UVa At N.C. State Scouting Report: NCSU Offense
by Greg Waters
Vic Hall and UVa's corners will face a tough challenge this week.Inconsistency, turnovers, and injuries have defined the Wolfpack offense thus far in 2007. The N.C. State coaches are hoping a bye week followed by the team's improved play against East Carolina are harbingers of things to come.
The season started off with not only a loss in the home opener to Central Florida but the loss of one-half of the Pack's dynamic running duo when Toney Baker left with an injury. Five weeks later, Andre Brown departed the FSU contest with a fractured foot and his return is in doubt. In all, six preseason starters have undergone knee surgeries, including tight end Anthony Hill. In other words, the injury list is crowded.
For the Virginia game, if stud wide receiver John Dunlap and tackle Julian Williams can't play, it takes away one of State's most consistent receivers and adds more turmoil to an already tumultuous offensive line. Both are listed as questionable on the NCSU injury update. An injury to starting quarterback Harrison Beck, out with a separated left shoulder, opened the door for former starter Daniel Evans to return to the line-up.
Despite forcing a pair of turnovers and breaking even in that category against East Carolina, N.C. State still ranks dead last in the nation (119th) in turnover margin. Through seven games, the Wolfpack has committed 24 miscues (16 interceptions, eight lost fumbles), while taking the ball away from the opposition just seven times (three INTs, four fumbles). What's even more costly is that 89 of the opposition's 197 total points (45%) this season have come following a Wolfpack turnover.
While the turnovers have been costly and left the defense in bad positions, the biggest culprit to the offense's lack of production this season has been the play of the offensive line. The transition from former head coach Chuck Amato's zone blocking scheme to new head man Tom O'Brien's man-to-man approach has been difficult. Three times this season, the Pack has been held to less than 60 yards rushing, including last week against East Carolina, a team that yields more than 140 yards per game on the ground.Statistics
Before the win over ECU, the Pack had lost 12 straight against Bowl Subdivision opponents, including nine in the ACC. Four losses in 2007 have come by at least 17 points. N.C. State has thrown nine touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Three of those interceptions were thrown in the opponent's end zone and two others were returned for touchdowns. How low can you go - the Wolfies rank 10th in total offense in the ACC, 11th in rushing offense, 12th in scoring offense, and 11th in pass efficiency offense. They rank 4th in the league in passing offense, the only offensive category they are listed above 10th.Coach Groh Says ...
"The difference in watching State play really didn't start last week - you could really begin to see the difference against Florida State. They played very well early, got off to a very good lead, looked more explosive offensively, did a real good job on defense. Then they had the bye week to continue that work on some things and then they went into the game last week so this has been a developing trend that we've been able to see. It's been impressive how their team's improved."Chris Long Says ...
"We all have a tremendous amount of respect for coach [Tom] O'Brien and we know they're going to have a great game plan; the guy's reputation is pretty awesome. They do things that cater to their strength and that is their wide receivers and the quarterback has played well recently - I think they're going to go with [Dan] Evans. They really like to get the ball out quick and make you run around a lot. So we're going to have to be ready to adjust on the fly and fly around and fly to the football. It's going to be a fast-paced game."Who's That?
#7 Daniel Evans, QB, 6-2/191, Junior, 81-126, 793 yards passing, 7/6 TD/INT ratio, 125.96 efficiency rating: Preparing now for his 13th career start, Evans won the job in preseason and promptly gave way to sophomore Harrison Beck in game two. Last week at ECU, Evans completed 29 of 44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, setting career highs for completions and passing yards, and tying a career high for touchdown passes. Evans finished the game with the most completions and the most passing yards in a single game by a State quarterback since Philip Rivers against Kansas in the 2003 Tangerine Bowl. Evans currently ranks sixth in the ACC in passing efficiency and eighth in passing average. His .643 completion percentage leads all ACC signal callers. Though not a scrambler, Evans has the ability to move within the pocket to avoid the rush.
#29 Jamelle Eugene, RB, 5-10/195, Sophomore, 62 rushes, for 244 yards, 19 receptions for 125 yards, 2 TDs: The new starter at tailback, the Florida native emerged as a silver lining against the Seminoles a few weeks back by rushing for a career high 101 yards on just 14 carries against a Florida State defense that had been stout against the run all season. Eugene was also the Wolfpack's top receiver, catching five balls for 30 yards. Eugene is still somewhat of an unknown commodity. Before his outburst against the Seminoles, his career high was just 38 yards against Wofford. A bit under the radar, the State sophomore is not unknown to coach Groh.
