NCSU 17, VPI 16
That was the most dominating performance by a Wolfpack defense that I've ever seen. Sure, we've handed it to some DI-AA teams over the years, but at no point in the Amato era have we given so much hell to a team as talented as Virginia Tech. The blitzes we ran on Saturday were amazingly effective ... it seemed that on most of the occasions when we brought 5-6 guys, they got through to Randall and forced a hurried decision. In some cases, Randall hung onto the football too long, and that cost him. You'd think VPI's staff could adjust to the things the Pack was doing, but the second half was not much different from the first. Tech never got comfortable with our defensive schemes, and they never seemed to find a blocking scheme that allowed Randall time to throw the football.
It's amazing how situations reverse from one year to the next. NC State couldn't stop anyone in 2003, but through three games this season State is #1 in the nation in total defense (and the sample size is getting bigger). How much of that is maturation and how much is coaching? I get the feeling that hiring a defensive coordinator has really paid off, and I don't think you can chalk such a significant improvement simply to more experience. The guys on defense were young in 2003, but they were pretty talented as well. They just didn't display good fundamentals most of the time. They missed a lot of tackles, and they didn't always take the best pursuit angles. State's defense should not have been that bad in 2003.
This year, the impact of Reggie Herring is evident not just in what the defense has accomplished to this point, but in how they've done it. As a team, State has drastically improved its ability to wrap up and tackle. That's the root of the improvement this year--take Randall, for instance. Normally scrambling QBs give our defense a lot of trouble (Reggie Ball, Woody Dantzler, even Darian Durant...), but Randall was very well contained. He escaped the pocket a few times; usually he found himself surrounded by Wolfpack defenders. And when those defenders got a hand on him, they finished the tackle. Broken tackles can really devastate you; thus far, the Wolfpack has done a great job of keeping screens/draws from turning into big gainers thanks to missed tackles.
Last year we had the talent, this year we've got the proper coaching to go with it. When you put those things together, well ... you've seen what happens.
So what of the quarterback situation? I'm extremely disappointed at the lack of production from Davis and Stone, but I'm trying to remain patient. OSU and VPI both have defenses that can make an experienced quarterback look bad and, again, it was just Davis' third career start. Something has to be done to improve the completion percentages of the QBs--Davis was 4-10, Stone just 2-7. I wonder why we are running less screens now than we did with Philip Rivers.
I did think Davis looked more comfortable even though he wasn't all that effective. The INT he threw wasn't particularly damaging, although State was driving at the time. He didn't see the safety, and that's understandable for a guy with such limited experience. The bootleg on the first play of the game was a beauty, as Davis found a wide open Richard Washington for twenty yards. His throws in general looked better, though he is still missing way too many open receivers. There is simply no excuse for a group of WRs with this much talent to be so insignificant. The Pack should not have trouble throwing in excess of 250 yards every week no matter who they're playing. The coaching staff absolutely must find a way to get Hall, Washington, Clark, etc. the ball down the field. Both QBs need to improve their field vision.
Despite the fact that Marcus Stone led the TD drives against Virginia Tech, I'm not sure I like him under center (yet). I understand that the coaches are playing both guys in the hopes that one will emerge as The Guy, but I think we'd be better off in the long run if they handed the keys to one QB, said "you're my starter no matter what," and stuck with him (if that's Stone, fine; but, right this instant, it should be Jay Davis). Both guys need every minute they can get. Confidence and rhythm are important for any QB, but moreso for ones with little or no experience.
If Jay Davis cannot improve on what he's done thus far, it might be time to hand the reigns to Marcus Stone for good. I'm behind Jay at this point, but he's a Junior, and he should be much better. It doesn't speak well for his development when he plays this poorly in his fourth year, experience or no experience. I'm looking for him to play well against Wake Forest next week--no INTs, solid completion percentage (55-60%). He deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point. One more bad performance, however, and I'll be taking a seat on the Stone bandwagon.