Wolfpack Looks to Limit Big Plays against Central Michigan
Game 6: NC State (2-3) vs. Central Michigan (2-3)
If NC State (2-3) is to ultimately turn its season around and stay in the postseason bowl picture, it will need a winning performance in the final non-conference game of the season against Central Michigan (2-3) on Saturday. Game time at Carter-Finley Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. Wolfpack Sports Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m.
“We’re looking at this as a great opportunity to get Central Michigan this weekend and then we get next weekend off,” said NC State tailback James Washington, who tallied a career-high 131 yards rushing in last Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech. “Hopefully we can get some of the other players back from injury, and that should boost our team even more.”
At this point, the struggling Wolfpack is looking for any ray of sunshine that may be available. Decimated by injuries to its defensive front through the first five games, the Pack does expect a number of key players to start returning to the fold soon, if not this weekend, then after next week’s open date. Following the bye, State will play six consecutive ACC games, starting with an October 22nd visit to Virginia.
“Everyone knows that when we start getting some guys back, we’re going to be a good football team,” said senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy, who returned to action last week after missing four games with a broken foot. “We’re starting over now. What’s happened has happened and we can’t fix that. All we can do now is build and strive to be great from here on out.”
In order to be better on defense from here on out, the Wolfpack will have to do a better job of limiting big plays, something that has certainly been an issue though the first five games. Although it held Georgia Tech 200 yards below its average last weekend, NC State did surrender six plays of 20 yards or more, five of which led directly to Tech scores. In another conference loss to Wake Forest in week two, the Wolfpack yielded four plays of 20 or more yards in the first half alone.
“When we talk about playing Wolfpack football, we preach not giving up long runs and long passes, and make them work to get down the field,” said State head coach Tom O’Brien. “If you don’t give up long runs and don’t give up long passes, sooner or later most offenses will self-destruct. It’s something we accomplished last year, but haven’t been able to get done this year.”
As fate would have it, the team NC State will be hosting on Saturday has plenty of big-play potential. In its wild 48-41 victory over Northern Illinois last week, Central Michigan had scoring plays that covered 79, 43, 46 and 61 yards, respectively. And the Chippewas made the fireworks happen with a variety of plays, including screens, draws, deep throws and even a ‘fumblerooski.’
Once the dust had cleared, Central Michigan filled the stat sheet with 563 total yards as quarterback Ryan Radcliffe threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
“He had some very good moments,” CMU head coach Dan Enos said. “We thought he played his best game of the year to date. He made a lot of the routine plays that he needs to make and then he really made some big plays that helped us. He was very accurate, but he can still play better.”
Tailback Paris Cotton could also present some problems for the Pack. A shifty 5-9 fireplug, Cotton combined for 225 all-purpose yards with 110 yards rushing and 115 yards receiving.
A former quarterback and assistant coach at Michigan State, Enos believes in an offensive philosophy that comes straight out of the Big Ten stereotype…..but with a few wrinkles mixed in.
“We’re going to play a Big-Ten style power football team,” O’Brien said. “There’s a lot of two tight end looks with play-action passes. We’re definitely going to have to stop the run.”
Speaking of power football and the running game, NC State’s slumbering ground game came out of its early season hibernation last week, producing nearly 200 yards against the Yellow Jackets. Running with a renewed determination, Washington was energized and productive running behind a more aggressive, physical offensive line.
“I would say they were a lot better,” Washington responded when asked about the offensive front. “They were able to open up some holes, push the defensive line back and move up to the next level. That made it possible for me to make long runs and add on some rushing yards.”
State’s renewed rushing attack could tempt Central Michigan to consider bringing a safety up and playing with eight in the box, a strategy that would give Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon the opportunity to throw the ball deeper downfield more often.
“They’re going to have eight or nine guys in the box to make it tough to run the football, that’s just the way the defense is structured,” O’Brien said. “It gives you some more opportunities that we’ll have to take advantage of if that’s the way they’re going to play us.”
Without the assist of a strong running game in four of five outings, Glennon, a first-year starter, has been putting up good numbers. Along with completing 66 percent of his throws, the redshirt junior is second in the ACC in touchdown passes with 12, while averaging 248 yards per game through the air.
His next step?
“We’ve got to start winning football games,” said O’Brien. “He’s done his part, now we’ve got to help him out with the rest. Because he’s a first-year starter there’s something that comes up every week that he learns from. The key is that he learns from his mistakes and moves on. I think he’s become more comfortable being a leader on the offense. I think the kids are looking up to him.”
Saturday’s game will mark the first ever meeting between NC State and Central Michigan.
By Tony Haynes