It is by far the most trite of coaching metaphors, that every game on the schedule is the most important one. That nothing is more important than the game at hand. But for UC this is one of the rare occasions where that is a correct sentiment. A loss here would mean that UC would be an overwhelming favorite to be 1-3 through the first four games, assuming a loss to Oklahoma, for the first time since 2006. Not the start to the Butch Jones era that anyone was expecting. On the other hand a win would mean a chance to split the opening four games of the year which, while not what most people were expecting from this brave new era, would be just fine in my book considering just how poorly the team played the last 40 minutes of the Fresno State game. With game time fast approaching here are some things that I am looking for.
- Zach Collaros running the Football. One of the first things that I have noticed watching the offense this year is that Collaros is very committed to standing in the pocket and trying to make plays that way. He has been urged by Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian to commit to the pocket, go through his progressions and make the throws. But that hasn't been working at all to date. Collaros's numbers to date aren't terrible, 349 yards, 60 per cent completions, 3 TD's, no INT's, but they are a far cry from his four game starting stint last year when he doused Louisville, Syracuse, UConn and WVU in gas and tossed a lit match. NC State is a very stout run defense, they are third in the ACC in the category, so the staples of this offense, the inside and outside zone are unlikely to work very much. I would expect to see a lot of zone read and speed option tonight. The pack struggled with a running QB last week when Jeff Godfrey came off the UCF bench in the third quarter to post around 50 yards rushing and two scores.
- Ben Guidugli in the passing game. This is probably wishful thinking on my part seeing how TE's managed to catch all of 28 balls total in three years of Butch Jones at Central Michigan. To give some context to just how few passes that is for a position group, Ben caught 27 last year all by his lonesome, and Kazeem Alli and Adrian Robinson added 10 and 12 respectively. But when facing a defense like NC States and prefers to stay in base personnel groups and has an aggressive blitz scheme the TE can be a great weapon, especially 19 who has great athletic ability.
- The Offensive Line. From this point forward just assume that this is something to watch for the rest of the year. It merits special mention tonight because NC State likes to blitz, a lot. That didn't really work out well for the O-Line in Fresno.
- DJ Woods to Bounce Back. Woods had a Hammer House of Horror's performance against Indiana State, a drop, two fumbles and he lost his footing on a slip and bubble screen, both of which were primed to be big gainers. He was great in the Fresno State game, so the Indiana State game will be viewed as an outlier.
- Derek Wolfe. Watching interior line play is the farthest thing from sexy imaginable, but big # 95 warrants the attention. He is the primary reason why UC has posted such strong numbers against the run, 10th in the nation to date, and he must continue to be a force in the middle of the defense to keep the Wolfpack offense off the rails.
- The Secondary. Most of the criticism heaped on the team in the wake of the Fresno disaster was directed at the offense, and not without reason. But the unit that let the Bulldogs back into the game was the secondary which allowed a couple of easy TD's with coverage busts in the back end. For me at least, part of that can be attributed to starting two corners, Cam Cheatham and Reuben Johnson, making their first collegiate starts with Dominque Battle nursing an injury from training camp. The secondary should be stabilized with Battle back starting. But that is still just and assumption.