This edition of SMQ's weekly solicitation of opinion from a blogger, journalist, simple or other "insider" of Southern Miss' upcoming opponent takes us to North Carolina, a bubbling cauldron of discontent after a 1-4 weekend for state schools in which the only victory, by Wake Forest, was an underwhelming, one-point, come-from-behind affair against the creamiest of the Tar Heel State's own, homegrown creampuffs, Duke. This probably makes Blue Devil fans the most satisfied in the Triangle at the moment.
Perhaps worst of all was N.C. State's loss - or was it? - at home to Akron on the final play, the kind of defeat that results in either months of subsequent head-hanging shame and further humiliation, or the equivalent of an adrenaline shot as precursor to violent revenge on unsuspecting Conference USA opponents.
SMQ recently sat down with N.C. State fan and blogger Steven from Section Six over beefy kangaroo carpaccio with zingy lime shavings, refreshing eucalyptus, juicy melon strips, smears of caramel, and crumbles of illegal foie gras "snow" to discuss the likelihood of said contingencies, the soft bigotry of low expectations, and the emotionally exploitive consequences of ironic or coincidental circumstance, most notably characterized in the works of North Carolina native O Henry.
SMQ: From the perspective of its performance in the upcoming game only, is it good or bad that NC State was "upset" by Akron last week? Or will that game have any effect on what happens in Hattiesburg Saturday?
SS: I wish I could say the loss was a good thing as it relates to the USM game, because that would be at least one benefit of losing to the Zips. But I don't think last week will affect how NC State plays.
SMQ: Did anyone at NCSU see that loss coming? Has the picture circulated on your blog (and others) of the Akron back's elbow hitting shy of the goalline convinced the entire state this humiliation was a fraud, from which bloody vengeance is inevitable? Honestly, that is a shocking photo - I saw it real time and had no question the guy had scored.
SS: I was legitimately concerned about Akron, and I joked around about Akron beating us, but I didn't actually think it would happen. When you watch your team struggle to score 20 points against anyone with a pulse, it's a good idea to expect close games so as not to get your hopes up too much. And by the second quarter, let me tell you--it wasn't hard to picture Akron winning the game.
As for the final play, I thought the same thing you did when I saw the video. He definitely got in. Then I saw that photograph. I think a lot of the outrage over the play has stemmed not from the photo but from the fact that there was no booth review. If they'd reviewed the play and upheld the ruling on the field, then fine, that would have been that. Instead, we're left wondering if we got hosed again. Makes the loss much harder to take.
NC State's version of the Theismann injury: "Let's look at that ooonnne more time, Frank.."
SMQ: What do you know about Southern Miss? What should NC State's approach to this game be?
SS: I only know what I can glean from the hazy memory of last year's game, and what I've read from you. The bulk of starters back on offense, good talent at wide receiver and tight end, replacing a lot of guys on the defensive side but looking good up the middle. USM is one of those teams where I just assume they'll be solid (as in bowl-caliber) unless shown otherwise.
Although it makes for boredom, NC State should approach this game like it does most others: with intent to run the ball. I mean, that's all we got. I imagine that the offensive coaches' meeting--if they bother to have a meeting--is pretty short each week. "What do you think, guys, should we start with a few running plays or with a few running plays?"
The Wolfpack found some fluky success on the ground against the Eagles last year, and USM is replacing a lot of guys on the defensive side. Andre Brown was banged up against Akron but should be fine, and quarterback Marcus Stone usually looks like a chicken with its head cut off during the first halves of games. Those factors mean handoffs and more handoffs.
Do watch out for a trick play the offense has been "refining" in its first couple of games: in the shotgun formation, the center accidentally snaps the ball over the quarterback's head for a minimum 10 yard loss. I call it the Possum Play ("Okay, offense, ready...and...play dead!"). See, this is the kind of thing that happens when the team thinks about doing something that's not a run.
We got 'em set up for that shotgun snap play, coach - they'll never see it coming!
SMQ: Confidence level entering this game, 1-10 (10 being highest)? Does anything about USM particularly worry you? In the same vein, is there any aspect that looks particularly vulnerable?
SS: 2.0. I do not think that NC State will win the game. The offense is so bad that the Wolfpack has to make a living winning close games...the only problem is that the team is too mistake-prone to reliably deliver in close situations.
NC State's secondary gave up some big passing plays to
Akron, and that's definitely a concern. Luke Getsy was only 12-31 but averaged over 20 yards per completion. With the experience USM has returning at wide receiver, the Eagles will take advantage if the Wolfpack secondary continues to have problems. In general I have been pleased with NC State's defense, though, and I have faith that the D will be able to keep the scoring down.
I can only assume that USM's defense will be on the field with the NC State offense. This is something of a problem for us. The USM defense might even be a little vulnerable, what with the number of starters being replaced, but it won't matter (NC State hasn't scored more than 24 points against a I-A team since 2004). I'm going for the reverse-jinx here; I hope you understand.
SMQ: Not many people know the first thing about Hattiesburg, and we Mississippians are nothing if not self-conscious of outside opinion, so, in your mind's eye, how do you envision the town? (I'll give you one hint: "Pine Belt")
SS: I picture it as sort of a swampier, lower-lying Chapel Hill equivalent. There's one main road through town, with USM bordering one side and assorted restaurants, bars, and shops on the other. Everything's quiet, generally, except for Larry Eustachy's house.
[Other than the "swampy" part, that's eerie. - ed. Especially the bit about Eustachy.]
SMQ's responses to questions from Steven will appear at Section Six later this week.