As offensive line goes, so goes N.C. State's season

With four starting offensive linemen returning, expectations are high

jgiglio@newsobserver.comAugust 15, 2012 

— An oversized picture of Mike Glennon adorns the front of N.C. State’s media guide.

As the star quarterback, and a senior, that was a pretty easy decision. It’s no coincidence, though, that the other four seniors on the cover are offensive linemen.

In an uneven 8-5 season in 2011, the Wolfpack was as good as its offensive front. With four seniors, and six returning players with starting experience, the Pack’s offensive line is expected to be better in 2012.

Strong line play was a staple of Tom O’Brien’s teams in 10 seasons at Boston College. Six years into his tenure, O’Brien feels like he has built a unit in Raleigh comparable to the NFL-type players he had at Boston College.

“It certainly should be as good a line as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” O’Brien said.

With three seniors – guard R.J. Mattes, center Cam Wentz and guard Zach Allen – with 26 or more career starts and five players with at least 13 starts, the group will be O’Brien’s most experienced.

There are positives to build on from last year, namely Glennon’s 31 touchdowns and 3,000 passing yards, but there’s also room for improvement.

State gave up 34 sacks last season, which ranked 98th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams. When the line kept Glennon clean, State usually won.

The Pack was 5-2 in games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents when it gave up fewer than three sacks and 1-3 when it gave up more than three.

Two of the worst losses of the season, at Cincinnati (six sacks allowed) and at Florida State (four), coincided with Glennon spending a large portion of the game on his backside.

N.C. State also lagged in the national rankings in rushing yardage last season with an average of 104.8 yards per game, which was 109th nationally.

State was 1-4 when it rushed for fewer than 110 yards in a game. Broken down to yards per carry, the Pack was 5-2 when it averaged 3.0 yards per carry, or was merely adequate at running the ball.

“Rushing totals can be semi-deceiving, depending on the situation,” Wentz said.

The senior center is right, the NCAA counts the lost yardage of sacks toward the rushing total (the NFL does not), but he admits after a minus-26 performance in a 44-14 loss to Cincinnati, there was a harsh dose of reality served to the offensive line.

“We got pushed around in that game,” Wentz said. “After that, we got our act together.”

The Pack ran for a season-best 195 yards against Georgia Tech the next week. Over the final eight games, the team won six times. It ran for only 36 yards in a loss at Florida State and 47 in a loss at Boston College.

“There’s a pretty clear correlation between the running game and the games we won, especially at the end of the year,” Glennon said.

A better running game toward the end of the season also equaled better passing numbers for Glennon, who had 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions in the final three games.

Four line starters from the Pack’s bowl win over Louisville, in which Glennon was only sacked once, return, but only two at the same position.

Mattes, who will be a four-year starter, has moved from left tackle to left guard. Junior Rob Crisp, who started the bowl game at right tackle, will move to left tackle.

Wentz and Allen return at their respective positions, center and right guard. Wallace, who missed most of the 2011 season with a knee injury, will start at the right tackle.

Mikel Overgaard, who started 11 games last season, is the only veteran who has to be replaced. Junior Duran Christophe, who started every game at left guard last season, also returns to give the Pack a measure of depth.

Crisp said the unit is ahead of where it was last year, just based on familiarity, even with some of the position changes.

“We already have a chemistry because a lot of guys have already played a lot of football together,” Crisp said.

And they have a chance to play a lot more this season.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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