NC State and Wake Forest clash Saturday in Winston-Salem.

Oct. 21, 2005

Tony Haynes Archive

By Tony Haynes

Raleigh, N.C. - Although the philosophy was adopted at a time before the forward pass became popular in football, the old adage of "the team that runs the ball best and also stops the run will win most of the time" still holds true. That brings us to the challenge that awaits NC State (2-3, 1-3) this weekend. Coming off a game in which it could neither stop the run nor get anything going with its own ground game, the Wolfpack now travels to Winston-Salem for a 3:30 meeting with Wake Forest (2-5, 1-3). These are the "run until their tongues" hang out Demon Deacons, a team that averages 205 yards per game to lead the ACC.

The top running back in the ACC is Wake's Chris Barclay, a highly underrated senior who is threatening to become the first player in the 53-year history of the ACC to lead the league in rushing during the regular season for the third straight year. Averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Barclay takes advantage of a quirky, unusual offense that deceives and frustrates defensive linemen and linebackers. It is, to say the least, a very `running back friendly' attack. If that wasn't true, then Micah Andrews - also of Wake Forest - wouldn't be the second leading rusher in the league.

It all adds up to an offense that keeps opposing defenses on the field for an average of 32:12 per game, a figure that ranks second to only Georgia Tech in the ACC.

Given the choice between a three-hour and 45 minute root canal or a three-hour and 45 minute game against Wake Forest, many ACC defensive coordinators might say "pass the Novocain please!"

But unlike Wake, NC State has not been able to keep its offense on the field enough lately, a fact that has caused a major deficit in several areas.

Among other things, the Wolfpack defense has tallied an average of 10 more minutes of playing time than the offense over the last three games. Also during that three-game span, the Pack offense has averaged just 60 plays compared to 78 by its opponents. Certainly, NC State's anemic third down conversion rate (29 percent) has something to do with those numbers.

Those who feel compelled to assign blame during times like these usually take the easy way out and point the finger at the quarterback. No, Jay Davis wasn't at his best in last week's 31-10 defeat to Clemson, but he certainly wasn't alone. The offense as a whole misfired in all directions during a time when the Tigers were building a fairly comfortable 28-10 advantage in the first half.

It's not as if Davis has been given ideal circumstances under which to work, not with a sputtering running game that has averaged just 1.6 yards per running attempt over the last three games. During that same stretch, NC State has been outrushed by an average of 184 to 54 yards per contest. The end result has been unfavorable down and distance situations, tougher play-calling scenarios and major headaches for the offensive line as it tries to give Davis time to throw.

Over the last two weeks, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has bemoaned the fact that NC State has not been able to sustain drives and keep its offense on the field for more plays, and thus, more opportunities to score. And although long, time-consuming drives have not yet been a trademark of this Wolfpack offense, a reversal of that trend is exactly what the Pack needs to get a win at Wake Forest. The NC State defense will have a much better chance to deal with the Deacons' ball-hogging tendencies if its own offense can convert more third downs and stay on the field more than it has.

The trickle down affect is obvious: Better running success on early downs will set up more favorable opportunities for Davis to complete more passes and convert more third downs. That in turn will keep the Wake Forest offense AND the NC State defense on the sidelines.

The Wolfpack's best defense against the Deacs this weekend may indeed be its offense.


Wake Forest Coach Jim Grobe on NC State: "It doesn't take two seconds to realize they're a very talented football team. This is just one of those leagues that everybody is pretty good. There isn't anybody with no talent in this league. There are no gimmies. You have to play every Saturday; it's a really talented, well-coached football team that's coming to town this weekend. Like us, they've played a really tough schedule."

NC State defensive tackle John McCargo on how the defense will respond after giving up 243 rushing yards to Clemson last week: "I don't think we need to make any changes. The D-line just didn't play well. If the defensive front plays well and we're crashing across the ball and getting pressure in the backfield, I don't think we'll have any problems with the misdirection [of Wake Forest]."

NC State head coach Chuck Amato talks about Chris Barclay: "He's Warrick Dunn. He wears his number and he plays just like him. The kid is really good. The young man is one of those players that's got great vision and he just feel like whenever he gets tackled he's upset."