"He's a real jet. He can really get it," said Groh. "Here's a player that really had no numbers or anything to attract anybody's attention and in reading the information in their press book a number of their players were asked 'which one of your teammates is going to be the biggest surprise this year' and a majority of the players that responded to that question cited Eugene as the player that would surprise people the most. Players know. They've got a pretty good idea who's got it and who doesn't and for those players to cite a player who had played very little makes it no surprise that he's having the success that he is now."
Eugene started the East Carolina game at tailback, rushing for 63 yards and gaining another 45 yards on five catches, including a beautiful touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone.
#1 John Dunlap, WR, 6-1/218, Senior, 34 receptions for 303 yards, 8.9 YPC, 43.3 YPG, 3 TDs: He may not be the flashiest receiver ever to play the game, but senior wide receiver John Dunlap has been a solid performer for the Wolfpack throughout his career. Voted a captain by his teammates prior to this year, Dunlap currently leads NCSU with 34 receptions this season and currently ranks fourth in the ACC with 4.86 catches per game. His eight catches against East Carolina was a career high. Dunlap is the biggest target on third down and the second most sought after receiver on first down, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt on first down.
#2, Darrell Blackman, WR, 5-11/210, Senior, 22 receptions for 283 yards, 12.9 YPC, 40.4 YPG, 1 TD: In order to win, the Cavaliers must keep all-purpose receiver Darrell Blackman at bay. He is the club's primary first down target, averaging 11 yards per attempt on first down. He is somewhat weak on third down where he is converting just 37% of his chances. For his career, he averages just more than 12 yards per catch and is a running threat in the offense as well.A Closer Look
Running Offense: TOM O'BRIEN RUNS THE FOOTBALL. He did at BC and the plan is to do it in Raleigh. Since 2000, Boston College attempted 6,007 offensive plays and 55% of the time the Eagles were running the football. In 2000 and 2001, BC ran the ball more than 60 percent of the time. 2007 has been the first time this century that BC attempted more passes than runs. Of course with First Team All-ACC trigger-man Matt Ryan at the helm, who wouldn't?
But during O'Brien's tenure at B.C., his teams were noted for consistent offensive line play based on man-to-man blocking. Since moving to Raleigh, O'Brien has imported most of his offensive staff from Boston College as well as his drive blocking, double-teaming, man-to-man blocking scheme. State's linemen have had difficulty adjusting to the new scheme, the blocking calls, the footwork, and the techniques required for effective man blocking. NCSU is averaging 3.1 yards per carry this season, which ranks 10th in the conference. The Pack stands 109th nationally in rushing yards per game (91.86). Last season, the Wolfpack averaged 3.8 yards per carry and 119.7 yards with offensive line coach Pat Myers zone-blocking system.
This unit has really struggled with the more physical nature of drive blocking. The added dimension of handling a 3-4 defense and not being able to explode off the line and have immediate contact with your man could create even more disruption in the offensive line's play this weekend. As we witnessed against Maryland, EXPECT DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE LONDON TO MOVE CHRIS LONG AROUND EARLY TO FIND THE WEAK SPOT in the line and then settle in to attack that area.
Chris Long is facing an offensive line that has struggled at times this season.Passing Offense: The biggest problem for the Wolfpack passing attack this season has been the inconsistent play at quarterback. Inconsistent from a performance standpoint as well as inconsistency in who actually plays the position. It hasn't been an easy year for junior quarterback Daniel Evans. After being named the starter before the season opener, he lost his job for the second game of the season. He came off the bench in two later games after starter Harrison Beck went out with an injury, but he has been strong in his last two outings as the starting signal caller, leading the Pack to its first road win in two seasons last week at East Carolina. ONE OF THE BIGGEST IMPROVEMENTS AGAINST THE PIRATES WAS BETTER PASS PROTECTION.
Something we saw last season with State and something that is consistent with O'Brien and Dana Bible's philosophy is forcing opponents to defend every potential receiver, both horizontally and vertically. Not so much a spread offense but certainly one which encompasses the spread philosophy of using the entire field. Four big, fast wide receivers are the featured players in the passing attack. Blackman, Dunlap, freshman Darrell Davis (#15, 6-4), and sophomore Donald Bowens (#80, 6-3) have produced 49% of State's receptions this season, combining for 939 yards and 11.8 yards per reception.
Virginia's linebackers must be aware of quick releases from Evans on 3-step turn-in/turn-out routes. If a catch is made, the defense must be quick and sure with the tackle. TIGHT END MARCUS STONE IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE ATTACK and the clubs most effective third down receiver. He is converting 55% of his opportunities. Bible will also attack opposing defenses with the backs in the passing game. State fields very good pass-receiving backs and does not hesitate to take advantage of those skills. Combining the numbers from the injured Brown and sophomore sensation Jamelle Eugene, the backs have made 39 grabs for 294 yards. State brings a very effective screen game to the table and will use it to counter aggressive blitzing. The Virginia defense must respect this component of the Wolfpack offense.
