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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, August 26, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Key questions still linger after Wolfpack cakewalk


East Carolina football coach Steve Logan was asked about the state of football in North Carolina at media day on Aug. 8.

Logan ultimately said that situation would play out on the field over the next four months.

The journey started for N.C. State on Saturday. State did nothing to jeopardize the preseason expectations that some talented players and a soft schedule have placed on Coach Chuck Amato’s third-year team as the Wolfpack thundered past New Mexico 34-14 in its season opener at Carter-Finley Stadium.

State rates highly in the initial State Line Power Rankings, too. The first SLPR for the 2002 season will be published in the first ever issue of The Magazine, which is scheduled to begin distribution this week.

But how much did Amato learn Saturday about this year’s team and when will he get a true reading on its real potential?

The Wolfpack hardly figures to be tested against East Tennessee State next Saturday (Aug. 31) or Navy, which went winless last season, the following week (Sept. 7). In fact, the first half of the season may be a breeze — like Saturday’s first half against the Lobos in which State moved out to a 21-0 lead.

The second half of the season, or actually the last seven games since State plays 13 regular season contests this year, starts with a trip to North Carolina. There also are visits later in the season to Clemson and Maryland plus the regular season finale at home against Florida State, where Amato was a fixture at defensive coordinator for years.

Provided State doesn’t trip over any cupcake wrappers before going to Chapel Hill, the second half will tell the tale as far as Wolfpack hopes for an ACC championship and a BCS bowl are concerned.

Oh yeah, New Mexico outscored State 14-13 in the second half of the season opener. State quarterback Philip Rivers displayed his offensive leadership abilities as he completed 15 of 24 for 276 yards with three touchdowns. At times, Rivers showed a Brett Favre-like relish for running as he surged upfield for 26 yards for the evening, including two short scoring keepers.

State receiver Bryan Peterson, who initially committed to ECU out of Clinton High School, caught touchdown passes of 21 and 12 yards. Peterson, a quarterback in high school, threw two incompletions on trick plays but Wolfpack opponents will have to respect that additional passing dimension of the State offense that he provides from the perimeter.

But how good was that defense Rivers and his talented receivers were facing? “Sometimes they would have two linebackers in one gap, running around and giving us lots of looks,” Rivers said.

New Mexico coach Rocky Long said his team’s apparently-unique defensive approach often stemmed from mistakes rather than design.

“The first half we played like a high school team,” Long said. “We had guys blitzing wrong gaps. We couldn’t convert on third down in the first half. I think we matched up physically with them. I think they’re a little faster than we are and their quarterback had a better game.”

New Mexico’s outmanned quarterback Casey Kelly finished 19 of 35 for 157 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

State’s personnel has been decimated by injuries and academic ineligibility but true freshman T.A. McLendon looked like he may provide a much-needed answer at running back as he gained 79 yards on 20 carries. McLendon was not overly impressive in the East-West All-Star game in Greensboro against a defense led by ECU freshman linebacker Lorenza Pickett of Fayetteville Byrd, but he is obviously running behind a better offensive line at State.

Rivers was not sacked on Saturday. Actually, I think he was dropped once in the first half but the Conference USA officiating crew called a facemask penalty on the play that gave the Pack a first down.

Rivers, a junior, was listed as a Heisman Trophy candidate by USA Today on Friday.

“Thank goodness for Philip Rivers,” Amato said. “I said it two years ago sitting here after the Arkansas State game — by the time he leaves here two years from now, it will be invaluable what he’s done for this university.”

One wonders if that might have been some wishful thinking by Amato — that Rivers would be around for his senior season. There’s the possibility that he could show NFL scouts enough this season to depart early from the west Raleigh campus.

Regardless, Rivers is a a big reason to be thankful the Pirates don’t play State again until 2004 in Charlotte. Barring something like a medical redshirt season, Young Man Rivers will be out of State red by then.

Although lacking Rivers’ high profile, State has several defenders who may be playing on Sundays, too. Defensive tackle Terrance Martin isn’t just an enforcer, he’s judge, jury and prison warden. Appropriate that he asserted himself with two tackles for loss on a day when former NFL defensive lineman John Baker, now sheriff of Wake County, was recognized. Legend has it that Big John used to grab the whole backfield and toss them out until he found out who had the ball.

Linebacker Dantonio Burnette and defensive back Terrence Holt also will provide plenty of video highlights for the Pack. Holt may even be able to sufficiently emerge in his own right to eventually drop the last part of his name which is: Tory Holt’s younger brother.

Amato has taken a unique approach to the defensive coordinator duties which NCSU alumnus Buddy Green unexpectedly abandoned in the offseason to take the same position at Navy. State has coordinator by committee that includes defensive line coach Joe Pate, defensive backs coach Chris Demarest, linebackers coach Manny Diaz and cornerbacks coach Greg Williams. Amato probably has a degree of involvement, too.

The Pack can only hope the defensive coaching leadership won’t be as divided as the legislators who were recently working on the state budget across town.

State’s early schedule may or may not be a good thing. There are questions about depth and State may be able to finesse that situation for a couple of months against a second-rate non-conference schedule.

But if the saying is true that you don’t improve unless you face better competition, State may not be any better going to UNC than it was after the thunderstorm against the Lobos. How will anybody know?

“Was it good offense or bad defense, bad offense or good defense?” Logan asked after a recent Pirates scrimmage.

Those are questions for the Wolfpack after the visit from New Mexico. Is State good or are the Lobos just bad enough to make the Pack look that way?

It was good to see an area team playing. Football season is here again. But how good are the guys in red? It may take quite a while to find out, perhaps the whole four months to which Logan alluded in response to the query about the state of football in N.C.

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02/23/2007 12:57:36 AM

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