September 16, 2012

Keys to the game - revisited: South Alabama

NC State opened its home slate on Saturday night with a 31-7 victory over South Alabama. Quarterback Mike Glennon led the way with three touchdown passes, while the defense tallied seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Here are our keys to the game - revisited from the win.

Show your dominance

What we wrote: On paper, these two teams aren't even close. South Alabama didn't start their football team until 2009, then began their transition into the FBS in 2011 and have played just four games against FBS opponents.

The two squads played in the third game of the season last year, and the Wolfpack prevailed, 35-13. However, what most fans probably remember is NC State leading just 14-3 at halftime. They eventually pulled away after the break, but it would be more encouraging if the Pack make the difference on paper evident on the field from the first snap of the game this season.

The Pack must not play down to its level of competition, and should show their dominance in all three facets of the game. Last year, Kendall Houston finished with a game-best 117 rushing yards, so not letting that happen again will be something to watch from NC State's front seven, which allowed just 35 yards rushing last week.

What happened: It was the opposite scenario from last year's contest with the Jags. NC State got off to a great start and scored a touchdown on each of its first two possessions en route to a 28-0 lead at the break.

The Pack slowed down a little bit after the hot start, scoring just three points after intermission, but it was a pretty dominant effort from the Red and White, especially in the first half. USA could only score in the fourth quarter once State pulled some of their top defenders.

Put the opponents away

What we wrote: This point goes hand-in-hand with the next one, and it will be a recurring theme next week against the Citadel, but NC State should not allow their opponents to hang around and keep this game competitive.

Last week, they had their chances to put Connecticut away, but could not do so. Developing that killer instinct is always an important thing to have going into the conference slate, so it would be good for State to start working on that now. Gaining some confidence heading into conference play is also crucial, and what better way to do that than a big win?

What happened: Mission accomplished. NC State may not have dominated in the second half like they did in the first, but the final outcome was never in doubt. NC State handled their opponents and jumped out to an insurmountable 28-0 lead.

Get the young players experience

What we wrote: NC State has a senior-oriented squad, and even coach Tom O'Brien admitted in the preseason that he'd be surprised if junior cornerback David Amerson is back next year due to the NFL Draft, so it's important to allow some of the young guys to get game experience. This is State's first opportunity to do so, and getting a big lead will allow that to happen.

Of course, the thing that everybody wants to know is will true freshman quarterback Manny Stocker get some playing time or will the coaching staff try to preserve the backup quarterback's redshirt?

O'Brien sounded confident in the preseason that Stocker would get some snaps in games, but it will be something that bears watching in this one. Linebackers M.J. Salahuddin and junior college transfer Robert Caldwell are other ones to watch and see if they get on the playing field. Salahuddin has logged six special teams snaps, while Caldwell has played 15 - neither has played on defense, though.

What happened: If State could have mustered more than three points in the third quarter, they could have put the young back-ups in earlier, but youngsters did get their chance in the final frame.

Stocker played but was sacked on his lone pass attempt, the second offensive line played for the first time this year and some new defenders made their 2012 debut. Redshirt freshman safety Hakim Jones was the standout of the youngsters and finished with an impressive, highlight reel interception.

Stay healthy

What we wrote: The most important thing about a tune-up game like this - no offense to South Alabama - is staying healthy. O'Brien was confident about this team heading into the season, but always adds the caveat that they have to stay healthy. That's especially true in a game like this.

What happened: Again, mission accomplished. Safety Earl Wolff was a gametime decision, but played and appeared to come out of the game full strength. The tame did a good job staying healthy, as far as we know.

Matchups to watch

What we wrote: NC State's front vs. USA's offensive line: The Wolfpack front seven answered the bell last week in a huge way, and they bottled up 1,000-yard rusher Lyle McCombs of Connecticut. All indications are that USA likes to attack via the air, but the Jaguars' Kendall Houston did rush for 117 yards last season.

What happened: Advantage, NC State. USA was limited to 51 yards rushing on 23 carries and the front seven put up a pretty impressive performance for the second-straight week. They finished with six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

What we wrote: NC State's run game vs. USA's front seven: O'Brien mentioned earlier this week that he doesn't expect to utilize three running backs all year. Now is the time for one of the rushers to separate himself from the pack and help the run game set up the passing game for Mike Glennon and company.

South Alabama's strong point on defense is its linebackers, so it will be interesting to see how NC State is able to run the ball against the USA defense.

What happened: NC State took an unexpected hit when starting running back Mustafa Greene was suspended before the game, but they still rushed for 127 yards. The better news was that the top two available backs - Tony Creecy and James Washington - each averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry. Creecy finished with 96 all-purpose yards, including 68 on the ground.

Stats to watch

What we wrote: 3: Interceptions tallied last week by the NC State defense. If South Alabama is intent on moving the ball through the air, it will be interesting to see how the Pack's defense performs against that offense.

What happened: NC State forced a pair of interceptions, and most of USA's 263 passing yards came late in the game.

What we wrote: 15.5: The Pack has averaged 15.5 points per game in its first two contests of the year. Expect that number to take a jump on Saturday.

What happened: NC State eclipsed its point total of either of the first two games in the first half, when it scored its fourth touchdown to take a 28-0 lead. The offense was efficient and effective, even if it didn't put up eye-popping numbers.

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