The Wolfpacker

July 2012

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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■ PACK PERSPECTIVE Answering The Key Questions Of 2012 Carolina, laid out on a platter with five con- secutive wins over the school's biggest rival. From Murphy to Manteo, the Wolfpack N has planted its flag in soil all over the Old North State and made the perfectly legitimate claim on welcoming billboards that "This is Our State." It has played destroyer to North Caroli- na's flagship, and basked in O'Brien's squeaky-clean im- age that is 180 degrees away from the two-year mess at its sister institution in Chapel Hill. That, of course, won't earn him any votes as "Tar Heel of the Year," an annual award given out by one of the state's largest newspapers. Something tells me that O'Brien doesn't really mind. But the 2012 football season BY TIM PEELER C State football coach Tom O'Brien has handed Wolfpack fans the state of North season wins that made the Pack Bowl eligible and earned them a short hop over to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl. "The whole key, again, is staying healthy," O'Brien said. "As long as we stay healthy, I think we're going to have a pretty good football team." Like every other football team in the coun- try, the Wolfpack enters this season with some significant questions, some of which won't be an- swered until September. How much has the veteran — O'Brien's sixth at NC State — will be defined by what the coach does against the rest of the ACC and a non-confer- ence schedule that includes a season-opener against an infrequently played neighbor to the west, Tennessee, in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Over the last two seasons, O'Brien has In his sixth year as head coach, Tom O'Brien has the Wolfpack poised to put to- gether a memorable season. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN offensive line improved since last year? Senior Mike Glen- non is everything O'Brien wanted him to be when the coach handed the lanky quar- terback the Wolfpack offense prior to last season. He will be one of the premier offensive players in the ACC and a po- tential high pick next spring in the NFL Draft. But the Pack ranked 98th last season in sacks allowed, which prob- ably had as much to do with Glennon's plant-and-pass pro- style approach as it did with the line's protection. All but one starter returns from last year, guided the Wolfpack to a total of 17 wins, including bowl victories over West Virginia and Louisville. That's the best two-year to- tal in nearly a decade, when the tandem of Philip Rivers and Jericho Cotchery led the Pack to 18 wins in 2002-03, with postseason wins over Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl and Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl. Two years ago, O'Brien's team came up one quarter in the season finale shy of going to the ACC Championship game. Last year was both a transitional year, when quarter- back Mike Glennon took over the offense, and a breakout season, when cornerback Da- vid Amerson set the school and ACC record with 13 interceptions in a season to earn first- team All-America honors. It was a season that started with significant questions at quarterback, in the defensive secondary and on special teams. Those were quickly overshadowed by a slew of early- season injuries that put O'Brien's team in a hole — right up until it beat North Carolina again and had an unprecedented second-half comeback against Maryland, plus two late- 152 ■ THE WOLFPACKER but the unit still has to prove it can keep Glen- non safe and open big enough holes for the Wolfpack to improve a running game that finished ranked No. 109 in rushing offense last year. Running backs Tony Creecy and James Washington are talented, but they need to have some daylight in front of them to get down the field. Who are the team's playmakers? Amerson proved to be one last year, and his intercep- tion and return for a touchdown in the Belk Bowl put an exclamation point on one of the most remarkable years for a defensive player in school history. On the offensive side, T.J. Graham was a double threat as a receiver and a return specialist. Tight end George Bryan was the most productive receiving tight end in school history. However, Graham will be making plays this fall for the Buffalo Bills, while Bryan will go to camp with the Dallas Cowboys after signing a free-agent contract. Glennon will need to develop confidence in other targets, such as wide receivers Tobais Palmer, Bryan Underwood and Quinton Pay- ton and tight end Mario Carter. Finally, who will step forward at line- backer? While the defensive tackles are un- proven, there is young talent galore up front, a point that was proven in the defense-domi- nated spring game in April. The secondary is stacked with Amerson and C.J. Wilson at the corners, and Earl Wolff and Brandon Bishop at safety. That should be enough to shut down any idea the opposition might have about throwing against the Pack. The key to the season, then, will be if se- nior Sterling Lucas can come back from his year off due to injury and lead an otherwise unproven linebacker corps. The Pack lost all three starters from last year: Audie Cole, Ter- rell Manning and D.J. Green. Lucas would have been a starter in 2011 if he hadn't suf- fered a knee injury in the preseason. The other two first teamers coming out of the spring are junior Rickey Dowdy and soph- omore Brandon Pittman, neither of whom have started in a college game. Junior Ryan Cheek emerged during the spring, and junior college transfer Robert Caldwell chose the Wolfpack over Iowa because of the opportu- nity to play right away. The secret weapon might be assistant head coach Jon Tenuta, a veteran at developing some of college football's hardest-hitting de- fenders in his many stops around the South- east. As O'Brien said in the spring: "He's working on it." Anyone who knows Tenuta's past won't be surprised if this question is answered early. Last year showed that O'Brien and his staff do a pretty good job of addressing needs, even when multiple injuries derail early-sea- son progress. They have improved the pro- gram's depth in the last two years, so dealing with the inevitable bumps and bruises — and even the unexpected loss of someone impor- tant — won't be as difficult. The Wolfpack will have a challenging situ- ation right out of the gate, facing SEC-foe Tennessee in Atlanta. The Wolfpack played in several Peach Bowls before the name was changed to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and some of the best moments in Wolfpack postseason history have occurred on Georgia soil. This is a unique opportunity for a marquee game in August to set the tone for what could be a transformational season for O'Brien and his charges. After that, the second game of the sea- son could be just as challenging, when the Pack travels to Connecticut, before hosting South Alabama and the Citadel. That gives O'Brien plenty of time to address any weak- nesses that are revealed against the rebuild- ing Volunteers. ■ You may contact Tim Peeler at

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