistakes, keep its efficiency high and convert nearly every chance it gets.  That means that turnovers will be critical, as will be play selection and most importantly, play execution.  Special teams and hidden yardage will be critical, as neither team can afford to spot the other a great deal of yardage with poor kicks or coverage. Most importantly, no lead will be safe, and even if NC State gets a big lead, it would be very wise to keep hammering away on either side of the ball and play a complete game from kickoff to final whistle.

Pirate fans are bravely talking about feeling an upset brewing, while many Pack fans are blithely expecting a blowout.  Both may be wrong: NC State has the higher quality squad and the better record against better competition this season, but it is foolish to discount ECU’s offensive prowess.  ECU fans are boasting of the game atmosphere in their stadium, which may be a bit of a factor, but this is the Wolfpack third road game of the season, and in both trips away from the friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium so far, they have been able to leave town winners.  At the same time, given the offensive capability of each team, a blowout may be an unreasonable expectation.  Both teams have shown that they are more than capable of digging up paydirt, and the squad that digs the most up on Saturday afternoon will be the one that wins the game.

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29 Responses to Quick and Dirty Look at Saturday’s NCSU-ECU Game

  1. wolfbuff 10/12/2010 at 1:06 PM #

    I think you are right on, Alpha. We are going to have to go to Greenville, play with discipline and speed. I predict a win, but it will not be a blowout. If we’re not careful, it might be like that Duke/Wake game.

    A slight edit: we have piled up 225 points in our *six* games for a 37.5 ppg average 🙂

  2. Alpha Wolf 10/12/2010 at 1:10 PM #

    ^Duh (on my part), you are correct about that. I was typing while I was stuffing lunch into my face.

  3. bradleyb123 10/12/2010 at 1:18 PM #

    I don’t think it will even be close. Our defense is much better than theirs. I believe we’ll slow them down to a crawl on offense and they won’t even come close to slowing us down.

    I think our defense will make a living in ECU’s offensive backfield this game, and that will put a damper on their offense.

    I believe we’ll win by 21+ points.

  4. Wufpacker 10/12/2010 at 1:19 PM #

    ^^ Since we’re criticizing Alpha….it should be “The Pirates have surrendered (not surrounded) a pitiful 457.6 yards…”

    I know it’s only a typo, but it still made me laugh. Made me want to look out the window and see if I had a bunch of ECU fans surrounding my yard, LOL.

  5. Alpha Wolf 10/12/2010 at 1:20 PM #

    ^ ouch! No wonder my spell-checker missed it. Been trying to do better with ole typos lately.

  6. Wufpacker 10/12/2010 at 1:22 PM #

    Don’t sweat it. When I get in a zone writing I often type the complete wrong word too. It often amazes me to see what I typed compared to what I thought I typed. When spellcheck can read my mind it will be awesome.

  7. Wufpacker 10/12/2010 at 1:24 PM #

    “I believe we’ll slow them down to a crawl on offense and they won’t even come close to slowing us down.”

    I really, really hope you’re right. I really, really think you are not.

  8. bradleyb123 10/12/2010 at 1:26 PM #

    I really, really hope you’re right. I really, really think you are not.

    Cincy also plays a spread offense. They had all kinds of holes along the line, and our guys ran threw it like a sieve.

    I don’t mean to disrespect ECU. I just think this is a matchup that favors us. If we can’t put some heat on their QB, he might eat us alive. I just think we’ll put a lot of heat on him and totally disrupt their offense.

    But even if we don’t, I still think our offense will outscore theirs.

  9. Wufpacker 10/12/2010 at 1:33 PM #

    I think (hope?) we will win by outscoring them, I just don’t think our defense is going to do much in the way of slowing them down “to a crawl”. Nor do I think we’ll beat them by 3 touchdowns.

    If you want an analogy I’m hoping for, I’m just hoping we can do the speed limit for sixty minutes and they get stuck behind a Winnebago for 2 or 3 possessions. If we DO slow them down to a crawl I’ll certainly be happy, however.

  10. Alpha Wolf 10/12/2010 at 1:35 PM #

    ^ We started folding to Cincinnati late in the 3rd and during the whole 4th, though.

    We cannot do that again. ECU has seen the Cincy game film too.

    I hope I am wrong, but objectively, right now I see a shootout where mistakes decide the game.

  11. boonami 10/12/2010 at 1:54 PM #

    all i can say is we better defend the middle as opposed to the Cincy game. ECU will look to go long when we are blitzing and have our safeties cheating up for the short pass. And we better damn better tackle than any of the other games or this game will be high scoring on both sides.

  12. Classof89 10/12/2010 at 2:42 PM #

    Key to whether we win this easily or it turns into a shootout is whether we can run on them. If Greene, Washington and Haynes can get 120-150 yards between them, we should be able to launch scoring drives that chew up lots of clock and keep their offense off the field. Did we have any scoring drives last week that lasted longer than 5 minutes?

