Team: NC State Wolfpack
W-L: 7-6 (4-4)
Postseason: 38-24 Franklin American Mortgage Music Cit Bowl loss to Vanderbilt
Top Offensive Performer: Mike Glennon, QB
Top Defensive Performer: Earl Wolff, S
This was the year that Tom O’Brien’s NC State team was supposed to break through and contend in the ACC. He had the senior quarterback, the experienced secondary — everything this team needed to finally get over the hump. And yet at the end of the season, the Wolfpack finished with their typical six or seven wins, and then O’Brien was dismissed. How did this happen?
Well, for starters, that experienced secondary came back down to earth from last year’s phenomenal performance. After picking off 27 passes in 2011, the team managed just 16 this season, with the biggest drop-off coming from cornerback David Amerson (just five in ’12 versus 13 in ’11). From a team perspective, it’s also easy to how this all came about. Back in 2011, State’s aggressive, go-for-broke style allowed just as many big play (passing attempts of 30-plus yards) tries, but more of those resulted in interceptions. This time around, with the decrease in interceptions, more of those attempts resulted in gains of 30 yards or more (25 of that variety, 16 of which went for 40 or more). Part of this was an adjustment in opponents’ play (see Amerson’s dreadful performance against Tennessee in the season opener), but the rest can be perceived as a severe drop-off in the team’s talent level. If we’re looking for reason number-one why this squad fell short of expectations, the secondary probably sits front-and-center. When you finish 86th nationally in pass-defense, it’s just tough to argue you did your job, necessarily.
On offense, NC State’s issues stemmed from the same thing they did last year: a one-sided attack, leaning heavily on the pass. Quarterback Mike Glennon impressed while putting up over 4,000 yards and 31 scores, and the passing game was ranked 18th in the country (310 yards per game). But that was all there was to brag about on that side of the ball. Averaging just 111 yards per game on the ground (111th in the FBS), the State rushing attack hung Glennon out to dry as it proved largely ineffective all season. This doesn’t excuse Glennon for his own mistakes. As mentioned last week, the talented passer has a tendency to play “Favre ball” and many times, his statistics are amassed due to volume of attempts rather than accuracy (58.5-percent completions this year on 564 attempts). Though with that sort of running game, he was hard-pressed to trust their production, either. Five different times, the Wolfpack’s running backs (mostly Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy) ran for less than 80 yards, and the remainder of their 111 yards-per-game average is mostly boosted by a combined 500 yards in two September games against the Citadel and Miami, respectively. It’s certainly not a recipe for success.
Tom O’Brien was fired because based on the talent level and expectations at NC State during his tenure, this program should’ve been able to accomplish more than a tie for second place in the Atlantic division one year and some random upset each season (see: Clemson in 2011 or Florida State in 2012). His strategy rarely appeared to be the stuff of championships, but rather, the type of play-calling that keeps you close enough to fool fans into thinking you had a chance to win when you never really did. No one expects college football coaches to be major risk-takers — in fact, the entire game is rather conservative. But for NC State to watch talents like Glennon and current Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson end their careers with little to show for it but a trip to some third-rate bowl, it was absolutely maddening. New head man Dave Doeren has a long road ahead of him, but at least he’s already presenting an attitude that shows he wants to change the way things were done under O’Brien.