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Q/A with NC State Podcaster and Blogger Riddick & Reynolds

James of Riddick & Reynolds, formerly known as Yet Another NC State Sports Blog, decided to drop some knowledge on From the Rumble Seat this week. Winfield completed a podcast with R&R a couple days ago while I sent over an e-mail riddled with the tough questions. Here are James' responses:

Bird: Let's talk conference expansion. Where does NC State's fanbase fall on the question of further expansion? Was State for or against the addition of 'Cuse and Pitt? Who (if any) should the ACC target in the next expansion?
James: I don't know if there's any one opinion that sums up the majority of State fans on this matter. The older guard, I think, longingly remembers when the league was an eight team basketball juggernaut and most likely wishes to remain in the ACC, sink-or-swim, out of a sense of tradition (it was, after all, State basketball coach Everette Case that helped lead to the creation of the ACC back in the early 50s). To the older crowd, basketball will always be king and football will always be secondary, so the notion that football could determine the fate of the ACC seems foreign. They think we'll be just fine staying at 12 while weathering the storm around us.
The younger set (folks under the age of 50) is coming to terms with the fact the ACC we once knew is now dead. They've likely grown tired of constantly being under the thumb of Duke and Carolina and sees a potential move from the defunct ACC to the big paychecks of the SEC as a means to level the playing field a bit and help stand out from the Blue Bloods up the road.

Personally, I fall more with the latter than the former. Under the leadership of John Swofford, the ACC has become a two-team league in a sport (basketball) secondary to the prime motivator behind all these expansion moves (football). When all the talks began about the SEC, Big 10 and even the The Big East poaching teams from the ACC, I became seriously worried that the ACC might collapse unto itself and be on the outside looking in when the mega conferences start running things. If the opportunity had presented itself, there's no reason to think State, as the largest school in North Carolina, couldn't compete against the second-tier teams in the SEC in football and become one of the dominant SEC programs in basketball.

Having said that, I do like that Swofford struck first by adding Syracuse and Pitt. The move ensures that the ACC will survive the "Expansionacalypse" and remain one of the (likely) four mega conferences once this phase is all said and done. As schools, Syracuse and Pitt aren't the BEST options, but they're not the worst, either. Both will bring great basketball (currently) to a league whose basketball product has sagged of late, and both schools have above-average football tradition (albeit ancient history, in the case of Syracuse). And now that it looks like the ACC is here to stay, I think it's best for State's interests that the league will likely survive.

As for the next two additions, I think the ACC should take a hard look at UConn and West Virginia. I know WVU is not a popular pick among expansion targets because of their academics, but I think they make more sense than Rutgers and would bring a ready-made football rivalry into the fold with Pitt. Having the Mountaineers and Panthers in the ACC would lock up virtually the entire Pittsburgh media market.

The next two schools the league admit need to be large state schools. The ACC struggles in football, in my opinion, because we're a league with an inordinate amount of smaller private schools (Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Miami) that can't crank out the number of local alums needed to support big-time football. Sure, Miami has lots of "fans" (when they're winning) but as we've seen since their addition to the league, they've struggled returning to their historical success levels and their "fans" have withered away accordingly.

Now, the "pie in the sky" dream scenario would be for the leadership at Notre Dame and/or Texas to realize that the ACC is the only mega-league open to the idea of (i.e. desperate enough to) allow these two schools to retain their current national TV deals/networks in some form of modified capacity. Landing either of them would be a major coup, and assuming we'd only land one or the other, I say you boot UConn out of the loop and add WVU + [Notre Dame/Texas]. Needless to say, this would be highly unlikely--but it's fun to dream.

An expansion "failure" on Swofford's part would be if the ACC missed out on any of the attractive options out there and had to add fallback schools like Louisville and Rutgers instead of their primary targets. I don't think it'll come to that, however, given the Big East is on its death bed and these schools will be clamoring for a soft landing somewhere safe, even if that place is the worst football conference in the BCS.
Bird: Mike Glennon appears to be having a fairly good season statistically speaking. Is it a fair assessment to say that he is doing the best he can do or does Glennon still have ample room for improvement?
James: Well, as you'd expect with any quarterback who has only four starts under his belt, Mike Glennon certainly has plenty of room for improvement. He's still locking into receivers too much rather than going through all his reads; this opens him up to interceptions like the second pick in the Cincinnati game where he never saw the underneath coverage and essentially threw the ball right to the linebacker. However, I would say he's performed up to, and perhaps even exceeded, my expectations given the circumstances. When given time and his receivers can create separation, he can throw some absolute missiles that tend to be right on the money.

The offensive unit as a whole is struggling because we have NO running game (-26 yards w/sack yardage; 6 yards w/o sack yardage against Cincinnati) and our offensive line can't prevent other teams from generating pressure from their down linemen. Opponents are finding it easy to get to him only rushing four, so Mike has to find open receivers against seven guys in coverage. Lacking a running game allows teams to drop their linebackers back into coverage more often, further complicating matters.

Even worse, when the ball actually gets there, our receivers are dropping passes far too often. Even our preseason All-ACC tight end, George Bryan, has gotten off to a shaky start with several key drops.

The dotted lines most folks naturally want to connect is that the decision by Tom O'Brien that ultimately led to Russell Wilson landing at Wisconsin has sunk this team. I don't think that's accurate. Russell Wilson doesn't prevent the Cincinnati offense putting up 44 points on us. Maybe Russell makes the final score a little bit closer at the end, and maybe his playmaking ability allows one or two stalled drives in the first quarter to continue, giving the defense a bit more of a break. But I imagine having Russell here would result in a squad that mirrored our team in 2009, when injuries decimated the defense much like they have this year and State was forced to win shootouts rather than contain teams.

