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    Sizing up State and Tennessee
    Tobais Palmer
    Tobais Palmer

    Game 1: NC State Wolfpack vs. Tennessee Volunteers
    August 31, 2012 • 7:30 p.m. • ESPNU
    Atlanta, Ga. • Georgia Dome (71,959)

    TV: ESPNU | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
    Game Notes | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst

    The wait is finally over.

    Officially, NC State has waited 73 years to play Tennessee in football. The last time the schools squared off against each other, “Gone with the Wind” was a new release and The Great Depression was still gripping the United States economy.

    On September 29, 1939, Tennessee came to Raleigh and silenced a homecoming crowd of 13,000 by posting a 13-0 victory over State.

    And while current Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon hasn’t waited 73 years to face Tennessee, his eagerness to play this game has made the often tedious offseason seem longer than usual.

    “I think the entire offseason it gave us something to work towards,” said the Pack’s 6-6 redshirt senior. “It’s an SEC opponent, in the Georgia Dome in a national spotlight game. It’s the reason you play big-time college football. This whole offseason we had our minds set on that. It amps it up knowing we have a big named opponent from the get go.”

    Kick time for Friday’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta is 7:30.

    Glennon’s coach, Tom O’Brien, refers to Tennessee as a “brand name in college football,” citing the great players and winning tradition that have made Knoxville a hotbed for college football.

    But when he replaced Lane Kiffin almost three years ago, coach Derek Dooley inherited a big orange mess that was in desperate need of repair. The rebuilding project has been more arduous than impatient Tennessee fans would like, but many of the issues have been beyond Dooley’s control. A year ago, quarterback Tyler Bray was off to blistering pace before fracturing his throwing thumb in a week five game against Georgia.  With Bray under center, the Volunteers averaged 38 points in their first four games. But following the injury, UT would manage only 10 points per contest over its next six games.

    The end result was a 5-7 record, including a 1-7 mark in the powerful SEC.



    And things have continued to be a bit rocky in Rocky Top this preseason with the announcement a few weeks ago that all conference receiver Da’Rick Rogers had been given the boot for “breaking team rules.”

    Having since admitted that he failed a drug test, Rogers, a former five-star recruit, has decided to transfer to Tennessee Tech.

    “The one thing I’ll never do is apologize for trying to help, shape, develop and change the behavior of young people, because for every one that you don’t get a hold of, you see 10 to 15 over time that you do. I don’t think it’s any different from parenting. It’s a tough thing. Inevitably, things happen when you can’t go on.”

    Dooley’s disciplined approach may not actually stem from a relationship with O’Brien, but the two coaches do know each other very well. Dooley was a receiver and O’Brien the offensive line coach on Virginia’s 1989 ACC Championship team.

    Given the fact that he caught 67 passes for more than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns, the loss of Rogers is significant, but not necessarily devastating. At the beginning of last season, Justin Hunter was considered to be Bray’s top ‘go-to guy,’ but that was before Hunter tore an ACL and missed the last 11 games of the season. Now a 6-4 junior, Hunter is back and projected as one of the top pass-catchers in the conference. In Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee has also added one of the nation’s most sought after junior college prospects to its receiving corps.

    “They still have good skill people,” Wolfpack defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. “Hunter could potentially be an All-American depending upon how his knee is and the junior college kid Patterson is a big guy. They’re not going to change what they do. Tennessee has always been known for skill people and they want to throw the football. We anticipate that they’ll try to run it early and then try to throw it deep. We have to limit their big plays.”

    It could make for an interesting evening under the roof with Bray and his tall, lanky, speedy receivers trying to get open against an NC State secondary that figures to be one of the nation’s best units this fall. Everyone is back, including junior All-America corner David Amerson who set an ACC record with 13 interceptions last season. As a team, the Pack led all of college football with 27 picks.

    “This is probably one of the best secondaries we’ll face,” Dooley said. “You have a first-rounder and probably three or four draft guys back there. They make you pay for an inaccurate throw and they make you pay for a mistake. They set you up and then make a play on balls that most people can’t.”

    If there’s a big opening night mystery for NC State, it will be the Tennessee defense. During the offseason, Dooley went out and brought in a brand new defensive staff, led by new coordinator Sal Sunseri, who joins the Vols after spending the last three years as assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama. The Tide has successfully employed an attacking 3-4 defensive scheme that led to a pair of national titles in 2009 and last year. Tennessee will also be switching to a 3-4 look, but it remains to be seen how quickly their players will adjust.

    “You take the background that their coaches come from, you put it together and you try to find common threads,” State offensive coordinator Dana Bible said when asked about the challenge of preparing for a new defensive staff. “The reason most of the time that a staff comes together is because they come from some backgrounds that might be similar. We approach it that way and try to cover our bases.”

    Bible will expect even more out of Glennon, who, as a first-year starter, passed for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Glennon’s receivers have come under some scrutiny and figure to be a question mark until they can prove otherwise. Along with veterans Tobais Palmer and Quintin Payton, the Pack will need production from redshirt freshmen Maurice Morgan and Hakeem Flowers, along with true freshman Charlie Hegedus. Junior Rashard Smith, who bounced between offense and defense last season, will be a full-time receiver this year.  Redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood is a deep threat who is recovering from preseason knee surgery. O’Brien says Underwood’s availability for Friday will be “a game day decision.”

    “I think we have a lot of playmakers out there,” Glennon said. “We have some guys that have played a little and some guys who haven’t played at all. From what I’ve seen, we’re going to be just as strong as we’ve been in the past. I see them every day in practice and I feel very comfortable with them.”

    NC State has dropped three of its five openers under O’Brien, one reason the Pack desperately wants to get off to a quick start with an impressive victory over an SEC school on Friday.

    “It would be a great start,” said redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy, State’s starter at tailback. “We want to win the ACC Championship of course, but we’ve got to start with one game at a time. Right now that one game is against Tennessee. If we beat them, we’ll have a lot of momentum.”

    A BIG Show From the Dome:

    The Wolfpack Sports Network will offer enhanced pregame coverage of NC State football this season. Programming begins two hours before kickoff with the Mathews Motors countdown to Kickoff at 5:30 on Friday night. The on-site broadcast crew takes over at 6:30. Once again this season, longtime color analyst and former Pack All-American Johnny Evans will be taking questions from fans via Twitter and email. To send Johnny and the rest of the crew questions before and during the game, go to Twitter/@packradio.

    To submit questions via email, go here.

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