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Tennessee vs NC State: Q&A with Backing The Pack

So, if you were around last night you know we were supposed to do this on our podcast, but technical difficulties prevented that. And then after an hour of frustration, we tried an impromptu Google Hangout video, but only myself and Joel and Chris could log in. So there's a fair balance of nonsense and preview in that video below this post...but here's the actual info from Omega Wolf at Backing the Pack, our SB Nation NC State blog. Again, we're really grateful for his patience with an unsuccessful podcast and his willingness to share some of his answers in this format:

Had I made it on, I would have said this: all of your bases are belong to us.

And then, in all seriousness, you asked about Glennon. MG is a stud and pretty damn clutch. His QB rating went up by over 11 points on 3rd downs, and he threw 21 TDs to 0 interceptions in the red zone. In fact, 21 of his 36 completions in the red zone went for 6. And this was in his first year as a starter. He was good last year, but he might get a lot better. Though the somewhat porous OL and inexperienced WR corps could conspire to hold him back. Regardless, he will likely join Russell Wilson as a starter in the NFL.

As for C.J. Wilson, it is really just a depth issue. Dontae Johnson had passed him on the depth chart anyway, and Wilson, though he has returned every pick he's ever made for a TD, seemed to regress last year. Rashard Smith, who played WR and DB last year, replaced him for part of the season as the starter, and Jarvis Byrd would have been the starter the last couple of years if not for a series of knee injuries. If Byrd is healthy, Wilson would be no better than 3rd on the depth chart.

Johnson is a play maker. In limited snaps, he had 3 sacks, 27 tackles, and 4 pass break ups last year. He is 4 inches taller than Wilson and more physical. Wilson's loss hurts in terms of depth, but it's not the sort of loss that will keep Wolfpack nation up at night.

TOB's BC teams featured a balanced attack and physicality was their calling card, but since he has been at State the OL play has disappointed, and the team has relied primarily on the pass. I'm sure TOB wants to establish a ground game and dominate the trenches, but it just hasn't happened. The one surprise on the depth chart for the UT game is that Tony Creecy has supplanted James Washington as the starter. Creecy was a 4-star recruit, but played WR in high school. With a year of experience getting about a third of the snaps and some time in the weight room to bulk up, Creecy could surprise and help State finally get something out of the running game. Pack fans prefer him to Washington, but he really wasn't any more productive than Washington last year.

Mustafa Greene is kind of the wild card in all of this. He was a stud as a freshman, but injuries and off the field issues have conspired against him since then. If he is who we thought he was, and Creecy steps up, then State could go from middling offensively to quite explosive.

Ultimately, the game will come down to turnovers and sacks. The Pack was +2.25 in turnover margin in wins last year, but negative .8 in losses. They posted 3.75 sacks in wins, but just 2 in losses. If they are not getting more possessions and stalling offenses with negative plays, they are simply not good enough to beat a team with UT's talent level.

State lost 4 defensive starters to the NFL. They do have 17 sacks coming back from the defensive line, which is more than UT's whole team tallied last year, but the new linebacker group had 0 sacks last year. The inevitable growing pains for the new LB group, despite the tutelage of stud coach Jon Tenuta, makes me fear that State will not be able to bring the kind of pressure that creates negative plays and turnovers.

UT is a 3.5 point favorite, and I think that's about right. My heart predicts a State win, but logic predicts UT scoring 27-31 points and State keeping it close, but getting about 24 points and falling a score short.

The Pack will then likely fall victim to the classic trap game, on the road at a solid if not spectacular UCONN, in game 2, and open 0-2 before rallying to finish 7-5 and go to a middling bowl. An upset win, however, would really change that outlook; IF everything bounced State's way, this could be a 9 win team that stays in the race for the ACC championship until the bitter end.