With these five points the Bearcats lock up the world. Or perhaps just a Football game.
This contest has taken on a bigger meaning than anyone ever intended. Not so much for N.C. State, the importance of this game is purely in relation to this season. The outcome of this game isn't going to have any long running implications. They will still wake up a member of the conference they helped charter. For UC on the other hand this game comes at a crucial time. The Big East is crumbling and isn't long for this world. The fall out from the inevitable collapse could very well leave UC searching again for a new conference home, for the third time in 15 years. Will the outcome of tonight's game have any impact on where and when the dominoes start to fall? Probably not. But an opportunity for UC to put its best collective foot forward on a national stage is something that should be seized with gusto in this time of existential crisis. Enough macro talk, here are the five things that I am going to be watching tonight.
Going into the season the strength of the defense was supposed to be the defensive line which is bigger, deeper and more experienced than it was a year ago. Three games in looking at the stats that are affected most by the DLine the stats aren't great. 52nd in Sacks, 29th in Tackles For Loss, 56th in Rushing Yards Allowed, and 56th in Yards Per Carry. Those numbers in totality are average. Even worse UC has allowed 100 yard rushers in back to back games for the first time since 2005 when Pat White, Steve Slaton, Andre Hall and Ray Rice all topped the century mark in the final three games of that 2005 season.
When you watch the games the problem isn't so much with the DL, but with the Linebackers. No line this season has been able to block Derek Wolfe or John Hughes so teams can't run inside. What you see backs do against UC is bounce everything outside where the run fits from the OLB's and safeties have been less than stellar this year. This isn't the problem UC had in 2009 where the defense was just overwhelmed at the point of attack. Wolfe and Hughes are doing great at the point of attack. But the DE's and linebackers aren't doing a good job cleaning things up when the backs bounce runs. This would be a bigger issue if Mustafa Greene were healthy, but if Curtis Underwood and James Washington are able to grind something out on the ground it will bring the play action passing game to the table which could be an issue with 26.
The Akron game brought out something in the UC defensive backs that I had not seen since the 2008 year. DB's attacking the ball. One would hope that Tim Banks has realized that this is how these guys need to play. The Bearcats can't sit back in cover 2 and cover 3 shells and make offenses methodically move the ball down the field. That requires precision and exacting execution. So long as the staff insists on playing 26 in such a prominent role they can never count on that happening. The only solution is to go balls out and attack this offense. The match up between T.J. Graham and Tobias Palmer and Camerron Cheatham, Dominique Battle and/or Deven Drane should be pretty even, but UC must be aggressive with the scheme tonight.
This is the kind of game that Isaiah Pead should explode in. Pead has always played his best on the biggest stage. State is a team that likes to bring pressure and blitzes from odd angles and they are a well coached unit. But with the way that they attack and the depleted defensive line and line backing core they bring to Nippert there will be gaps up front that Pead can and will exploit.
The Wolfpack aren't good at stopping the pass. OK they are dreadful at stopping the pass. They give up yards in bunches through the air. But they are an opportunistic lot as their 7 interceptions is third nationally. In their only matchup against an FBS team against Wake Forest three different Deacons went over 90 yards receiving. State's corners aren't great so D.J. Woods and Kenbrell Thompkins should be in for big evenings.
The Offensive Line
But not for the reason you think. I have been called quite a few names this week for my assertion that the offensive line is giving up too much information pre snap. Mostly by people who don't pay attention to offensive line play in the course of regular football viewing. I stand by my assertion, but as I said in the comments knowing what's coming for a defense is just half the battle because knowing that Isaiah Pead is going to be running doesn't really mean that you can stop him. The concern this week will be how they hold up against States assortment of fire zone blitzes. Last year they didn't handle it particularly well. If they can give Collaros and Pead time good things will happen because this defense isn't good. But the front has to hold up against the pressure.