NC State football: Guide to the 2013 season

jgiglio@newsobserver.comAugust 24, 2013 

Quick hits

Record: 7-6 overall, 4-4 ACC, lost to Vanderbilt 38-24 in Music City Bowl.

Who’s back: WR Bryan Underwood (44 catches, 620 receiving yards, 10 TDs), CB Dontae Johnson (80 tackles), RB Tony Creecy (476 rushing yards, 5 TDs)

Who’s gone: QB Mike Glennon (4,031 passing yards, 31 TDs), S Earl Wolff (145 tackles), WR Tobais Palmer (54 catches, 781 yards, 6 TDs).

Best-case scenario: Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell does his best Russell Wilson-at-Wisconsin impersonation, seamlessly transitioning to a new team and giving the offense a running dimension it has lacked the past two seasons. The defense eliminates the slow starts that cost the team five games in 2012. Dave Doeren’s knack for winning at Northern Illinois (23-4) translates to the ACC and the Wolfpack wins all of its coin-toss games to finish 9-3.

Worst-case scenario: The offensive line is as weak as feared, Mitchell and Pete Thomas get bogged down in an undefined rotation at quarterback, the defense never establishes a consistent identity and all the coin-toss games go the wrong way. That would send the season into a 3-9 spiral.

Bottom line: Doeren didn’t win 23 games in two seasons by accident, and while the program is in transition, the cupboard is not devoid of talent. The offensive line will be an issue, as will depth in the defensive secondary, but there are enough grooves in an eight-game home schedule to cobble together six or seven wins and reach a fourth consecutive bowl game.

3 key games

vs. Louisiana Tech (Aug. 31): Skip Holtz lost his last trip to Carter-Finley Stadium with his best ECU team in 2008, but like George O’Leary with Central Florida in 2007, he’s more than capable of spoiling a Wolfpack coaching debut.

at Wake Forest (Oct. 5): For the math to add up to a bowl game, the Wolfpack needs to win its first on the road. Easier said than done. State hasn’t won in Winston-Salem since Philip Rivers was a sophomore (2001) and has dropped 19 of 20 division road games since 2005.

vs. UNC (Nov. 2): You could argue the Duke game the following week in Durham is more important, but let’s be honest, this rivalry has never been better on the football field, thanks in large part to former coach Tom O’Brien’s success (5-1) against the Tar Heels.

Scouting report

The offense: Doeren and offensive coordinator Matt Canada want to run the football, something N.C. State has not done recently (108th in the FBS in 2012, 109th in 2011). Mitchell makes the most sense at quarterback in the read option, but backs Creecy, Matt Dayes and Shadrach Thornton will all be active.

With Mitchell or Thomas at quarterback, the offense will go up-tempo with no huddle and quick passing plays designed to protect the quarterback and disguise the line’s inefficiencies. Senior slot receiver Rashard Smith is in line for a big season.

The defense: The transition between coaches has been easier on the defense than the offense. The same basic 4-3 and nickel schemes apply from the previous staff, but there will be fewer blitzes under new coordinator Dave Huxtable.

The strength will be up front, with an experienced group on the line and the versatility of defensive back Johnson and linebacker D.J. Green.

Key player: D.J. Green, OLB, senior

Green missed all of last season while serving an NCAA suspension for using a banned supplement. The defense was weak in the middle with a hobbled Sterling Lucas at linebacker and inexperience on the outside. Green has the ability to make plays in front of him and in pass coverage. With Louisiana Tech, Clemson and UNC as primary spread teams on the schedule — and just about every other team using some elements of the offense — Green’s value in the middle is doubled.

Key stat: 33

That’s how many turnovers N.C. State had last season, the most in the ACC. By comparison, NIU had 18 turnovers in 13 games under Doeren.

The schedule

SaturdayLa. Tech12:30 p.m.
Sept. 7Richmond6 p.m.
Sept. 19Clemson7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28Central MichiganTBA
Oct. 5Wake ForestTBA
Oct. 12SyracuseTBA
Oct. 26Florida StateTBA
Nov. 2North CarolinaTBA
Nov. 9DukeTBA
Nov. 16Boston CollegeTBA
Nov. 23East CarolinaTBA
Nov. 30MarylandTBA

Joe Giglio

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