You can find my answers to Steven's questions here.
FTRS: What were the expectations like in Raleigh for the Wolfpack this season?
BTP: When I asked readers before the season started how many games NC State would win, almost 70% of the votes were for six or seven wins. I think we all figured State would handle the non-conference portion of the schedule well, and that the team would be competitive enough to nab a couple conference games, pending Jacoby Brissett's play.
After the type of season State had, there's a sentiment of "dear god please don't look that bad again and we can go from there," which I think describes a lot of mindsets in the leadup to the season. The big goal for the team this year is simply to get to a bowl game, and we knew that before the year began.
FTRS: After the Florida State game, NC State was 4-1 and had just taken the #1 team in the nation right down to the wire. Had the expectations changed from the start of the season, and was there hope they could have a good season in conference play?
BTP: Nobody went nuts and proclaimed NC State a contender in the Atlantic after that game, but at the same time, it's pretty tough to escape some added optimism when your team pleasantly surprises you like that. It's natural to want to attach some extra importance to an encouraging effort against a top-ranked team.
I think the way that game unfolded--going up 24-7, then watching FSU go on a 49-17 run--we got a splash of cold water after the initial high. We'd also seen enough in the non-conference portion to know that the team had serious issues, even though the Pack managed to win all four games. The defensive deficiencies in particular were apparent right from the start.
So I don't think the FSU game changed expectations in any sort of permanent sense. There wasn't enough time for that anyway--the Pack got crushed in Clemson a week later. Getting clubbed to death on the road is one way to be brought back to reality. Not my preferred method, but it gets the job done.
FTRS: Since FSU, the Wolfpack have gone 1-3 with the only win being against Syracuse. Has their play been disappointing, or was it expected with the schedule being as tough as it is?
BTP: At the time, the Boston College game felt like a disappointing performance. That seemed like a golden opportunity for the Pack to break its conference losing streak, and losing so decisively was discouraging. But I hadn't guessed then that Boston College would be as good as it's proven to be.
There have been smaller disappointments, like the way in which NC State lost to Clemson and the coaching staff's mismanagement of timeouts in the second half against Louisville. But the results of those games were anticipated from the day the schedule was released. We lamented, we shrugged, we moved on.
FTRS: Give me the rundown on Jacoby Brissett. What are his biggest strengths? Are there really any weaknesses?
BTP: Brissett has proven to be an above-average decision maker, and he has enough speed/elusiveness to extend plays when the pocket breaks down. That can get him in trouble, too, because sometimes he'll hold the ball too long and a negative play will result. He plays like he thinks he can make something out of any situation no matter how dire, and while he's proven that he can, that's also led to some sacks or fumbles that shouldn't have happened.
He played poorly against Syracuse--NC State really won in spite of him--but he nonetheless did what he's done all year, which is avoid throwing interceptions. He's got three in nine games, while our starters in 2013 combined to throw 15 picks. That's been huge for this team.
Brissett also has good arm strength, it's just that his accuracy on throws downfield tends to be erratic. Lately it seems like he's been stricken with happy feet in the pocket, more inclined to hit the eject button and try to get to the edge than step up and make a throw in rhythm.
FTRS: Other than Brissett, tell me about three impact players that Tech fans should look out for on Saturday.
BTP: Slot receiver Bo Hines leads the team in receptions and receiving yardage; he isn't likely to make big chunk plays because he doesn't have great speed, but he's been probably the most consistent wideout on the team.
NC State is going to want to run the ball a lot if possible, which might lead to a big day for Shadrach Thornton at running back. Thornton brings a good mix of toughness and speed to the table, and that makes him the best RB on the roster. He will, alas, share snaps all afternoon with the likes of Tony Creecy and Matt Dayes.
Let me just blindly reach into a bag right quick to get a defensive nominee ... and hey, it's Mike Rose. The defensive lineman is coming off a three-sack effort against Syracuse and he leads the team in tackles for loss this season.
FTRS: Georgia Tech is 1st in the nation on 3rd down conversions, while NC State is one of the worst teams in the nation at defending 3rd downs. Do you think that will be one of the keys in the game? Why has the defense struggled so much on 3rd down? (We know plenty about that in Atlanta as well)
BTP: Yeah, that should be a significant factor considering the sort of damage that Tech's offense is capable of doing. I don't see NC State making third downs too much of a problem for the Jackets, though.
I don't know that there is a specific culprit for State's inability to get off the field; the defense is bad in general, so they tend not to be picky about the down on which they are bad.
Still, third downs have been something special: opponents average more yards per carry on third than first or second down. Opponents have posted their highest passer ratings on third downs as well.
FTRS: The winning team has scored 45 points in the last two contests between these two teams. Do you expect the winner scoring at least 45 points in this one with two fairly bad defenses?
BTP: Man, I hope not, because if I had to bet on which team gets 45+ and a win, it's not NC State. I'll be surprised if both teams don't at least hit the high 20s or low 30s on the scoreboard.
FTRS: Finally, what's your prediction for the matchup on Saturday?
BTP: Ultimately I think NC State lacks the discipline, talent, and experience necessary to frustrate Georgia Tech's offense for any significant period of time. I'll go with Georgia Tech 38, NC State 27.