Posted: 2:02 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, 2013
By Omega Wolf
Yesterday Akula noted the atrocity that is the N.C. State yards per play numbers in conference play, but putting those numbers in context shows that this season's putrid ACC play is not so different than every year in ACC play for recent vintages of Pack football team-like substances. Not since the last year of his Russellness have the Pack even come close to playing even up on a per-down basis against league foes.
Offensive YPP vs. ACC
Defensive YPP vs. ACC
With a soft schedule including eight home game and only two trips out of state, it was easy to get excited about this team's chances to--on the surface anyway--forestall the decline evidenced in the year-by-year records above. With this schedule, the team could seem better without actually being better. And when BTP ran its preseason how many wins poll, 93.2% of respondents predicted at least six regular season wins (with seven garnering the highest vote total at 37.7%).
Recent history shows a win bump after a regime change, adding further reason for optimism. Chuck Amato's first Pack squad improved to 8-4 after Mike O'Cain was dismissed after a 6-6 season. Tom O'Brien's first team improved from the Amato 3-9 dumpster fire to 5-7 and had a chance at bowl eligibility right up to the season's final Saturday.
Of course there were key differences in what Amato and O'Brien had to work with. Amato had Philip Rivers and Koren Robinson. O'Brien had five future NFL draftees on defense and a stable of talented running backs including Andrew Brown and Jamelle Eugene. Dave Doeren had...Pete Thomas.
In no way am I arguing that this season hasn't been a disappointment, but perhaps we should have seen it coming. For the first time in five years, there is no NFL-caliber quarterback to cover for the team's many ills. And even with five years of the advantage week in and week out at the most important position on the field, the Pack's best accomplishment under O'Brien was a nine-win season that culminated in a Champs Sports Bowl win and a final AP ranking of 25th. And that season--TOB's best season--will always be remembered more for what could have been after inexcusable losses to ECU and Maryland as well as the stop me before I punt again game at Clemson.
If N.C. State had been 3-9 last year, the Syracuse game may have looked like a moral victory. We fought hard, guys! We had a chance! Look what this new staff is doing! 3-3 would seem like progress. Replace Mike Glennon with Pete Thomas, and last year's team may well have finished 3-9. Imagine this year with TOB still at the helm (but only if you are not near any sharp objects). The fact that TOB and Dana Bible were invested in Thomas as The Answer at QB for the next two years is reason enough for their dismissal. O'Brien's N.C. State teams have basically all been .500 or worse units bolstered by superstar quarterbacks.
To their credit, the new staff recognized the lack of depth and talent at quarterback and addressed it with two intriguing transfers. Unfortunately, the handsomely-bearded Brandon Mitchell, like eight other starters, has been injured. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett can't play until next year. And next year will also see the addition of four-star, dual-threat QB Jalan McClendon. The future looks bright at the position, and the staff has dialed up a number of would-be big plays that Thomas simply hasn't executed. Conservatively add 200 to the season yardage total (give Underwood his touchdown run against Clemson and hit just two of the wide open guys beyond the defense, and you're about there), and this is a team moving at about six yards per play on the season.
Perhaps with Brissett next season, and McClendon down the line, those receivers 10 yards behind the defense are hauling in touchdowns rather than watching the ball sail 10 yards over their heads. And, if, upon his return, Mitchell can hit those big plays and add to the running game with his advantage over Thomas in athleticism, this year might turn out better than what seems logically possible at this low, low point.
Expecting Mitchell, given the team's many shortcomings, to play the role of savior is probably unfair. But it's not just Mitchell who should bolster the squad upon his return: Crisp, Cato-Bishop, Smith, Byrd...the list goes on and on, and, as much as the failed execution at quarterback, the injuries (and lack of depth after all the years of asleep at the wheel recruiting from TOB and staff) are responsible for the team not meeting what were likely overly lofty expectations to begin with. Expectations for this season obviously need to be revised at this point, but it may yet be too soon to start the old refrain, "Wait ‘til next year."
Don't ever give up, amiright?