NC State Beat: The Pack’s Keys to Victory

They have only played each other three times, ever. And it has been 73 years since they last went to battle on the gridiron. Nevertheless, NC State and Tennessee will both enter Friday night’s game with something to prove.

In Tennessee’s case, they were once a storied program that has recently fallen down the SEC hierarchy.

As far as NC State goes, they are looking to break through in the ACC. After multiple years as a middle of the road program, the Wolfpack are looking to take the next step. Their hope is that this game against Tennessee can serve as a spring board, propelling them into what could be a run at a spot in the ACC Championship game.

Heading into Friday, the Wolfpack are a confident bunch. The coaches, players, and fans firmly believe that State can give the Volunteers a run for their money. Obviously, others don’t see it that way.

Currently, NC State is listed as a 3-1/2 point underdog to Tennessee. The same Tennessee that has not won a game in the Georgia Dome since 1998, losing six straight. The same Tennessee who is 11-13 under head coach Derek Dooley, while NC State has gone 17-9 over the same amount of time.

The skepticism of those outside of NC State is understandable. Tennessee plays in the mighty SEC, which many think has a monopoly on college football. And those thoughts have been rightfully earned, by SEC teams not named Tennessee. Simply because a team plays against teams like Alabama and LSU, does not mean that they too are “unbeatable”.

Getting a win against the Volunteers will take some doing from the Wolfpack. As is the case in most every football game, two or three plays will make the difference. But there are a few things that NC State can do to put themselves in the position to capitalize on the few opportunities that this game will present.

NC STATE’S KEYS TO THE GAME:

1)      Defensive line play

NC State has a ton of depth on the defensive line. Against Tennessee, the Pack will play at least 10 different defensive lineman, all of which are greatly underrated. As a redshirt freshman, defensive end Art Norman led the Pack with 7 sacks, and had twice as many quarterback pressures as any other State player. Though he will not start, Norman will be counted upon in passing situations to make Tennessee QB Tyler Bray as uncomfortable as possible, hopefully putting Bray on his back more than a few times.

Making Tyler Bray’s job incredibly difficult is the second most important job the Pack defensive line will have down in Atlanta. The most important purpose the big guys up front will serve is masking the inexperience at linebacker. It is no secret that NC State has to replace all three linebackers from a year ago. Experience is not a premium for the Pack at linebacker, but that position is the easiest on the football field to mask as long as the defensive line does their job. If the Pack defensive line can get a push up front and keep blockers off the linebackers, Tennessee will have a difficult time getting anything going offensively.

2)      Ground and pound

Many will put State’s offensive success squarely on the shoulders of QB Mike Glennon. And while Glennon is very capable of carrying the load for the Pack, as he showed down the stretch last season, the key to State’s offense against Tennessee will be the run game.

The last time NC State had a 1,000 yard rusher was 2002. Yes, that means Tom O’Brien has never coached a 1,000 yard rusher at NC State. With an offensive line that returns four starters, the Pack has to have a solid running game. State will more than likely not have a 1,000 yard rusher again this season, as there is a stable of quality running backs, but the Pack have to be able to run the ball effectively when necessary.

Against a team like Tennessee, who is in the process of switching to a 3-4, an efficient running game will be essential to the success NC State has Friday night. Mike Glennon’s talent is not a secret. Mixing things up with a good, solid running game will be huge for the Pack.

3)      Pack secondary must play within themselves

NC State has one of the most talented secondaries in the entire nation, led by All-American corner David Amerson. They are big, fast, and athletic. The State secondary is feared by most every team they play, and causes offensive coordinators more than a few sleepless nights. And how could they not, after accounting for 21 of NC State’s FBS-leading 27 interceptions last season?

Tennessee comes into this game with a very good passing attack, and they will look to challenge the Pack secondary. However, the key for the secondary is not to completely shut down the Volunteer passing attack, because they are ultimately going to get theirs.

The main goal for State’s secondary has to be to do their job and play within themselves. They cannot afford to get greedy, frustrated, or try to do too much. The Pack’s secondary had success last season because they played as a cohesive unit, and they must carry that over into this season.

4)      Open up the playbook, TOB

During the Tom O’Brien era, NC State has been plagued with slow starts. I firmly believe that is because TOB refuses to show his hand prior to “meaningful” conference games.

We are talking about a guy who will only release an injury report prior to conference games, and refuses to even speak on the extent of a player’s injury unless he has to. No one in college football keeps their hand closer to the chest than O’Brien.

Over the past few years, it has been obvious that O’Brien has only used a small portion of the playbook in non-conference games. Take last year’s opener against Liberty for example. Blitz packages were nonexistent, and there was absolutely nothing beyond basic plays called on offense. If NC State plans to even compete with Tennessee, the playbooks have to be open and chances have to be taken. According to O’Brien, this is his deepest and most talented team at State. If that is indeed the case, TOB has to trust the players, and play to win. Not play not to lose.

A win Friday night against Tennessee in the Georgia Dome will not be easy. But it can, and should be done. All NC State has to do is follow these simple keys to victory. Obviously, that is easier said than done. However, as I have said before, the time is now for the Pack. It is put up or shut up time. Nothing makes a statement quite like opening the season with a win over an SEC school, even if that SEC school is currently one of their lower-level teams.


NC State blogger Spencer HardisonSpencer Hardison has been writing about NC State athletics for over a year for various web sites, and has been talking about and passionately pulling for the Pack since the day he was born. He lives by the idea that numbers never lie, and firmly believes that defense wins championships. Spencer is one of the more opinionated and passionate people you will ever meet. Basically, he’ll argue with a wall, if said wall doesn’t agree with him. All in all, Spencer loves to be opinionated, make bold statements, and prove to everyone that he is right and they are wrong. Oh, and Taylor Swift has written three songs about him.  You can find Spencer on Twitter at @SpencerHardison.

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