September 23, 2012

Keys to the game - revisited: The Citadel

NC State had its second big win at home on Saturday night, when the Wolfpack rolled through The Citadel, 52-14.

Here are the keys to the game - revisited for the Wolfpack victory.

Limit the run

What we wrote: The gameplan for the NC State defense on Saturday night is a simple one, but that doesn't mean it will be easy to execute. The Citadel employs a triple-option offense - one that is averaging 370 rushing yards per game and better than six yards per carry.

It may be impossible to completely stop an attack like the Citadel's - they will get their yardage on the ground eventually. However, the key to success will be to limit the big plays. The Citadel racked up eight runs of more than 15 yards in their big win over Appalachian State last weekend, including three scoring runs of more than 40 yards. They also passed for 155 yards in that contest, but their aerial attack can be severely handicapped by limiting the ground game.

Since The Citadel installed their triple option offense prior to the 2010 season, they are 4-15 when rushing for less than 300 yards. If the NC State defense stays disciplined, read their keys and limit the big plays, the Pack should bottle up their FCS competitors.

What happened: NC State limited the Bulldogs to under 200 yards rushing, which was definitely an impressive effort. The Citadel recorded just 226 yards of offense, and with the run game bottled up, their aerial attacks didn't have much punch.

The Pack limited their opponents to 4.9 yards per carry, but if you take out their 65-yard touchdown run, that number shrinks to 3.35 yards, almost half of the average The Citadel brought into the game.

Don't overlook the opponent

What we wrote: The Citadel traveled to South Carolina last November and gave the No. 14 Gamecocks all they could handle in the first half. It was a 20-13 game at the half, and USC pulled away in the second half, but it showed how dangerous the Bulldogs can be.

Now, they are a better and more complete team that features upperclassmen at every position on offense, except for tight end, where they start a sophomore. They are an FCS team, but a dangerous one at that, and sometimes when a team has nothing to lose, that is when an upset can happen.

Needless to say, NC State can't take The Citadel lightly. The Pack did a great job of not overlooking their opponent last weekend, and the team that enters Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday night would probably be favored against South Alabama.

What happened: The Pack forced a punt on The Citadel's first drive, then immediately marched 80 yards down the field to get on the board first. The visitors responded with a long touchdown drive of their own (thanks to the aforementioned 65-yard scoring run), but the defense tightened up after that, and the offense scored on each of their next three drives and five of the next six.

NC State simply suffocated The Citadel in the first half and didn't allow them to stay in the game after their long touchdown run. The 21 first quarter points were the most for the team since the second and third game of the 2009 season, and that was all the Pack needed.

Simply put, State took care of business and did what they had to do in this one.

Let the linebackers run free

What we wrote: It is crucial to have the linebackers playing at optimal levels when defending the option, and success with that group starts with the defensive line. The big men up front have to occupy the offensive linemen and not allow them to get to the second level, while also taking away the fullback. To do that, they need to stay disciplined and execute their assignments consistently - that means not get caught by the trickery of the option and its reads.

The fullback is a crucial part of The Citadel's offense, but the straw that really stirs the drink is quarterback Ben Dupree. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is part of a dual quarterback system, but has logged at least 17 rushes in each game this season. The coaches have noted how dangerous he is on the ground, and he has rushed for 349 yards and four scores on the year.

Prior experience against the option always helps defenders, but middle linebacker Sterling Lucas is the only one in his position group that has previously played Georgia Tech. Therefore, it is imperative that the defensive line does a good job and allows the linebackers to run freely, making the tall order of stopping the ground game as simple as possible.

What happened: The defense has a whole played great with the exception of the one long run, but major ups to the front seven. The defensive line played well, the inexperienced linebackers didn't look like it was their first time against the option and the secondary took away the pitch, while also coming up with an interception.

It all started up front with the defensive line, who occupied the offensive linemen and kept the linebackers clean. Rodman Noel starred on defense with a team-best 8.5 tackles, including one for loss and seven solo stops. Rickey Dowdy added four stops, including one for loss, and Sterling Lucas was in on six tackles.

Defensive tackle Thomas Teal was one noticeable standout from the interior of the defensive front, and he had three stops, including one for loss, before leaving the game with an injury.

The dangerous Ben Dupree of The Citadel was limited to one rushing yard after he entered the contest averaging more than 100 per game.

Protect Mike Glennon

What we wrote: NC State has allowed 11 sacks through three games this season, and one of the most important things on Saturday is coming out of the contest healthy. However, Glennon is undoubtedly the most important player to keep healthy on the squad and the best way to ensure that he stays that way is protecting him.

Left tackle Tyson Chandler is expected to be making his third start in place of the injured Rob Crisp, so he needs to continue making improvements as he gains experience. However, the Pack's offensive line should overpower and outman The Citadel, and they need to show that on Saturday.

What happened: Glennon was sacked twice, but the offensive line dominated. They paved the way for 282 yards on the ground, the team's best such tally since 2005, and over 500 yards of total offense. The front controlled the line of scrimmage, despite an injury to right tackle Andrew Wallace, and showed they were on a different level than their opponents.

Overall, it looked like the Pack came out of this one in good shape on the injury front, although they were without the top two running backs on the depth chart due to injury. However, that was voided by true freshman Shadrach Thornton and his 171 total yards from scrimmage.

Matchups to watch

What we wrote: NC State's linebackers vs. Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree: Although he's a quarterback, the small signal caller is the game breaker for the Bulldogs. Three players have at least 200 rushing yards this season for The Citadel, but Dupree leads the way with 349 yards on 54 carries (6.5 average), and he also has four touchdown runs.

Provided the defensive line can take care of the fullback and occupy the offensive linemen, it comes down to the back seven, mainly the linebackers, stopping Dupree because the secondary needs to defend the pitch man.

What happened: Misson accomplished. Dupree was limited to one yard rushing, it's as simple as that.

What we wrote: NC State vs. itself: A big part of defending the option is staying disciplined and executing on your given assignment. This is also a game where NC State cannot afford missed tackles because if a Citadel runner breaks a tackle and gets outside, they could be running for a long time. Those are the three keys to stopping the option, and two of them are more mental than physical.

What happened: NC State played discipline football with just one brain fart, an early 65-yard touchdown scamper. That didn't hurt the Pack in the long run, and the team was clicking en route to showing that The Citadel was no challenge for the home team.

Stats to watch

What we wrote: 370: The Citadel is averaging 370 rushing per game. That number, regardless of any and all factors, is impressive - and they've done it against a pair of top 10 FCS teams. They're stepping up against the big boys this week, but they'll have a chance for success if they can stay near their average.

What happened: The Citadel rushed for just 199 yards on 41 carries. If you hold a triple option team to under 300 yards rushing, you have a great chance to be successful, and the Pack limited their opponents to under 200.

What we wrote: 12: NC State tallied 12 tackles for loss last week, and has notched at least seven stops in the backfield each game this year. Bringing down The Citadel ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage will go a long way in limiting the run.

What happened: The defense didn't tally an eye-popping tackle for loss total or anything like that, but they did record a respective six stops for loss. They also had several tackles for little gain.

State forced The Citadel into a lot of third-and-longs, and that resulted in the Bulldogs going 2-for-9 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down attempts.

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