2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Liberty at NC State
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Sept. 3 at NC State 43 … Liberty 21
CFN Analysis: Uhhh, NC State, you're not supposed to struggle so much against Liberty. The Wolfpack didn't exactly come out roaring in the first game after Russell Wilson bolted for Wisconsin with Mike Glennon completing a pedestrian 18-of-31 passes for 156 yards and a touchdowns. Curtis Underwood saved State with 114 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries, while James Washington was a nice complement for a decent day for the ground game. It took the defense and seven takeaways, along with a big punt return from T.J. Graham, to overcome the upset bid, with David Amerson saving the day with eight tackles and two picks. This type of effort isn't going to work against Wake Forest in the ACC opener; the offense has to start to work and the offensive line has to be far, far better and keeping Glennon upright.
(AP) RALEIGH, N.C. -- T.J. Graham returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, James Washington rushed for two scores and North Carolina State pulled away to beat Liberty 43-21 on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
Washington had scoring runs of 1 and 19 yards, Brian Slay returned a fumble 52 yards for another score, and Curtis Underwood added a 33-yard touchdown run for the Wolfpack.
Making his first start for N.C. State, Mike Glennon was 18 of 31 for 156 yards with a late touchdown in the first game since Russell Wilson's departure.
Francis Bah returned a fumble 32 yards for a TD and Mike Brown was 22 of 39 for 279 yards with a touchdown. Brown added 77 yards rushing but turned it over six times. The Flames outgained N.C. State 406-318.
All eyes during preseason camp in Raleigh were on the quarterback position after the exit of Wilson, a former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year and all-league quarterback who led N.C. State to a 9-4 finish and bowl win last year. He was released from his scholarship after he skipped spring practice once again to play baseball, and wound up transferring to Wisconsin. In his debut two nights earlier, he accounted for 317 total yards and three touchdowns in the 11th-ranked Badgers' rout of UNLV.
Glennon didn't have nearly as easy a time against an opponent that was not intimidated from a lower subdivision. Liberty, the four-time reigning champion of the Big South Conference, knocked off Bowl Subdivision member Ball State last year and kept things interesting all night against the Wolfpack.
The Flames pulled to 23-15 midway through the third on Brown's 27-yard scoring pass to Summers and his 2-point conversion toss to Pat Kelly. After Underwood countered with his touchdown 19 seconds later for N.C. State, Matt Bevins followed with field goals covering 50 and 38 yards to make it 30-21 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
While Liberty couldn't get anything going after that, N.C. State scored twice in the final 5 minutes. Glennon threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mario Carter and Washington tacked on a 19-yard scoring run.
The Wolfpack trailed 7-3 late in the first half when Graham woke them up with a big play. He fielded a punt at the Liberty 18 and zipping through the right side en route to his second career punt return for a touchdown. That marked the start of an impressive final 3 1/2 minutes of the half in which N.C. State seemed to finally get going.
D.J. Green intercepted Brown on the second play of the ensuing drive, and N.C. State marched 57 yards to go up 16-7 on Washington's 1-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left before halftime.
Then in the third quarter, Earl Wolff stripped the ball from Brown and Slay returned it for a score to make it 23-7.
But -- when he wasn't giving the ball to the Wolfpack -- the elusive Brown was a handful for them to handle all night. The Flames consistently found ways to move the ball against an experienced defense that played seven starters from 2010.
But it was a big play on defense that gave Liberty its short-lived lead. One play after Audie Cole recovered a Brown fumble near midfield, Walt Aikens drilled Glennon on a corner blitz to jar the ball loose. Bah scooped it up and raced 32 yards for a touchdown to put Liberty up.
Liberty (0-0) at NC State (0-0) Sept. 5, 8:00, ESPN
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Here's The Deal … The Wolfpack will open the 2011 season with one goal in mind, putting the Russell Wilson ordeal in the rear view mirror. While Wilson was a major part of the offense the past few seasons, it isn't as if he is irreplaceable, as most of the media has led you to believe during the offseason. Regardless of whether Wilson returned or not, coach Tom O'Brien was determined to plant a strong running game into the offense, as was his mojo during his tenure at Boston College. Entering his fourth season with the program, QB Mike Glennon is hardly a stranger with the program. Patience is a virtue as he has waited his turn and now wants to prove that he can be the guy to lead the troops to a second consecutive bowl game. Eight starters return from a defense that ranked No. 4 nationally in sacks while cracking the top 30 in scoring D. For the fifth consecutive season, the Liberty Flames are the preseason favorite to win the Big South Championship. Among the 17 returning starters are four preseason All-Americans. Head coach Danny Rocco has been brilliant in his time in Charlotte, reflected by his gaudy 19-2 conference record.
Why LIberty Might Win: Every small school in the country believes it can defeat a BCS opponent after the shocking upset of Michigan at the hands of Appalachian State in 2007. Liberty has won or held a share of its conference title each of the past four seasons to establish itself as a yearly power in the Big South. Rocco has laid an incredible foundation, which includes a conference-record 12- game home winning streak. QB Mike Brown is an offensive star who passed for nearly 3,000 yards in 2010
Why NC State Might Win: This is the role that O'Brien tends to embrace. With the loss of Wilson at QB, many haven't given much thought to State as a contender. However, the Pack has the components to challenge for a respectable bowl game in 2011. One of the biggest priorities is to enhance the run game, which will almost certainly be a priority in the opener against a lower tier opponent. The passing game will go as far as the productivity of the ground game will allow it, and a tune up in the first week should allow NC State to ease in the new era of Glennon under center. Across the board, the Pack outmatches Liberty in depth and talent, so execution will be the key to victory.
What To Watch Out For: NC State LB Terrell Manning is ready for the spotlight and to become the leader of an improving defense. Flashes of excellence were shown in 2010, in which he closed the season on a tear with huge games against Clemson and North Carolina. The loss of star Nate Irving will sting, so it is critical that Manning take control of the unit early in order to keep the cohesiveness together as the season progresses. Audie Cole will move from his previous strong side position to the middle to fill void of Irving. Both Cole and Irving will look to get off to fast starts to garner the media attention that eluded both a year ago.
What Will Happen: Although Liberty has done well under Danny Rocco, it has yet to qualify for the playoffs during his tenure, making NC State a major step up in weight class. The Pack running game will be too much for Liberty, allowing Glennon to stretch the field through play-action for big gainers. Liberty's Brown will cause some issues for the Pack defense, but it will not be significant enough to cause worry.
CFN Prediction: NC State 40 ... Liberty 13
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