Sunday, September 26, 2004

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.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

And the AL MVP is...?

Barry Bonds makes the vote for the National League MVP an easy one every year, even when guys like Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen are having huge seasons. The AL, on the other hand, is a bit more up for grabs...

The contendahs:

Ichiro Suzuki: .374 BA/.416 OBP/.461 SLG
Manny Ramirez: .308/.399/.612
David Ortiz: .298/.374/.604
Vlad Guerrero: .329/.381/.569
Gary Sheffield: .294/.396/.548
Miguel Tejada: .308/.359/.523
Ivan Rodriguez: .337/.386/.514
Carlos Guillen: .318/.379/.542

Looking at the traditional numbers:

Ichiro: 8 HR, 56 RBI (leads the world in Hits)
Ramirez: 41 HR, 121 RBI (leads AL in HR)
Ortiz: 40 HR, 130 RBI
Guerrero: 33 HR, 115 RBI
Sheffield: 36 HR, 118 RBI
Tejada: 30 HR, 134 RBI (leads AL in RBI)
I. Rodriguez: 18 HR, 82 RBI
Guillen: 20 HR, 97 RBI

Ranked by OPS (OBP+SLG):

1) Ramirez: 1.011 (leads AL)
2) Ortiz: .978
3) Guerrero: .950
4) Sheffield: .944
5) Guillen: .921
6) I. Rodriguez: .900
7) Tejada: .881
8) Ichiro: .877

Ranked by Runs Created:

1) Ichiro: 127.4 (leads AL)
2) Ramirez: 121.5 (2nd AL)
3) Ortiz: 119.7 (3rd AL)
4) Guerrero: 119.4 (4th AL)
5) Sheffield: 115.7 (5th AL)
6) Tejada: 107.7
7) Guillen: 102.8
8) I. Rodriguez: 93.3

Ranked by Win Shares:

1) Sheffield: 29 (leads AL)
2) Ramirez/Tejada/Guillen: 24
5) Ichiro/Guerrero: 23
7) Ortiz: 20
8) I-Rod: 19

Ichiro takes a hit because his lack of power (and his place in the lineup) makes for unimpressive rate stats (HRs, Ribbies). His chase of George Sisler's hits record has earned him a lot of press, however, and there isn't any question he'll win the AL batting crown with that impressive batting average. I'm not sure he'll be able to garner enough votes to win.

Both of the BoSox mashers are having a hell of a year, and not only do they have it where it counts in the traditional BA/HR/RBI categories, they're also impressive in the OPS and Runs Created categories.

Detroit's turnaround can be attributed in no small part to the seasons of Ivan Rodriguez (catcher) and Carlos Guillen (SS), who have given the Tigers a nice competitive advantage up the middle. Guillen is having the best season of any AL shortstop, even surpassing Tejada.

Vlad Guerrero is playing as well as the Angels could have hoped. Good enough for the MVP? Probably not.

Gary Sheffield has been worth every penny for the Yankees. He's managed to stay in the lineup despite being in pain, and his Win Shares total to this point in the season is impressive. He also has the largest gap between BA and OBP of any of the MVP contenders, and that is a credit to his abilities at the plate.

My vote: 1) Gary Sheffield; 2) Manny Ramirez

Monday, September 20, 2004

OSU 22, NCSU 14 and other matters...

There wasn't much in the way of offense on Saturday, but I'm sure the Buckeyes didn't mind. After all, they've got the best place kicker in college football, and with the way we were playing, they didn't need any offensive TDs.

I thought Jay Davis looked fine until his first interception, at which point he seemed to become a mental case. The pick wasn't even entirely his fault--the pass may not have been the best decision, but Lamart Barrett fell down and made the interception easy for the OSU cornerback. From that point on, Davis rushed his throws, didn't set his feet, and generally made poor decisions. Perhaps the shock of starting the second game of his career against the Buckeyes freaked him out; I don't know. He didn't much look like a junior who has been in the offense for three years, that's for sure. He'll get better, and he is the only option at QB for us.

