Thursday Conversation with Backing the Pack

The boys over at Backing the Pack were nice enough to answer a few of our questions in anticipation of this weekend's football game with the NC State Wolfpack.  I encourage you to head over there and check out what they have going on regarding the Pack.  We also answered a few of their questions so those should be posted on BTP at some point in the near future.


STS:  Russell Wilson is obviously a very talented athlete. After watching the FSU game last week, I am almost as impressed with Wilson’s ability to run as his ability to pass the football. How big of a week to week threat is Wilson to run the football? Should we fear his ability to make plays with his arm or his legs more?

BTP:  He's really not the scrambler he appeared to be against Florida State. We hadn't seen runs like that in a while. Most of the time when he eludes pressure in the pocket, he does so in order to make a play with his arm; he's not a run-first kind of guy. He made some big plays with his feet in 2008 but also suffered a couple of serious injuries--his knee was torn up during a run in the bowl game that year. After that, the coaches put more emphasis on finding receivers rather than tucking and running, and those long runs have become less common. Sometimes he insists on throwing in situations where there's open field in front of him, which is frustrating.

Definitely worry more about his arm than his legs, and don't count on many (if any) designed quarterback runs.

 

STS:  After a nice run at Boston College, Tom O’Brien came to NC State almost four years ago. This is the first season in which he has been extremely successful at North Carolina State. What is the big difference in this team and teams over the past three or so seasons? How much of a factor have injuries played on this team’s success (or lack of) over the past few years?

 

BTP:  You hit on the big difference--injuries. We've dealt with a tidal wave of injuries over the last three years, and not just the minor variety, but long-term, potentially program-crippling injuries to key players. This season our two-deep has pretty much remained intact the entire time. There are a number of places where we do not have much depth, so good health has been critical.

And maybe that's why we were able to get off to a good start this season rather than dig ourselves into a hole. It helps that we completely turned our turnover margin around--that's always a key to a bounceback season. The defense, while still not good, has made some strides here and there.

Russell Wilson remains Russell Wilson, we're healthier than usual, the defense is better in certain areas, we've forced more turnovers, and the schedule turned out to be weaker than we thought. That about covers it.

STS:  Clemson’s offense really needs to establish the run to be effective. How difficult will it be for Clemson (with or without Ellington) to line up and run the football? Further, what are the strengths and weak points of the NC State defense?

BTP:  Probably not that difficult. I think the chances of a big day decreased quite a bit when Ellington went down--CJ Spiller routinely destroyed us, and Ellington is far too Spilleresque for my tastes. But, behind the offensive line you guys have, I think you'll get your yards. Whether it's enough to win the game, I don't know.

The defense's strong point is its linebackers. Nate Irving, Audie Cole, and Terrell Manning represent the best group Tom O'Brien has had since he came to NC State. Jon Tenuta joined the staff as the LB coach during the offseason and what we've seen is a defense that brings more pressure and looks to put those linebackers in a position to make a play.

The front four are solid but there are no game-changers there; we struggle to put pressure on the quarterback when we only rush four. The secondary is young and unreliable, but less so than in 2009.

 

STS:  On the flip side, do you expect NCST to be able to line up and run the football?

BTP:  As a general rule I assume we won't be able to run the football. Too many years of bad offensive lines. We've had a pretty consistent running game this season, though: steady production but no truly big games. Which is fine because that's all we need. This is a pass-first offense, the Florida State game excepted.

If I had to guess, I'd say the Pack runs for about 130 yards on 3.5ish per carry.

 

STS:  Mustafa Greene is your leading rusher. Is there anyone else in the backfield we should be concerned with headed into this football game?

BTP:  We've stuck with a committee approach all season: Dean Haynes starts the game at running back and trades series with Greene from there. Haynes, who like Greene is a freshman, suffered a concussion against Florida State and may not be able to play on Saturday. If that is the case, look for James Washington to assume Haynes's half of the carries; Washington has primarily been a third down back this season. Greene is the best of the bunch, though.

STS:  Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams have combined for 66 catches and nearly 1000 yards receiving on the year. Who is the better receiver between the two?

BTP:  That's a tough question because they're very different players and they serve different purposes. Williams is more of a "possession receiver," while Spencer is the deep threat. Williams is a bigger target--taller, thicker--and pretty good with jump balls, which makes him the bigger red zone threat. (He scored 11 TDs in 2009.)

Spencer has a knack for getting open down field but hasn't always been consistent. Last season he caught five passes or less in every game (not entirely his fault, of course); he either hit home runs or did nothing. Thankfully he's been much more involved this year, though the big TD plays have gone missing. His hands are a problem at times.

 

STS:  Who should Clemson worry about from the receiving corps having a big day and making huge plays for the Pack?

BTP:  Russell Wilson is spreading the ball around quite a bit this season, so you never really know. Williams and Spencer are the most likely candidates because they're targeted more often than anybody else, but both T.J. Graham (a speedy guy in the slot) and Darrell Davis (another big target in the mold of Williams) have had their moments. As far as big pass plays down field, you'll want to pay the most attention to Spencer and Graham.

STS:  I noticed that the early lines have Clemson favored by 2.5 points. With Ellington injured, Clemson reeling an embarrassing loss at Boston College, AND NC State coming off of a big win over division rival Florida State, why would Clemson be favored against a ranked NCST team?

BTP:  I think Vegas remains suspicious of the Wolfpack, and rightfully so. There's some smoke and mirrors involved in our 6-2 start, and Clemson has plenty of talent, even if it is poorly utilized. Maybe recent series history is a factor 
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