On first down: NCSU has a 56 to 44 run to pass ratio this season on first down. Against BC, the pack rushed 13 times on first down and passed 21; against Louisville, it tilted slightly toward the pass with 13/15 run/pass breakdown. The rest of the season, the Pack have run more often than they have thrown, averaging more than 4.8 yards per play on first down.
In the six games we evaluated the fullback did not carry the ball once, the QBs ran a called run play (non-scramble situation) three times, and Blackman (WR) ran one reverse. That means 96% of the time on first down, a tailback will get the carry on a running play. Andre Brown had been the feature ball carrier most of the season, but with his loss to injury, Eugene has become the feature first down back. STATE HAS AVERAGED 4.3 YARDS PER CARRY ON FIRST DOWN.
Against the most challenging opponents this season, the Pack has attacked with the pass on first down and I expect Virginia will see the same. Thus far, State is netting around 5.5 yards per attempt on first down. Blackman and the running backs have been the primary targets on first down through the air (22%). The backs get the ball mostly via screens and flare patterns. The TEs have been the focus in 13% of the plays.
Of note for the Cavalier staff is how the Pack offense handled first down against ECU. With the loss of Brown and Eugene in his first start, the expectation would be that NCSU would lean more on the passing game on first down and that's exactly what occurred. Though the final breakdown was marginal (15 pass, 12 run), the difference in the first three quarters is substantial as State threw 15 times on first down (68% of the time) to just seven runs as they built an early 21-0 advantage. The Pack also tossed their second pass of the season to the fullback (#46 Patrick Bedics) against the Pirates.
On third down: The Pack throws the ball almost exclusively on third down, running just 14% of the time so EXPECT TO SEE THE SUB DEFENSES (PRIMARILY THE NICKEL) FOR THE MAJORITY OF THIRD DOWN SITUATIONS AGAINST STATE. The Wolfpack sit in the middle of the ACC with a 37.8 conversion rate while the Cavaliers are holding opponents to a fourth best 33.9 mark.
When State does throw, the talented receivers are the workhorses as they are the target of 70% of third down passing attempts. The pack will mix in the RB (18%) and TEs (12%), however, so ignoring the backs and ends is not recommended. In fact, tight end Marcus Stone has been the go to man on third down 10% of the time, converting a team-high 55% of his opportunities. Among the receivers, Dunlap is the biggest third down receiver with 18% of the chances and a solid 46% conversion rate. Blackman is the second choice of the receivers getting 9% of the third down balls, but he averages a 38% conversion mark.
Typically, NCSU works the receivers on deep out and edge routes while the tight ends cross and drag over the middle and the backs loop in behind the defensive line and under the dropped linebackers. Screens are options here too.
In the red zone: The Pack has a fairly balanced attack inside the red zone with a 57 (pass) to 43 (run) percent ratio. THE RECEIVERS ARE THE PRIMARY PASSING TARGET GETTING 54% OF THE CHANCES. As he is on third down, Dunlap has been the lead receiver in the red zone followed by freshman Darrell Davis. The tight ends are active but surprisingly Stone is not among the leaders inside the 20. That could be a change in tendency Virginia sees this weekend.
UVa should note that State aggressively throws the ball inside the 10, more so than any team it has faced this season. The backs and the receivers have been the primary targets - the backs off swing passes and screens and the receivers off the fade route that Evans throws very well. Five of the Pack's seven red zone passing TDs have originated inside the 10. One additional note, all of these passes have occurred on second and third down so Virginia should look for a potential tendency change here as well with a possible first down pass (maybe off of play action).
The Pack is having problems scoring as evidenced by their last place standing in red zone offense in the ACC. They actually have more trips into the red zone than three other ACC clubs (including Virginia Tech) but they have been turned away five times as a result of four INTs and a fumble. Virginia is among the conference leaders in red zone defense (3rd), allowing scores just 75% of the time; UVa has forced three turnovers and stopped one opponent on downs. Five squads have yielded fewer TDs than the Cavaliers in the red zone. A CAUTIONARY NOTE, THE HOOS HAVE GIVEN THE SECOND MOST PASSING TD'S IN THE LEAGUE.
