Three keys for N.C. State

STAFF WRITERDecember 28, 2010 

— N.C. State (8-4) has a big opportunity against No. 22-ranked West Virginia (9-3) in a couple of hours in today’s 6:30 p.m. Champs Sports Bowl.

Here’s what the Wolfpack needs to do to post a win that would tie the 2010 team for the second-highest victory total for a season in school history:

1. Get to the quarterback. Maryland and coach Ralph Friedgen neutralized N.C. State’s blitz packages with maximum protection schemes.

West Virginia, which plays a lot of two-back sets, has the potential to do that as well. N.C. State’s blitzing linebackers need to find ways to get break through the blocking schemes to sack quarterback Geno Smith and keep him from making plays with his feet.

And the defensive backs need to make tackles in space against the screen game to prevent short passes from turning into long gains.

2. Make big plays with the pass. West Virginia’s starting cornerbacks, Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy, are both extremely talented.

But they’re also just 5-foot-10. N.C. State wide receiver starters Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer are 6-4 and 6-3, respectively.

The Wolfpack needs to take advantage of that height disparity for at least one long gain on a deep ball against a stingy defense.

3. Have a difference-making play on special teams. N.C. State has made a lot of them this season.

The Wolfpack blocked three punts early in the season. T.J. Graham returned a punt for a touchdown against North Carolina, and the Wolfpack recovered an onside kick against Maryland.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart seems concerned about Graham, and N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien would like nothing better than to see Graham get up to full speed in the open field.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942, or @kentysiac on Twitter

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