While Old Dominion's first game as an FBS team will be against Hampton from the FCS, their first game this year against a same-level opponent will be at N.C. State, the first of a now three-game series. (It was announced today that the two teams will play in 2016 as well--the 2015 game in Norfolk was previously scheduled.) So what should we expect from a Wolfpack team that only went 3-9 (0-8 in the ACC)? Who better to ask than the man they call Akula Wolf (his real name is Steven, but don't tell anyone that we know that), who runs the show at our sister site, Backing the Pack.
Sydney: First off, looking back at 2013 (Dave Doeren's first season), you all struggled to a 3-9 season and went winless in the ACC. Granted, part of that was from playing in a tough division, but from a fan's standpoint, what were some of the determining factors behind that?
AW: The biggest thing was instability and poor execution from the quarterback position. That spot was a big question mark heading in, with Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell set to take over--Mitchell had minimal experience there, having never attempted more than 32 passes in a single year.
But he was hurt pretty much right off the bat, and that prevented him from finding any sort of comfort zone. When he was healthy, he wasn't very good. And the guy he was sharing time with, Pete Thomas, left a lot to be desired as well.
There were some throws that should have been made and weren't, and here and there, maybe a few that could have changed the direction of a couple games. Like, say, this play.
Injuries were costly in a number of places as well. Aside from Mitchell's early setback, which cost him more than a month, State also lost veteran tackle Rob Crisp in September, and its big-play receiver Bryan Underwood, who played in only seven games.
On the defensive side, the issues started up front--the Wolfpack just could not slow down anybody's ground game. ACC opponents averaged 5.7 yards per carry against the Pack, which represented considerable decline from 2012 to 2013 for the defense. The low point was Andre Williams and BC going for 300+, and State didn't hold a single FBS opponent under 3.5 yards per carry.
Sydney: You all just avoided losing to an FCS team in 2013. Richmond came in last year and took the Pack to the wire before a late field goal eventually clinched the game. (Disclaimer: that near miss obviously didn't go over well with my friend who is a State grad) Was it more of Richmond coming in with a "nothing to lose" mentality or was it just a lack of preparation on the part of State?
AW: In hindsight, that was a major omen for the things that would lie ahead. I'm not sure there's anything more to it than the simple fact that if you're a bad team, you can get in trouble pretty quickly, even against a mediocre FCS opponent.
Sydney: Moving to this season, you lost leading passer Pete Thomas (transfer), along with Brandon Mitchell (expired eligibility), but you add Jacoby Brissett from Florida. What does he bring to the table as a quarterback?
AW: That's the big question once again, since again NC State is throwing in a guy who hasn't played much. It's telling, though, that pretty much since he stepped on campus last year, the coaching staff was ready to name him the starter for 2014. Dave Doeren has had a lot of good things to say about him, and I've been impressed with how quickly he came in and established himself as a leader on the team. Often last season he could be spotted on the sidelines trying to keep everybody positive, which was no small undertaking.
That year in OC Matt Canada's offense should pay dividends, even if he was only able to play with the scout team in practices. He had a strong spring game as well, and that's encouraging. Brissett's not about to turn into the NC State version of Jordan Lynch, but I expect his accuracy and decision making to make the offense better.
Sydney: Who are some other players the Monarchs should be keeping an eye on? I see Shadrach Thornton is back after a good year at RB, but who else is key?
AW: Thornton's status might be iffy for early September since he keeps getting himself into trouble off the field, but in any case I don't think there's much difference between him, Tony Creecy, and Matt Dayes. Unless State's ground game has magically improved this offseason, it's hard to figure that'll be the difference in the game.
Bryan Underwood is the Wolfpack's most explosive player. Two years ago, when he had a good quarterback throwing him the ball, almost a quarter of his 44 receptions went for touchdowns. Newcomer WR Bo Hines could also figure in heavily, if he's able to translate his outstanding spring into production on the field.
On the other side of the ball, corner Juston Burris, defensive end Art Norman, and freshman defensive lineman Kentavius Street are a few guys to keep an eye on. Street was the headliner in Doeren's first recruiting class.
I should also mention kicker Nik Sade here. He's coming off a great junior season.
Sydney: Going in, if the Monarchs are to pull this off at Carter-Finley, what weaknesses do they need to exploit?
AW: The linebacking corps frightens the heck out of me right now. There is a lot of inexperience in that group, which is one reason why NC State is going with more of a hybrid 4-2-5 in 2014. How they'll handle run support is one concern, but it's just slightly more worrisome that they'll be up against an ODU team that put up some huge passing numbers last season.