It’s no secret that Tom O’Brien isn’t known for his recruiting. In fact, we have writen several times on O’Brien’s claimed ability to develop talent. The question always arises whether the Wolfpack can plan, long term, on allowing O’Brien to slowly develop talent and pray for 9-10 win seasons. Many swear by O’Brien and his methods without much evidence, but is O’Brien really trying to coach his players up to be better than their opponents? Let’s look at how NC State matches up against it’s opponents on a “per diem” basis.
OUTMATCHED EVERY PLAY
Since 2007, NC State has rarely out-competed their opponents, especially where you would expect them to. If I were to tell you that NC State was out-rushed (per play) for the past 6 years, you’d probably acknowledge that with the talents of Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon, we are a pass-first offense. But what if I told you we are out-passed (per play), as well?
AsJust to make things simpler, we can look at how NC State does in any given play, which compensates for the fact that we pass more than we rush.
Despite the talents of Wilson and Glennon, NC State constantly faces quarterbacks who can post more yardage in the air. Even during NC State’s 9-4 season in 2010, we got out-gained in the air 6.7 yards per play to 7.1 yards per play. Rushing, NC State has had some slightly better seasons than their opponents, but any given play NC State choses to go to the air, we can be out-performed by our opponents. So how do we manage to out-gain our opponents on the whole? Look fondly towards the defense…
BIDING YOUR TIME
If NC State isn’t beating their opponent’s rate of production, you have one other option: keep your opponent off the field. In fact, since 2010′s break-out season, NC State has won the ‘time of possession’ game every single year.
By limiting the amount of time your opponent has on the field, you can stop your opponent, regardless of how talented they are. During NC State’s close loss to Tennessee, it performed well, but didn’t maintain their time of possession advantage, allowing Tennessee to hold the ball for 31:47. Again Miami, NC State nearly beat the ‘Canes and their time of possession reflects it. Unfortunately, a series of poorly executed plays and 14 penalties for 100 yards allowed the ‘Canes to take away the win. Again Florida State, NC State held a 30:46 to 29:14 advantage in time of possession which allowed the Pack to overcome what most would call a “more talented team” and come away with the win.
This highlights O’Brien’s game plan and why he recruits the way he does. Why do you need to recruit the best players on your team when you can just keep the ball away from them on their team? The linchpin of this philosophy is a solid and consistent defenses. Note that in 2009, NC State had a horrid defense with a ridiculous number of injuries. Their performance reflected their health and NC State was unable to maintain possession of the ball as a result. Despite Wilson’s fantastic numbers, without possession of the ball, O’Brien’s offensive scheme collapsed. So what we start to see is that O’Brien’s success is dependent on a “proficient” offense and a “prolific” defense. The defense turns possession over to the offense and the offense does what it is trained to do: slowly march up the field. That is how O’Brien paves NC State’s path to success.
HOW IMPORTANT IS RECRUITING?
O’Brien is proving you can “win” without 4-star recruits, but sometimes to just “win” isn’t enough. The real question is whether he can compete for ACC Titles and/or BCS bowls with little more than a good strategy. So far, it appears the answer is no. NC State beat Florida State, but it was far from a decisive victory, the kind you would look for in a real ACC Title contender. If O’Brien has proven he can develop something, it’s a defense with the help of his staff of assistant coaches. As the defense goes, so will O’Brien’s success as a coach. Moving forward, there is a question mark on NC State’s future: can the defensive staff continue to develop mediocre defensive recruits? Will the defensive staff have to break down and finally attract some top-tier talent to continue opening up windows for O’Brien’s “Time of Possession” offense? These questions sit in the hands of Mike Archer and, more recently, John Tenuta. Those two individuals are in control of NC State’s fate… how confident does the Wolfpack Nation feel, now?