November 12, 2012

Keys to the game - revisited: Wake Forest

NC State clinched bowl eligibility with a dominating 37-6 performance over Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon. The Wolfpack was just the better team in all three facets of the game on this day, and it showed.

Here are The Wolfpacker's keys to the game - revisited.

Get passing game back on track

What we wrote: An unofficial count has the Wolfpack at 18 drops over the last two weeks, and the numbers of quarterback Mike Glennon have suffered because of it. The fifth-year senior did throw for 467 yards and five scores against UNC, but with a little help, he probably would have set school records in both categories.

Last week, Glennon could never get into a rhythm and he threw for a season-low 197 yards and three interceptions. It isn't all on the signal caller because he didn't get much help from his pass catchers or offensive line, but the passing game must get back on track this week in order for the Pack to be successful.

A big part of that will be receivers hauling in passes they get their hands on, while the front providing better protection will play just as big of a role. Guard Duran Christophe is out for the game, while tackle Andrew Wallace is questionable. How the Pack shuffles the line up front is anybody's guess - one would think Cameron Fordham or Joe Thuney will start - but the group allowed just one sack against Florida State's dangerous front with three players who started the season on second-string. The line has got to get back to performing like that because State has given up 11 sacks in the past two weeks.

What happened: Saturday was an all-around team effort, and you have to get quite nit-picky to find much to complain about. Wallace was inserted at right guard, and the front dominated, allowing just two sacks and paving the way for 170 yards rushing, which was higher than the ground total in the previous three games combined.

The ground presence definitely helped NC State's offense click and Glennon finished with an efficient line: 25-of-41 passing for 258 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The offense totaled 428 yards from scrimmage, nearly double what they put up last week.

Limit turnovers

What we wrote: The trend in NC State losses is turnovers - they have committed 19 in their four losses - and the Wake Forest defense has forced at least three turnovers in three of the last four games. In NC State's five wins, they have given up the ball just four times; giving up just one turnover was a huge part of the Pack's win over Florida State.

State has only won the turnover battle in three games this year, and that is always a crucial statistic. They have to do better in that aspect down the stretch.

What happened: NC State did not win the turnover battle - it was tied at two apiece - but they did a respectable job protecting the ball. This was probably the one area, where improvement could have been made on Saturday.

One of the keys was that NC State turned it over first on a fumble, but Brandan Bishop came up with an interception three plays later that led to the Pack's first touchdown.

Start strong

What we wrote: The other trend in the Pack's defeats has been slow starts, and teams trying trick plays early. NC State has held the lead after the first quarter in just two games this season - against South Alabama and The Citadel. Excluding those two contests, the team has been outscored by a 90-28 margin. The team has given up a total of 97 points in the opening frame this year, but just 120 combined points in the remaining three quarters.

The trend isn't limited to this year; over the past two years in NC State's 15 games against ACC and non-conference opponents from BCS leagues, the Pack has been outscored 162-45 in the first quarter. That is obviously not a recipe for successful football.

Teams have also opened up the playbook against NC State, especially early on, and Wake Forest is a team that has liked to do that in the past. The Pack must stay discipline so that those trick plays don't turn into big scoring plays, and that should help them get off to a good start.

Taking a lead into halftime would be a crucial development against Jim Grobe and company. Wake Forest is 1-4 this year when trailing at the break, and 13-51 under Grobe when faced with a deficit midway through the contest.

What happened: NC State forced a three-and-out on the game's first drive before fumbling the ball back to Wake Forest. However, they forced an interception very quickly, and it was all NC State from then-on.

The Pack jumped out to a 17-0 lead by the end of the opening frame, and that was too much for Wake Fores to overcome. The Demon Deacons' first-quarter drives ended by punt four times and the other was stopped by an interception.

Shut down Michael Campanaro

What we wrote:,/u> The redshirt junior receiver is coming off of a contest where he tied the ACC single-game record with 16 catches, and that helped the Demon Deacons to a win over Boston College. He has been very good since returning from a broken hand - he has 22 catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games - and is a crucial part of the Wake offense.

The Deacs are 4-1 when the receiver has at least 100 all-purpose yards and they have won every game this year when he has reached the end zone. There have been four games this year that Campanaro has recorded three touches or less - he missed two full games due to injury - and Wake was held to under 250 offensive yards in three of those games. Three of their four losses have come when Campanaro touched the ball three times or less.

In the other five contests, the team averages 387 yards per game with Campanaro accounting for an average of 129.0 yards from scrimmage per contest. The team is 4-1 in those games.

What happened: This was perhaps the area where NC State dominated the most - bottling up Campanaro. He did throw a 39-yard touchdown pass, but other than that, he had five catches for just 14 yards.

After the game NC State cornerback Dontae Johnson, who was lined up in the slot across from the star receiver most of the game, noted that it's probably impossible to prevent Campanaro from catching the ball. However, what they did a great job of, was limiting his impact after catching the ball. He has never had more than two catches and as few receiving yards as he did on Saturday.

Matchups to watch

NC State vs. itself: What we wrote: The Pack has lost the last two games due to correctable mistakes, such as a lack of discipline, dropped passes and defensive breakdowns that have led to big plays. Those are all fixable blunders, and Saturday gives the team to turn those around.

The most troubling thing may be the penalties that NC State has racked up this year. They were several costly ones in the last two weeks, and the team has always been good in this category under Tom O'Brien. However, this year the team has averaged more than seven penalties per game and they have been flagged at least seven times in each of the last three games.

What happened: There were a few dropped passes, and a trick play worked for Wake Forest, but everything else was corrected. State was penalized just three times for 15 yards, receivers make catches when they needed to and Wake Forest's offense was bottled up.

The 39-yard trick pass marked the longest drive of the game for Wake, and if you take that play out, they were held to 146 yards of offense.

NC State secondary vs. Michael Campanaro: What we wrote: There is not one defensive back that will be tasked with limiting Campanaro because Wake does a great job of moving him around and getting him the ball in different ways. Quarterback Tanner Price is underrated, but taking away Campanaro would make him a completely different signal caller.

What happened: NC State essentially took Campanaro out of the game, and that obviously paid dividends. As mentioned earlier, a major kudos is in order for nickel back Dontae Johnson and his defensive effort.

Stats to watch

0.80: What we wrote: The average number of turnovers committed by NC State in their five wins this season. That number grows to 4.75 in their four losses. Whether NC State wins or losses may simply come down to how many turnovers they commit; the team has not turned the ball over more than twice and won a game this year.

What happened: NC State's average number of turnovers in their wins will grow a little bit, to 1.0 per game, but the big thing was the Pack answered their first offensive turnover immediately with one on the defensive side, and when the second occurred, they were already up 17-0.

8.57: What we wrote: Average number of catches for Campanaro per game, which ranks fifth in the FBS. When he gets touches, the Wake Forest offense is usually clicking; it was evident how much the team missed him when he was out with a broken hand, so NC State must try to limit his impact on Saturday.

What happened: We wrote a lot about containing Campanaro, and NC State's gameplan worked to perfection. They knew they couldn't stop him from catching balls, but they did limit his impact after the catch, which could be even more important.

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