  13. Redwolf2450 10/12/2010 at 2:44 PM #

    I’m more worried about being tired… having tired legs. We’ve had a tough stretch of games. If we can manage to fight through this we should easily win by 17 points at minimum. JMHO.

  14. wvillepack 10/12/2010 at 2:47 PM #

    This is our game to win or lose. We have to take care of business. We should be able to rush/pass down the field in huge chunks. We won’t shut ECU offense down, but if we can force some punts and/or turnovers, then we win the shootout. If we don’t take care of business…watch out. Still hoping we can blow them out!!!

  15. bradleyb123 10/12/2010 at 2:58 PM #

    I’m more worried about being tired… having tired legs. We’ve had a tough stretch of games. If we can manage to fight through this we should easily win by 17 points at minimum. JMHO.

    They’re tired, too. Only they don’t have the depth that we have. That’s another ace in the hole for us. Even if they keep it close, or have a small lead for a while, can they keep it up as they get tired? Look at their second half performances against UNX and VT.

    I’m not talking smack for the sake of talking smack. I just think our strengths and their weaknesses will result in a win for the Pack, a fairly easy win.

  16. wvillepack 10/12/2010 at 3:10 PM #

    ECU didn’t look tired at Southern Miss. Defence got better as game went on. We can’t let up. If we play our usual game and jump out early, we need to keep putting points on the board for 4 quarters. On defense we have to limit big plays. Make them have long drives if they want to score. I really believe this young ECU team cannot sustain a long drive without penalties or turnovers. We need a page out of VT playbook and just let them make mistakes. On paper we should beat the pants off the pirates…but on paper they should have beaten us in 2008. Anything can happen…if we don’t take care of business.

  17. bradleyb123 10/12/2010 at 3:22 PM #

    Obviously, we can’t sleepwalk our way to win. We’ll have to show up and play our game. I just don’t see them taking us out of our game.

    Normally, I don’t like to talk up a win before the game is played. I feel like that can jinx us. And that’s why they play the game. But Carolina beat them like dogs, even though it was tied at halftime. And Carolina’s offense is not nearly as good as ours.

    I just think we will wear them out as the game passes by. I really do. I’m not just talking smack. ECU is surprisingly good on offense. But I just don’t think there’s any way they will win this time.

  18. baxter 10/12/2010 at 3:31 PM #

    In reference to the Cincy game, lets remember we came off that short week after getting worn out in the UCF heat, and other than that big strike down the field, Cincy moved the ball when we had our scrubs in and when Nate was out briefly. Hopefully our guys are feeling better conditioning wise, the system is more understood and the tackling looks better.

    This spread attack is no joke. Thing is, we ought to be able to outmatch them on defense with the blitz and with our athletes in the backfield. The pressure should cause mistakes, much like BC’s defense, and the early pressure of the VT game.

    Also, they gave up 263 yards running to UNC and 250 to VT. Our running game isn’t as great as those two (at least by our numbers this season), but with the addition of Washington, who looked damn quick last week, we may leverage our line this week and pound them on the ground. I expect to see a lot of the ground game with PA used to expose that defense. Its going to be critical to keep that offense off the field and out of sync and give our defense the rest needed to go after an offense that is big in YAC.

  19. bradleyb123 10/12/2010 at 3:38 PM #

    baxter, I could be totally wrong about my previous assessment. If we can run the ball down their throats, we may do that all day. If so, it will be closer. But no matter how I slice it, I just don’t see ECU coming out with a win. The only way they do that is if our offense is not clicking. Or if we have several more turnovers than them.

    I think the only way they win is if WE make mistakes. And we can. We’re not perfection by any stretch of the imagination. But this game should be ours to win.

  20. TOBtime 10/12/2010 at 3:49 PM #

    Agree with the run the ball plan. We should run the ball down their throats until they bring 9 guys up to the line and then let our tall wideouts cut their throats. With the talent we have and the decent play we have seen from the O-line this year we should be able to pull it off. The holes put 45 on them for goodness sake. We may only win by 10-14 points but totally dominate the game.

    Our secondary worries me some but Tenuta makes me feel better.

  21. El Lobo Loco! 10/12/2010 at 3:53 PM #

    ECU has always been a formidable foe; underestimating them would be a great mistake.
    I think for both teams this is a very important game, hope TOB takes all the precautions and gets his boys all fired up !

  22. baxter 10/12/2010 at 4:06 PM #

    ^ If Carolina is in their name….

  23. Sam92 10/12/2010 at 4:30 PM #

    sure they could beat us – if we fall apart like we did against VT.

    is this game on television, at all?

  24. Alpha Wolf 10/12/2010 at 5:36 PM #

    ^ CBS College Sports, 12pm. You need an additional sports tier for TWC, but DTV and Dish have it in the low 600s.

  25. coach13 10/12/2010 at 5:41 PM #

    I’m sure the coaching staff is doing all in their power to keep the guys from looking past ECU. This is a shoot out in which our defense has to bend not melt down. I am looking for Tenuta’s blitz packages to disrupt early and often.

    Finally, I want the ball first. Set the tone with our offense. Score first and score often(every time).

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