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.
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.
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
Bonesville.net 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.
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
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
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.