College Football End of Season Analysis: NC State Wolfpack
After the first five games, the 2011 season looked like it was going to be a long one for the Wolfpack. At that point they were 2-3 with their only wins coming against Liberty and South Alabama. They had conference losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech and had been blown out by 30 points at the hands of the Bearcats of Cincinatti.
Under first year starting QB Mike Glennon, they were able to right the ship and win 6 of the last 8 (including a shut-out of rival UNC and an upset of ACC Champion Clemson) to finish 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference. We caught up with James from the NC State based blog Riddick & Reynolds to get his take on the 2011 season and beyond.
CFBZ: After NC State started 2-3 there were some rumblings about Tom O'Brien being on the Hot Seat. After finishing 8-5, what are your thoughts on the job O'Brien is doing?
Riddick & Reynolds: I think things cooled down quite considerably over the back-half of the season, as you might expect, for a variety of reasons.
Guys got healthy that were injured early on, rebuilding the depth Tom O'Brien teams rely on to succeed. The talk and distraction surrounding the Russell Wilson/Mike Glennon decision faded midway through the season due to two factors: Wisconsin lost a couple of heartbreakers to take them out of the national title picture, and Mike Glennon, after a few shaky starts early on, began to show the kind of talent that O'Brien bragged about heading into the year. And when you end the season with a nice bowl win in your home state in front of a mostly-NC State crowd, that tends to smooth over a lot of tension that might have surrounded coach O'Brien at the beginning of the year.
To put it another way, fans and media alike tend to have very short memories, for better or worse.
CFBZ: O'Brien made the controversial decision to let Russell Wilson walk and go with Mike Glennon as his QB. Now that the season is over, did he make the right decision?
Riddick & Reynolds: I think so, which is consistent with what I said at the beginning of the year. I understood Tom's decision at the time because of what it meant for the team not in the next few months but over the next few years.
I think everyone agrees it would've been nice to see Russell conclude his career at State; most folks nationally will henceforth consider Russell a Wisconsin quarterback, not a three-years-at-NC State-before-transferring-to-Wisconsin quarterback. In that sense, we kind of lost "ownership" of Russell as an alum of the Wolfpack football program.
That said, imagine where NC State would be today as it prepares for spring practice had Russell come back last year. No Russell Wilson AND no Mike Glennon, with O'Brien looking at starting largely unheralded and unproven RS Soph Tyler Brosius at the most critical spot on the field. With the returning starters on both sides of the ball, 2012 has the potential to be a good season for the Pack. Having Glennon under center, not Brosius, gives O'Brien and the team a better shot at reaching its full potential.
I have great memories of Russell Wilson making unbelievable plays in a Wolfpack uniform, and with some luck and good fortune, I'll get to say I saw Mike Glennon take this team further than it's ever been in the Tom O'Brien era.
CFBZ: If you could have a "do over" for any game which would it be?
Riddick & Reynolds: I'm debating on whether or not to answer with the Wake Forest loss in week two or the Boston College loss in week 10, as they both stung and hurt our Atlantic Division standing. But when it comes down to it, I think you have to go with the 14-10 BC loss.
There are certain teams that seem to have every team's number for one reason or another, and no matter how up or down Boston College is, State has struggled against O'Brien's former team since he left Chestnut Hill for Raleigh. State's lone win against the Eagles since O'Brien donned Wolfpack Red came in 2010 at home; all other attempts at solving BC's voodoo over the Pack have been fruitless.
This loss particularly hurt because State was so inept at generating any offense against a BC team that gave up 30 points or more four times in 2011. It's the lone blemish in a great closing stretch that began with the 13-0 shutout of UNC the week prior. Winning five-straight to close out the year would've been extra nice, but having BC douse our joy over beating the Heels was extra not-nice.
The Wake lose was tough to swallow but (humble brag) I called it before the season started due to Glennon's inexperience and our abysmal road record against the Deacs. And as much as Wake Forest exceeded their meager expectations, losing that game didn't sting quite as much as it might have seemed at the time.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Riddick & Reynolds: I think my big takeaway from 2012 is this was another year under O'Brien where we were left to wonder what might have been had injuries not played such a large role in this team's fortunes.
While the total number of starts missed wasn't the highest it's been under O'Brien, the fact that so many of them came concurrently on the defensive line really sunk the effectiveness of our defense. The ability of State's defensive scheme to succeed starts up front: pressure from the line frees up the blitzing linebackers, which in turn allows our secondary to be more effective as quarterbacks have less time to pick apart the zone. When the defensive line was done in by injuries, our linebackers weren't able to make plays, giving opposing quarterbacks more time to operate.
That said, it was a big year for several players on the squad. Mike Glennon, as mentioned before, answered the bell and put up some gaudy numbers in spite of the pressure heaped upon him by "The Decision." Even more impressively, David Amerson broke Dre Bly's ACC record for interceptions in a single season by two and put the rest of the country on notice that he was a cornerback to be feared. Seeing what a bigger, stronger, more experienced Amerson can do in 2012 is nice to think about (assuming opposing teams are still stupid enough to throw his way).
CFBZ: Heading into the off-season what are the biggest concerns about this team for 2012?
Riddick & Reynolds: We lose two very good linebackers in Audi Cole (graduation) and Terrell Manning (early NFL departure). Jon Tenuta will tell you he can coach up the next batch to replace them, but their loss will create a very big and noticeable void over the defensive middle to start next season.
As it's become a running theme, I'll also keep a close eye on our injury situation as a barometer for how good this team can be. If we manage to avoid the injury [strike]curse[/strike] bug like we did in 2010, there's great potential for this squad with a seasoned Mike Glennon at the helm. But if history is a predictor of future results, State stands to lose its fair share of folks at key positions, forcing O'Brien to rely on untested or under-skilled replacements.
State recently replaced the strength and conditioning coach that O'Brien brought with him from BC, so perhaps the days of massive attrition are behind us.
*knock on wood*
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big Ten- Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers