Thursday Football Notebook
Glennon Playing with Confidence
Game 9: NC State Wolfpack (5-3, 2-2) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (2-6, 0-4)
November 3, 2012 • 12:30 p.m. • ACC Network
Raleigh, N.C. • Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: ACC Network | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
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Old friends and classmates from years gone by will gather Saturday for NC State's annual homecoming game. The 12:30 p.m. match-up against Virginia (2-6, 0-4) at Carter-Finley Stadium will also be a welcome homecoming for a Wolfpack football team that hasn't played in its home venue for nearly a month.
When the ACC schedule makers were trying to mix and match earlier this year, a thankless job that will never satisfy every team in the conference, they produced a 2012 slate that left NC State with one home game and three road trips in the top half of its conference schedule.
But now comes the payback.
Starting with this weekend's clash against the Cavaliers, the Pack (5-3, 2-2) will enjoy home cooking three times in the last four weeks of the regular season.
"I'm ecstatic," said Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien. "We do have a home field advantage. Our fans are tremendous. They show up and give us great support. This is a tough place to play because they can make it very tough on the opposing team and we need their help."
Dating back to 2010, State has won 14 of its last 16 games at Carter-Finley with the last of those wins coming over Florida State back on October 6. By game time on Saturday, 28 days will have passed since the Wolfpack pulled a stunning comeback against the Seminoles, rallying from a 16-0 halftime deficit to win 17-16. The game against Virginia will be only the Wolfpack's fourth home game this season.
"I told the team that we've played the least number of home games of any team in the conference," O'Brien said. "We've been home only three times and here it is November. We just went through a stretch where we played four straight conference games with three of them on the road in tough situations."
Making matters even more stressful is the fact that all four of the Wolfpack's conference games have literally been decided in the last 30 seconds, including last week's seemingly devastating 43-35 loss at North Carolina, a game that turned on Giovani Bernard's 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining.
"I feel like our morale is pretty high," said senior linebacker Sterling Lucas. "Obviously we wanted to win because it was a big game and a big rivalry game. We don't want to allow that game to beat us in this next upcoming game. Everyone still has confidence in the team. We just have to make plays on both sides of the ball."
Lucas leads a defense that has been consistently inconsistent. The Wolfpack's performance last week in Chapel Hill was essentially a microcosm of the entire season. After giving up 25 first quarter points to the Tar Heels, the State defense proceeded to keep UNC off the scoreboard for 11 straight possessions before finally yielding a touchdown with just over 10 minutes left in the game.
In the three losses to Tennessee, Miami and North Carolina, State has given up an average of 23 points in the first quarter. For the entire season, the Wolfpack has allowed 83 points in the first quarter, compared to only 101 points in the other three quarters combined.
"There's a correlation with the three losses we do have where we have slow starts and that can't happen," Lucas said. "From a defensive standpoint, you never want to make the same mistake twice. Coaches harp on that all of the time."
O'Brien acknowledges that replacing the linebacker tandem of Audie Cole and Terrell Manning from last year along with tackles J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn has been a challenge. Cole, Manning, Sweezy and Kuhn, all of whom are now in the NFL, were more consistent than the younger players who have been trying to replace them this year.
"We don't have the consistency on defense that we had," O'Brien said. "Sometimes we're really good and sometimes we're really bad. We have to play our techniques and be more consistent. You just can't fall behind like that."
Fortunately, O'Brien has a quarterback who leads the ACC in passing. Producing an average of 368 yards passing in conference games, Mike Glennon has seemingly been unfazed by some of the huge early deficits he has run up against this season. Glennon endured an early 25-7 hole and several dropped passes last week to engineer 28 unanswered points to give NC State a 35-25 lead through three quarters. A redshirt senior, Glennon has 13 touchdown passes over his last four games. It would be an understatement to suggest that the 6-6 signal caller is playing the best football of his career.
"Last year as a first-time starter, I continued to build confidence while I was going into situations I'd never been in before. Now I think I've seen it all. Going into the latter half of your senior year, I think that's where you should be as a quarterback. I feel pretty confident in myself."
Virginia would like to rattle that confidence by getting some pressure on Glennon, but saying it and doing it are two different things entirely.
"I think most of the teams that go in playing NC State, the game plan is to get him off the spot," said second-year Virginia coach Mike London. "You don't want it to be like a seven on seven drill where he can just stay in the pocket and throw the ball. He's done a good job of standing on the spot and he's done a good job of moving out of the pocket. It's evident when you watch him play that being a fifth-year guy who has been in that system has done him well. He's definitely a major concern for us."
Glennon isn't London's only concern. The Cavaliers went into last weekend's bye on a virtual flat line with six straight losses. It would be logical to assume that London and his staff used the extra time to make some changes, some of which could conceivably be rather dramatic.
"We desperately need to win a game," London said. "We want to play and win a game and that's the priority for us. We're going to try to put people in places where they can help us win a game. That was the primary focus this past week."
Figuring out a way to win the turnover battle would be a good start for Virginia, which has an ACC-worst minus-16 turnover margin. On defense, the Cavaliers have just four takeaways, including only one interception in eight games.
The Cavaliers have used two quarterbacks - Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims - but neither player has been able to separate himself from the other and take over as the unquestioned leader of the offense. Tailback Kevin Parks is a dangerous weapon as both a runner (4.9 yards per carry) and pass catcher out of the backfield.
Not only would a rare quick start for NC State get the Carter-Finley crowd roaring, it could also shatter the fragile ego of a Virginia team that hasn't won a football game since the 8th of September.
"We're undefeated at home and we love playing in front of our home crowd," Glennon said. "We never want to lose at home and we feel we have a big home field advantage. We're excited to get back and play at home."
It will indeed be a homecoming on many levels.
The Wolfpack Sports Network will have a busy broadcast day on Saturday that will include radio coverage of the NC State-Virginia football game and the Wolfpack's exhibition basketball game against Belmont Abbey at PNC Arena. The pregame show for football begins with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff at 10:30 a.m. The continuous broadcast will then transition from football to basketball about 30 minutes after the football game ends.
Fans can submit questions to our broadcast crew all day via Twitter/packradio. Football analyst Johnny Evans will also field questions during the pregame show. To send Johnny a question, go here.
Catch the "Inside Wolfpack Sports" TV show for a preview of both games at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. "Inside Wolfpack Sports" airs on MASN, Fox Sports South and Gopack.com/All-Access.
Note: The Men's Basketball exhibition game against Blemont Abbey will be broadcast live in its entirety on the Wolfpack Sports Network following the football broadcast. Tip is scheduled for 30 minutes after the NCSU-UVA football game, admission is free at PNC Arena.