It should be apparent to all of the people who want Davis benched that Stone isn't ready to start yet--he ran an extremely limited package against Richmond and his series against the Buckeyes didn't have him take risks then, either. The coaches obviously don't feel confident putting the ball in the air with Stone in the game, and that should tell the fans all they need to know.

You may be disappointed in how Davis played, but he is the best quarterback on the team, and we will have to live with his growing pains. Bottom line. Davis gives us our best chance to win.

Kudos to OSU for being, if nothing else, opportunistic. They are boring as hell, but they manage to play mistake-free football. I wish we could do that.

Also, I've got to mention Jason Campbell...

I didn't see the LSU/Auburn game, as it kicked off at the same time as the OSU/NCSU game, but I did see the box score, and it would seem that Campbell played pretty well. He didn't make any big errors and Auburn pulled off the upset. Credit to him and the (Auburn) Tigers ... I didn't think they were good enough to beat LSU.

I still don't know if they are legitimate contenders in the SEC, though they are in good shape in the SEC West. Ole Miss looks like it has regressed drastically in the wake of Manning's departure. Queue the guys at! Arkansas is solid but not great, same for Alabama (and Auburn has their number of late), and Mississippi State, well ... they lost to bloody Maine this week. Paul Kariya netted a late goal to put the Black Bears on top for good.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Da, Comrades, He is Coming

Coming to a city in the southeast near you ... rain. Lots of rain. Ivan is giving the South another pounding and those of us in North Carolina will have to brace for more flooding. The models don't look good for NC. I guess Ivan is in to loitering.

The good news is that Ivan isn't likely to postpone much college football this weekend--at least, not any football outside of the Nawlins/Southern Mississippi/Southern Alabama area. The Cal/USM game set for tonight has already been postponed, but that might be it. It'd be a shame if they had to postpone the LSU/Auburn game, which is one of the bigger matchups this weekend.

Speaking of which--there's been plenty of debate back and forth regarding the outcome, and I'm a little surprised at the amount of respect that Auburn has been getting. Yeah, they're at home. And yeah, Jason Campbell is a senior ... so what? He morphed into Dameyune Craig during the offseason? As if. Being a senior doesn't seem to help Chris Rix too much, does it? Assuming Auburn continues to get subpar performances from Campbell, they won't prove to be worthy of their lofty ranking (#15 in the Coaches Poll). They won't beat LSU, either.

You'd think the pollsters would learn from 2003, but that is not the case.

Me and the rest of my compadres from Section 6 (that's where you'll find me in the student section at Carter-Finley Stadium, in case you were wondering) are anxiously awaiting NC State's clash with tOSU this weekend, rain or no rain. Seeing the Buckeyes struggle with Marshall has given me cause for optimism, but one must remember that tOSU rarely wins impressively--they just win, period.

This is a huge game for us (and by us, I mean NC State, natch) because it can be the jumping off point for a great season. Win this game and there's no doubt that we can beat anyone on the schedule (FSU, Miami, VPI, etc.), and we'll have the momentum necessary to make a run at the ACC title. Lose and we can still expect good things, but probably something like 6-5 or 7-4 rather than 9-2 or 10-1. I really think this game is that significant. Also, it'd be nice to expose Ohio State, as I suspect they are masquerading as a top ten team.

With T.A. McLendon apparently going down with a serious injury in practice today, NCSU's chances take a hit, but the Pack has a fair amount of depth at RB. The problem is that the depth is unproven. They'll have to play well and hang onto the ball on Saturday.

My prediction: NCSU 24, tOSU 14

Look, Ma, I'm on the internet!

This blog is long overdue, but cut me some slack--I've been distracted. They're actually making me work for this college degree thing.

I'm always looking for new ways to waste time and this seems like a great outlet for procrastination. I've got better things to do, but who wants to be constructive?

Where this goes, nobody knows...