Game number seven, Behind Enemy Lines number six. This time we turn to Akula Wolf, head man over at the consistently-awesome Backing the Pack, likely Debbie Yow's new favorite blog. (If anyone recalls, she did an interview with us back in the day.) Akula was kind enough to trade some questions with us, talking changing (or not really changing) expectations, how Mike Glennon's looked as a senior, and of course giving us a prediction from a State point of view.
And no, no questions on basketball recruiting or Debbie Yow. Which are probably the most pressing concerns of the fanbase in this matchup, but tough. Cue Turgeon gif.
Head over to BTP to read our own answers to their questions, but before that, read on:
TT: N.C. State had a solid, if somewhat unspectacular, start to the year, but then you go and knock off Florida State two weeks ago. I don't think I'm being negative when I say that, heading into the game, there wasn't a lot of reason to believe State could pull that off. But pull it off they did. How'd they do it?
BTP: Some of it was simply poor execution on Florida State's part. The Seminoles missed a few opportunities to really lock that game down in the first half, and then they seemed to play things very safe in the second half. They only got 16 points on six trips inside the Wolfpack 40 yard line.
NC State's defense was very good over the final 30 minutes, though, and I'm still amazed they were able to shut out that offense over the final two quarters. Offensively, Dana Bible found some matchups on short crossing routes that worked in our favor and final helped us start sustaining drives. And of course there was luck involved--tough to convert three fourth downs on a single drive without a little good fortune.
TT: And piggybacking off that: how does that win change your expectations for the year? Is that the type of performance they can expect to replicate with some degree of consistency? (Similarly, any fear of a letdown coming on Saturday, after a big win and looking ahead to UNC?)
BSP: It really doesn't alter expectations, at least for me, but it does inject some life into the season. I mean, before that game it felt like this team had zero shot at a potential division title, and now at least we can dream. I wish I could say I expect that sort of performance every week from here on, but that's not realistic for this team. They'll have a letdown somewhere, and a road game against a division foe is always a good guess as to when and where.
If they lay an egg in College Park because they're looking ahead to UNC, then they haven't learned anything from past mistakes. That would be disappointing, though not surprising. As Tom O'Brien said recently, this team seems to have an easier time dealing with adversity than with success.
TT: David Amerson is a star in the secondary, and the Wolfpack seem to be doing a good enough job getting pressure on the QB (second in the conference in sacks). And yet the defense has gotten torched through the air, dead last in the ACC in passing defense and 117th nationally in yards/attempt. What's going on?
BTP: Just a lot of breakdowns in the Tennessee and Miami games that led to big plays through the air. And much of it was on David Amerson, who I think had been trying to do too much. I think he was trying too often to bait opposing quarterbacks, trusting that he could recover and make a play, and he kinda tossed fundamentals out the window. The result was a lot of easy deep throws for opponents, including that inexplicable long TD allowed to Miami in the final 30 seconds which gave the Hurricanes the victory.
On the plus side, they looked much better as a group in the Florida State game. The coaches needed to get Amerson re-focused on his actual assignments, and I'm hopeful that this is a sign they've done that. Given the plays that Stefon Diggs can make, if State's secondary has a lapse, it's probably going to hurt a lot.
TT: Mike Glennon came into the year with some quiet hype, but struggled mightily in the opener against Tennessee. He's bounced back well since then, though, with some strong performances in the middle of the year. State seems to rely on him quite a bit - 13th nationally in attempts/game - so he's a hugely important cog in that offense. How are you feeling about your QB halfway through the year, and how could Maryland knock him off his game?
BTP: Well, considering that he once again has no run support to speak of, I think he's been good. That first game was rough to be sure--he made one really poor decision that resulted in an INT--but since then he's been pretty much what I expected. His second half performance against FSU was his finest of the year, and there is no doubt that we will have to continue to rely heavily on him to win games for us.
I don't know if there is any recipe in particular for getting Glennon off his game, other than the usual stuff that bothers all QBs. It obviously would help a lot if Maryland's front four had a good game, and against our offensive line, they're certainly capable of that.
TT: We know guys like Glennon, Amerson, apparent touchdown machine Bryan Underwood and leading rusher Tony Creecy. Who are two guys we may not know about, one on either side of the ball, who'll have an impact come Saturday?
BTP: Safety Earl Wolff doesn't get a lot of attention playing with David Amerson, but Wolff has been very good for us in the secondary for a long time. He could definitely make a play on a throw and take it the other way if Hills is not careful. Dontae Johnson has been solid for the secondary as well.
And while Underwood has been Mr. Fireworks, it's Quintin Payton who leads the team in receptions and receiving yards--he's on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Payton is the only major receiving target Glennon has with good size, and he has also shown off some incredible hands this year. Additionally, Tobais Palmer hasn't gotten off to the start I expected, but he's fully capable of making big plays through the passing game or the return game.
TT: Last one: who do you think comes out on top of Yow Bowl III? (Hey, I almost made it through the whole thing without mentioning her, give me some credit.)
BSP: Tom O'Brien is 0-13 on the road against Atlantic Division teams, so I gotta think we're due. Just kidding, no we aren't. Maryland by three.