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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Friday, April 21, 2006

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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer

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PAST FIVE SEASONS: 38-24 (19-21 ACC) - 2005: 7-5 (3-5 ACC), Won Car Care Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Manny Lawson and Mario Williams were track stars masquerading as terrifying pass rushers, and kept quarterbacks wobbly-kneed on a consistent basis the last two years. Add to their departure leading tacklers Stephen Tulloch and Oliver Hoyte, and the defense that's kept the program afloat since Philip Rivers graduated is in danger of going a little weak-kneed itself.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The tendency to play to the competition, which has led to more or less stunning wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and the like but also losses to Wake Forest and North Carolina. Week to week, the only consistency here is Chuck Amato's bizarre look and continence and the offense's inability to score more than 24 points in any single game.
SEE BALL. DON'T LET OTHER TEAM TAKE BALL. SEE WINS: It looks a lot like the work of two players - the Pack had lost three of four when it inserted Marcus Stone and Andre Brown into the lineup against Southern Miss and won five of six afterwards - but the offense actually averaged slightly fewer yards and points over the six games those two started than it had during the first half of the year; the real difference was turnovers: NC State had 20 giveaways to 12 takeways over the first seven games, and just four giveaways (and never more than one in any game) and 12 takeaways over the last five. From minus-4 to plus-4, from 3-4 to 4-1. Nobody will mistake Stone for a steely-eyed, icy-veined vet yet, but if he's as protective of the ball again, the general lack of firepower on offense won't be such a liability.
GET OFF OF OUR BACKS: Of course, it required the continued lights out play of the defense to turn the tables on close games when the offense remained mostly inept, and the 23 sacks gone with Lawson and unholy beast Williams - only the best defensive player in the country last year - make that rather tough. DeMario Pressley, LeRue Rumph and Garland Heath are good...but top ten overall defense again, for the third year running? Not bloody likely. The offense has to do more of its own lifting. (Not to pour lighter fluid and torch a deceased equine here, but earlier, SMQ referred to the offense's failure to top 24 points in any game against a I-A opponent last season; it did so thrice in 2004. By contrast, with Rivers leading, the Pack put up at least 30 on 14 I-A teams in 2002 and 2003, including Ohio State, and 40 on six, including Florida State, Virginia and Texas Tech (twice). Since: zero 40-point outings).
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Redshirt freshman Mike Greco was the team's top newcomer and most improved quarterback during the Spring and is also a "dual threat" scrambling option - might that mean a possible challenge to Stone, the "most dependable" quarterback (and 2004 "most improved" winner at the position himself) but hardly one who's earned a de facto spot?
REASON FOR HOPE: Did the team turn a corner with Stone and Brown? Pedestrian numbers don't matter if you do the little, timely things to win.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: The defense has pulled all the weight and it's out of gas. Why should Stone be appreciably better?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Any M. Night Shamalan movie - conservative and reliably, utterly predictable in the end, but has its moments, is solid enough to keep your attention, and provides some hope for a decent payoff up until it falls flat, just like you thought it would.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: Seven wins, automobile accessory-inspired postseason trip. Five winning years out of six under Amato's fist is good enough to get the benefit of the doubt in SMQ's estimation, but 18 points per game doesn't take you very far in the tougher ACC.

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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo

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9:28 PM

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