To preview this weekend's game between the Eagles and Wolfpack, we welcome back to the blog Akula Wolf of the excellent SB Nation N.C. State blog Backing The Pack. In exchange, we answered some questions on the Eagles and the demise of the mustache over on their site. Go and check 'em out.
BC Interruption: After performing fairly well against the run through the first four weeks of the season, last week the N.C. State defense was gashed by Darren Evans and Tyrod Taylor to the tune of 317 rushing yards (8.6 yards per carry). Last year, BC's Montel Harris rushed for a school record 264 yards and 5 TDs against the Wolfpack defense (9.8 yards per carry). Has the Wolfpack rush defense improved year over year? Or are the same problems that BC's rushing offense exposed a year ago still present with this Wolfpack D?
Backing The Pack: I think it's better this year, although it's still a bit early to tell for certain. The Virginia Tech game was very discouraging, a disaster without question, but really the only time this season the defense looked as bad as it was last year for an extended period of time. Central Florida and Cincinnati were held to less than 100 yards rushing, and while Georgia Tech got their yards like they always do, I thought we did a fine job against those guys, particularly in the first half.
So for now the Virginia Tech game stands as an aberration. We'll see. I don't expect that Montel Harris will average nearly ten yards per carry again. (Not the boldest of predictions.)
BCI: Russell Wilson, 2010 -- improving or regressing?
BTP: He's been a little more inconsistent than we'd like, but I wouldn't call it regression. His passer rating, completion percentage, and yds/attempt are down a bit from 2009, but not substantially. His INT% is better, he's thrown for 300+ yards in four of five games, and he continues to make the plays we're accustomed to.
BCI: BC's Mark Herzlich's return seemed to overshadow another amazing comeback story in the ACC -- that of linebacker Nate Irving. How has Irving performed this year? Who are some other Wolfpack defenders names that we'll hear called often on Saturday?
BTP: He got off to a slow start, had just ten tackles combined in the first three games, which is completely understandable. He's been outstanding the last two weeks, much more like his old self: 16 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks against Georgia Tech; 13 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack against Virginia Tech. In addition to getting reaccustomed to contact and the speed of the game, he's also had to adjust to a new position (the coaches moved him to middle linebacker).
You'll also want to keep an eye on the other linebackers, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning. Our LBs are the team's top three tacklers and have accounted for 10 of the Pack's 18 sacks this season. We've become more aggressive defensively, and those guys have been a big part of the success we've had to this point.
BCI: What does the annual BC-NC State game mean for Wolfpack fans? Do you think this game means more to BC fans (getting spurned by TOB) or NC State fans (TOB proving he can beat the program he helped build)?
It means less to me now than it did at first. I think simply through the passage of time the game has lost some of its urgency; I'm mostly past the "we'll show you what a mistake you made" sentiment that pervaded the first meeting between TOB and his old team. That said, while I don't have a feel for how BC fans treat this game, I'd imagine it means more to NC State fans because we're winless against the Eagles since TOB got here. Surely BC fans have had enough chuckles at our expense by now. There's still a part of me that's bothered by the winless streak.
BCI: Who do you think wants this game more -- Tom O'Brien or Gene DeFilippo / Frank Spaziani?
BTP: Getting back to the last question, it's gotta be TOB, right? If DeFilippo doesn't feel vindicated by now, I don't know how many wins it would take.
BCI: How have expectations changed down in Raleigh after the Wolfpack's fast start? Has the expectation now become "Beat Florida State and we can win the Atlantic Division?" or are expectations not that high yet?
BTP: Division title talk sounds a lot more reasonable lately than it did prior to the season, that's for sure. The way we're playing, I think can compete for the division and win any game on the schedule, but Virginia Tech reminded us that we aren't quite on the level talent-wise. In terms of wins and losses, I think folks see a 7-8 win team, which definitely is an upgrade over the 5-6 win team many of us expected to see.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Is this the first year that O'Brien knocks off his old mates? Who ya got in this one? What's the final score?
BTP: I never feel about this game, but it's the best opportunity we've had in a while. I do think NC State should win. In the interest of avoiding a jinx, though: Magical Spaz Stache 24, NC State 17.
BCI: Loving the prediction. Thanks for joining us!