In other words, the woes of this year's team have very little to do with Mike Glennon's performance.
Bird: What is wrong with State's running game? Tech fans were under the impression that this was a veteran State offensive line. Are the struggles more related to lack of a talented feature back or playcalling and offensive philosophy?
James: State's offensive line play is the $64,000 Question at the moment. After all the talk about how O'Brien's staff was supposedly known for generating NFL-caliber offensive lines, we've yet to see that play out at any point over the last five years. And unlike the woes we've seen on the defensive line, State's offensive line has been relatively unscathed thus far (jinx).

While the two running backs we have in the backfield in place of the injured Mustafa Greene aren't exactly world-beaters, they're still FBS-level athletes who--given a hole to run through--have shown they can pick up yards. They just haven't seen many holes to run through at this point in the season, and the Cincinnati game was the pinnacle of embarrassment. It was a performance worse than any ever put forth by a State since World War II.

It's a true mystery why we've struggled so badly running the ball. I don't know if it's scheme, coaching, motivation, chemistry, talent...whatever the worst possible combination of those factors is, we sure seem to have stumbled upon it.
Bird: I think it's fair to say that the State defense has regressed since 2010 after only allowing 75 yards rushing and 19 points to Cincinnati in 2010 and then getting the doors blown off in 2011 allowing 240 yards and 44 points to a fairly similar calibre Bearcat squad. What's changed? Earl Wolff is back. Audie Cole is back. Is there a particular defensive unit that was hit harder than the rest with respects to graduations and early departures?
James: I don't think we've been hurt as much by graduation as we have the injury bug. As I mentioned earlier, our defensive line is decimated with injuries at the moment. At this point we've lost three of the four preseason projected starters, meaning State's now having to turn to guys they planned to redshirt this year just fill out roster spots.

The lack of effectiveness by these green reserves has led to a trickle down effect throughout the rest of the defense: our linemen can't shed blocks or create gaps along the line; the linebackers don't have gaps to shoot through in order to make plays; the lack of pressure on the quarterback generated by the blitzing linebackers means the defensive backs have to patrol much more open space for extended periods of time with wide open zones vacated by the blitzing backers.

The Cincinnati game was a textbook example of how an ineffective defensive line can lead to big plays in the passing game. The Bearcats converted several 3rd-and-forevers by simply dumping the ball off to a crossing receiver running through the zones vacated by our linebackers. As I'm sure Tech fans will recall, Jon Tenuta's blitz-happy scheme is exciting to watch when it's working, but it can lead to nightmares when it's not.

I think it's fair to say this team misses Nate Irving a great deal, so that's one forced defection we'd love to have back. Perhaps more than any linebacker I can recall at State in recent memory, Irving's instincts were off the chart. He'd know exactly where to be at just the right moment. His ability to be effective independent of what the rest of his teammates were doing meant opposing offenses had to scheme away from him, which made the rest of Irving's teammates more effective as well. Would having Nate Irving on this year's squad solve all of its defensive issues? No. But he made so many plays on his own that it's impossible to say he wouldn't make at least a very noticeable impact. I don't think it's a coincidence entirely that he was absent in 2009 and 2011 when our defense during the O'Brien has looked its worst.
Bird: I think CMU, Maryland, BC, and UVA are very winnable for the Pack. Who will lose to State to give the Pack their 2011 bowl eligibility?
James: Bowl eligibility is quickly drifting into "probably not gonna happen" territory. Remember that State faces two FCS opponents this year, not just one, so that means we have to get to 7-5 just to become eligible. So over the next eight games, we have to find five more wins. The four games you mentioned are probably are most likely candidates, but we'll likely be an underdog in the Maryland game and the BC and UVA games will probably be tossups. The only game out of the bunch I feel good about is the Central Michigan game, and even that game seems uncertain to me at the moment.

So let's say we win all four of those games...where does win number five come from? I think the best hope is the North Carolina game, simply because it's a home game and because TOB has had Carolina's number in his first four years. But I don't feel good about relying on beating Carolina just to reach a bowl, because as this team showed last year when an ACC Championship Game berth was on the line, they wet the bed and let Maryland run roughshod over them.

I'd put our chances of reaching a bowl this year at less than 25% right now. Beating Georgia Tech this weekend would do wonders for our cause, that's for sure.
Bird: Early spreads are Tech -12 over State. I think that's a little high considering State's defensive performance in 2010 against Tech. What is Riddick and Reynolds prediction for the outcome?
James: Only 12? Sheesh. Vegas must like our chances a lot more than I do. Georgia Tech is averaging 53.25 points per game and put 35 on Carolina's vaunted defense. State's averaging 29.75 through four games--not bad, but still 23.5 off the pace the Yellow Jackets are scoring at. Being only a 12-point 'dog at home seems mighty generous to me.

That said, I'm not completely without hope when I think back to how well this team played against the Jackets last season on the road. Like last year, State has had the benefit of playing a Thursday night game the week prior, giving State's coaches two additional practice days to prepare for Paul Johnson's attack; perhaps those added days of preparation will again reap benefits.

But when I see how much more proficient Tevin Washington is at passing the ball this year, and how much more effective Al Groh's 3-4 defense this year rather than last, I just don't see us pulling this game out. Did I mention that State's given up 139 yards/game against four mediocre opponents thus far? could be nasty.

If you ask me to take a stab at a score, I'll play the adjusted averages and say 48-28, Tech.
Thanks to James and the rest of Riddick & Reynolds. Go Jackets!