North Carolina State vs. Boston College (ESPN2, 2:30PM)
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA
Fast Facts: Saturday marks the much anticipated return of Tom O'Brien to the Heights. Before leaving for NC State last December, O'Brien compiled a 75-45 record at BC and led the Eagles to seven straight bowl victories. Last weekend, O'Brien's Wolfpack lost to Conference USA's Central Florida 25-23 and also lost their starting running back, Toney Baker, for the season. In his place, NC State will start Andre Brown who ran for 74 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. The Wolfpack will also start Harrison Beck at quarterback on Saturday; Beck threw for 204 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception against UCF. BC looks to continue their success from last weekend's 38-28 victory over Wake. In Vegas, BC is favored by 7.5 points.
Players to Watch: Matt Ryan. This one goes without saying. "Matty 'Heisman' Ice" threw for a career high 402 yards and 5 touchdowns last weekend. Look for him to throw at least two more this weekend. Andre Callender, A.J. Brooks and L.V. Whitworth. The trio need to establish some sort of running game for BC to keep the pressure off Matt Ryan. NC State was excellent in defending the pass last year, ranking 14th in the country by allowing just 166.7 yards per game. On the other hand, the Wolfpack allowed 152 rushing yards per game last season. Look for BC's running backs to thrive. UCF ran for 197 yards last weekend and threw for just 93. It's safe to expect BC's offensive coordinator, Steve Logan, to exploit this weakness. Harrison Beck. The pressure is on the sophomore quarterback from Florida, so look for BC's defense to turn up the heat.
North Carolina State
What has to happen for the Wolfpack to win: Harass Matt Ryan. Last year NC State did a great job of shutting down our receivers with tight, physical man coverage; so expect to see more of the same against BC's smaller receivers (Brandon Robinson and Kevin Challenger) and precocious youngsters (Clarence Megwa, Rich Gunnell and Justin Jarvis). But that alone won't be enough to contain BC's offense, as Matt Ryan will pick apart any defense if given the time. The inaugural performance of BC's offensive line last week was quite good, but if Matt Ryan gets hit early and often, we could see more throws similar to BC's very first offensive play from scrimmage.
What cannot happen for the Wolfpack to win: 3 and Out. If the NC State offense is unable to sustain drives, this game will spiral out of control very quickly for them. The explosive BC offense needs to be kept off the field and out-of-sync for NC State to have a chance in this contest. Andre Brown is a very good back, who would be a boon to the State passing game if he can find holes along the defensive front seven. While BC only gave up 2 yards last week, Wake threw the ball 60 times. Don't hold your breath for the Wolfpack to throw 60 times against the Eagles. Moving the chains and getting Andre Brown involved will be paramount to the Wolfpack's success; otherwise, a long spell of 3-and-outs will result in a litany of ebullient SuperFan tosses.
The Wolfpack's Secret Key to Success: Dana Bible. While many BC fans may consider "Dana Bible" and "secret success" mutually exclusive, the Wolfpack will have a distinct advantage in trotting out an offensive coordinator who has coached amongst and against all of these defensive starters for their entire collegiate careers. Eagle fans can be darn sure that Coach O'Brien and Coach Bible have been gameplanning for this one since last December (hence the flat performance against Central Florida), so expect them to try to exploit specific matchups that favor the opposition. Dejuan Tribble's All American performance last week (National Defensive Player of the Week) certainly did not go unnoticed by the Wolfpack offensive staff. That performance, coupled with the staff's intimate knowledge of BC's defensive backfield, will almost certainly result in more throws in Taji Morris' direction, or whomever else is playing opposite Tribble.
What NC-State fans are saying about the game: Most seem to believe that they are David in this fight against the BC Goliath. They've bought into Coach O'Brien's recent unremitting praise of this BC team, repeatedly calling it "stacked" and the most talented BC team has had. It's almost as if they've set themselves up to be complacent with any type of performance. Don't be fooled by their flattery. Who can forget Coach O'Brien statement a few months ago, "only two players at BC could start here."
What has to happen for the Eagles to win: Score, Score, Score. Since 2001, BC is 51-6 when scoring over 20 points per game. Yup, that's 51-6. Since scoring more than 20 points in college football does not require a huge offensive outburst, the numbers look even more astounding. Conversely, when BC scores under 20 points per game, they're a paltry 3-16. As Steve Logan's offense demonstrated last week, BC will be able to score quickly and in bunches. NC State does not have the firepower offensively to get in a shoot out with BC, so if the Eagles' point total approaches the 30's again, expect a W.
What cannot happen for the Eagles to win: A slow start. BC cannot get into the habit of spotting teams touchdowns before the offense gains its initial First Down. While Logan's offense displayed that it will never be out of games, if BC falls behind NC State early, the players may press too much in an effort to comeback against their former coach. If BC can start with a bang and get some points on the scoreboard early, the game could quickly turn into a rout.
The Eagle's Secret Key to Success: Billy Bennett. After last week's atrocious kickoff performance by Steve Aponavious, Coach Jags decided that the Special Teams couldn't continue to relinquish yards of defensive field position. Enter Billy Bennett. If Bennett can do what Punter Johnny Ayers did last week, the BC defense will reap the dividends. A long field for the Wolfpack and a residual short field for the Eagles' offense would be a welcome sight for the BC attack.
What BC fans are saying about the game: BEAT TOB.
For BC, they must treat this game like any other...well, perhaps they could pretend Harrison Beck is Tom O'Brien and all the fans can snicker at the sight of Mark Herzlich coming off the edge, but I don't think that's going to happen. In all seriousness, if the players get caught up in the return of O'Brien, it will play right into their former coach's hands. This game could help exorcise a lot of Coach O'Brien's angst surrounding his departure from The Heights, particularly his feelings of under appreciation by the fan base and Athletic Department. You can be sure that BC will be getting NC State's best effort and it will keep the game close
initially. The Eagles have significant talent advantages at quarterback and along the defensive front seven. Provided their emotions don't get the best of them, it shouldn't be long before the Eagles exploit those advantages. With an ACC game already under their belts, the BC offense should have less growing pains and the defense will be fired up to make plays all over the field. Coach Jags will not let the emotions of this game get the best of his players. The first half will be close, but expect BC to pull away with multiple scores in the second.
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