Coaching: Tom O'Brien is a very solid, fundamentally sound football coach that likes to play ball control offense with a controlled passing attack and big, physical offensive lines. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible, who came to N.C. State from Boston College with O'Brien, was the architect of the Eagles highly success ball-control, run-oriented offenses. In 2007, we've seen very little of that approach in Raleigh. In part, that is because game situations have dictated passing with the Pack frequently trailing in their games. In part, it is because of the problems up front and the depleted depth at tailback. Basically, they have tried to play to the team's strength, which right now is the passing game.
Through seven games, State has attempted 273 passes, second-most in the conference behind Boston College. NCSU'S 210 RUSHES THIS SEASON ARE THE FEWEST IN THE LEAGUE. The staff has simplified the offense in that they have cut the playbook in half and have tried to focus on the 15-20 plays the offense seems to have the most success with - the coaches make that the core of the game planning. But using the run is O'Brien's way. N.C. State is going to run the football. O'Brien's offense starts with the running game and the run game is driven by the tailbacks. Call it dull, conservative, old fashioned, or whatever you want, but running the football limits mistakes and allows a team to control the clock. For O'Brien, it's been pretty effective.Plays That Could Hurt Virginia
Deep patterns. Evans is a good passing quarterback and he throws the fade routes especially well. The Pack loves the fade inside the 20-yard line, but they will throw it from anywhere on the field. Evans repeatedly torched FSU with boundary routes in press coverage. Virginia's corners will likely combat the effectiveness of the sideline patterns with the "settle" technique. Look for the corners to align five to six yards off the line of scrimmage. The receivers must show the route within five yards, giving the corner a read of fade, out, or an inside route (such as a crossing or slant).
Screens. State is a very effective screen team and the Hoos must be aware of that aspect of the offense, especially in the red zone. Eugene is a very good receiving tailback.Strengths
Wide receivers. The receivers have size and speed. Evans has a very quick release and can hit receivers in stride with superbly timed, accurate throws. State receivers burned the Pirate coverage for big plays frequently last week. The receivers were the primary focus of the offense on first down last week in Greenville and the wideouts get 70% of the chances on third down. The State receivers are tall and are given the chance to make plays in jump-ball type situations. If that occurs, the defenders will try to force their hands under the ball and disrupt the catch attempt. Evans' release vs. Virginia pressure. The pass protection held up pretty well against an aggressive Pirate defense but ECU doesn't have Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Chris Long playing defensive end. London will go after Evans but if he can get his throws out quickly it could expose the Cavalier backers in the underneath zones. Virginia has done a good job knocking down passes and the short, quick passes Evans excels at can't be lofted so get those arms up.Vulnerability
Offensive line. We've highlighted the struggles of the offensive line in trying to adapt to the new run blocking scheme. Pass protection has been O.K. but if the run game is ineffective and State is forced to go to the air to move the ball against Virginia's nickel package, it will be a long night for those wearing red in Carter-Finley. Running game. We've already noted the troubles of the offensive line, an offensive line that may be without a player. Add in a young tailback getting only his second start against a very good defense and you have a recipe for trouble. Maryland's offensive line could not handle Chris Long and they are better than State's. Last year with a healthy Baker and Brown, the Virginia defensive line limited State's league-leading running back duo to just 2.8 yards per carry and allowed ZERO yards on first down plays in their zone and did not yield a third-down conversion attempt. The Cavalier line is better in 2007.Virginia's Defensive Keys
Make State pass. The Pack run game needs to be shut down immediately. I'm a firm believer in making teams one dimensional and if that happens, Virginia's chances are very good to win a fourth consecutive road game. No big plays in the passing game. The Cavalier defense cannot allow the Wolfpack to continue the success it had last week against ECU with big pass plays. The receivers are very good and Virginia's corners are not the strength of the defense. But they had decent outing against Maryland's talented receivers, doubling with the safety at various times and keeping the Terp big play targets in front at all times. I like a similar strategy this week against the Pack. Let the linebackers handle the underneath stuff and trust the pass rush to the guys up front. Ball disruption. Here's an oldie but goodie. State shelved its propensity to give the ball away last week by yielding just one turnover. I think the Hoos have a chance to make some things happen in the ball disruption operation this weekend, though. Evans throws a lot of quick, low passes, something Virginia has had a knack for batting away this season. Hopefully they'll have another successful night and maybe one of those batted balls will find its way into a Cavalier defender's hands. State throws almost exclusively on third down so the secondary could have a chance to jump some routes and make a play. The Wolfpack is 119 out of 119 Division I-A teams in turnover margin and every State loss has usually included a boat load of turnovers. Get off the field. Though not a great running team, the Pack can control the ball with the pass. Virginia needs to limit production on first down, force State in to second- and third- and long situations and make the Wolfies settle for plenty of short possessions.
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