Oct. 11, 2013
TV Listings | Thursday Football Notebook
Game 6: NC State Wolfpack vs. Syracuse Orange
October 12, 2013 • 3:30 p.m.
Raleigh, N.C. • Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: RSN/ESPN3 | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
RALEIGH, N.C. - When Syracuse last visited Carter-Finley Stadium in 1998, no one could have envisioned a day when a football game between the Orange and NC State would actually be called ‘a conference game.’
But that was long before the dominos of conference realignment led to a national chain reaction that prompted the mass defections of schools from their longtime conference homes.
Syracuse in the ACC? It’s a safe bet that the founding fathers of the league couldn’t have imagined such a scenario. But now, some 60 years after the Atlantic Coast Conference was born at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, we find Syracuse on Tobacco Road for a game that will count in the league standings.
For NC State (3-2, 0-2), the 3:30 p.m. contest will offer up an opportunity to reach the halfway point of its season with a 4-2 record. At 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the league, the Orange will be looking to make history by posting its first-ever ACC win.
“It’s exciting,” said NC State defense end Art Norman. “It will be our first time playing them in the conference. They’re different from some of the other teams we’ve played because they like to run the ball a lot. They’re more of a 50-50 team that runs the ball. I’m excited.”
Make that 55-45, the percentage of runs to passes thus far by the Syracuse offense. Even in last week’s lopsided 49-14 loss to No. 3 Clemson, the Orange managed to rush for 323 yards.
“You always give credit to the running backs, but up front, the offensive line played well,” said Syracuse coach Scott Shafer. “We had a lot of cut blocks and a lot of physicality against a real good defensive front. They hurt us at times but we also hurt them at times in the run game. I’ve been pleased with some of the things we’re doing; we just have to put it together.”
The NC State defense will likely get a steady diet of tailbacks Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. Smith, a powerful 226-pound junior, averages five yards per carry and already has eight touchdowns through five games. Against Clemson last week, he tallied 125 yards on 18 carries, a performance that included a 66-yard scoring run.
“When you play a team like that, the whole defensive line has to focus on keeping a low pad level,” Norman said. “Instead of them knocking us back, we need to knock them back and make plays in their backfield.”
So far this season, NC State has done just that. The Wolfpack currently ranks second in the ACC and 17th nationally in rush defense, giving up just 107.6 yards per game on the ground. State also ranks fifth nationally in tackles for loss with 44 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“They have very good tailbacks and they give them the ball a lot,” said Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren. “Scott Shafer is a very good friend and a guy I respect a lot. He gets his guys playing hard and physical football. You can see his personality in their team.”
At the quarterback position, Syracuse has turned the controls over to sophomore Terrel Hunt who struggled last week against Clemson after throwing four touchdown passes the week before against Tulane. Hunt was just 8-of-24 passing for 52 yards in the face of Clemson’s swarming defensive front.
Like Syracuse, NC State has used two different starting quarterbacks this season after Brandon Mitchell went down in week one with a broken foot. This week, Mitchell was able to shed the protective boot he was wearing since having surgery in early September. Following Thursday’s practice, Doeren said he was happy with Mitchell’s progress, but was non-committal about the signal caller’s availability for this weekend.
“We have to be careful and make sure we don’t bring him back too soon because if there is a re-fracture, he’s gone for the season,” Doeren said.
Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas, who has started four games in Mitchell’s absence, is orchestrating an offense that has been crippled by injuries over the first five weeks. Since the start of the season, the Wolfpack offense has been without seven different starters at one time or another.
The most recent casualty was leading receiver Rashard Smith, who left last week’s game at Wake Forest with what Doeren called a knee sprain. Smith, who is also one of the league best punt returners, is listed as questionable.
The Wolfpack is expected to welcome back freshman wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and rookie running back Matt Dayes for Saturday’s game. Valdes-Scantling has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, while Dayes is coming back from an ankle sprain.
And while NC State can’t control injuries, there is one thing Doeren believes his team can have better control over: untimely mistakes and penalties. After being flagged eight times in last week’s loss at Wake Forest, the Pack has been penalized 38 times for 306 yards, a figure that ranks 13th among 14 ACC teams.
“The bottom line is when you’re a beat-up football team like we are, you can’t go out there and have eight penalties that hurt us,” said Doeren. “That comes down to the players getting that off the tape. We’ve run them, we’ve conditioned them, we’ve talked about it and we’ve showed it to them. We need to eliminate the roughing the kicker penalties, off-sides and illegal formation type of things.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Doeren doesn’t expect to have Jarvis Byrd available this week after the senior safety injured a knee at Winston-Salem. With Byrd out, senior cornerback Dontae Johnson could see some action at safety in some of the Wolfpack’s defensive packages.
A win would send NC State into an open date with a 4-2 record, a mark that sounds a lot more promising than 3-3.
“This Saturday’s game is real important,” fullback Ryan Cheek said. “For the season, as a team and for the program, we can’t have two conference losses in a row, especially with this week’s game being at home. It’s a real big game for us.”
Long before their names reached household status in the NFL, Torry Holt and Donovan McNabb were the marquee stars the last two times NC State and Syracuse met in football. In what was the first ever overtime game involving an ACC team, Holt snagged a pass from Jamie Barnette on a stunning two-point conversion that lifted the Pack to a 32-31 victory over the 13th ranked Orange in 1997.
A year later, Barnette outdueled McNabb at Carter-Finley Stadium, completing 15-of-28 passes for 291 yards and three scores – including one to Holt – in a 38-17 victory over Syracuse team that was ranked 11th in the national polls.
The Wolfpack Sports Network kicks off its game coverage two hours before game time on Saturday with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff, broadcast from the Fan Zone at the South entrance of PNC Arena. In hour two of the pregame show, former NC State All-American Johnny Evans will entertain fans on Farm Bureau ‘Ask the Analyst.’ Questions to Johnny can be sent via Twitter @packradio or by email here.