Wolfpack blockers catching up to speed

jgiglio@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

— If N.C. State’s offensive line needed a reminder of how effective it could be, ESPN provided one earlier this month by rebroadcasting last season’s 17-16 upset of Florida State.

In the second half, quarterback Mike Glennon carved up Florida State’s defense, which featured seven eventual NFL draft picks, and it was the Wolfpack’s line that gave him time to knock off the then-third-ranked Seminoles.

Glennon’s in the NFL, but there’s still value in the game tape.

“It’s a game we can still learn a lot from,” sophomore lineman Joe Thuney said. “We were going against some great talent and it gave us confidence to know we can beat an elite team.”

Three of the Wolfpack’s front five blockers from that game make up the line for this season. Thuney, Tyson Chandler and Duran Christophe all played key roles in the win and will likely start up front in the Wolfpack’s opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31.

Veteran tackle Rob Crisp and junior college transfer Quinton Schooley will probably join those three in the starting lineup, although competition for the jobs – and at which positions – has been one of the main questions of training camp for new coach Dave Doeren and his staff.

The addition of Schooley, a center from Butler Community College in Kansas, allows Thuney to slide over to right guard. Crisp and Chandler will likely be the tackles with Christophe at left guard.

Crisp, a senior, is the only linemen of that group who started last season’s opener but then he missed five games with a back injury. Injuries up front were a common theme during former coach Tom O’Brien’s tenure.

Right guard Zach Allen suffered a foot injury in the fifth game and missed the rest of the season. Right tackle Andrew Wallace missed six games with an ankle injury. The opener against Tennessee was the only game of 13 that N.C. State had a completely healthy offensive line.

Two key statistics, yards per rush and sacks allowed, show the effect of all the injuries and shuffling of roles. N.C. State averaged 3.07 yards per carry, which ranked 114th in the country, according to cfbstats.com. The line also gave up 39 sacks, which ranked 115th in the country.

“We had so many injuries and guys moved around so much, it threw off our chemistry,” Crisp said.

The biggest help for the line might just be a new approach on offense. Doeren and offensive coordinator Matt Canada will play up-tempo and use more elements of the spread.

“We’re going to run more and throw the ball quicker, both of those things will help,” Crisp said.

The biggest adjustment for the line has been keeping up with the pace of the offense. At its fastest, the offense aims to get off a snap about every 15 seconds. Coming from the huddle-up, pro set philosophy of the former staff, the tempo was a big adjustment for the offensive line in the spring.

All of the running for 300-plus pounders was a shock to the system, Christophe said.

“But you get better and better at it,” Christophe said. “It’s a lot easier than it was in the spring.”

New line coach Mike Uremovich has been pleased with the progress the group has made since the spring. The addition of Schooley and junior college lineman Ali Kassem will also help with depth concerns.

One of the strengths of O’Brien’s teams at Boston College was the offensive line play. In six seasons at N.C. State, O’Brien was never able to get the line up to the standards he had there.

The new coaching staff has ties to both Northern Illinois (238.2 rushing yards per game) and Wisconsin (236.3), ranked 12th and 13th nationally last season in the NCAA in rushing. N.C. State averaged only 111.1 yards per game last season, 108th out of 120 FBS teams.

Uremovich, who was Northern Illinois’s running backs coach last season, said he hasn’t looked at N.C. State’s statistics from 2012. He’s not interested in the particulars but he does know what he wants out of this year’s group.

“If you can run the football, you win,” Uremovich said. “That’s what we have to continue to develop.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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