College football: Wolfpack ready for Louisville
By Steve Reed
CHARLOTTE ó When North Carolina State coach Tom OíBrien parted ways with quarterback Russell Wilson in the spring there were plenty of concerns about the Wolfpackís offense.
Replacement Mike Glennon has taken care of that, and then some.
Glennon has flourished as a junior this season. He threw for 2,790 yards and 28 touchdowns and led N.C. State to a berth in Tuesday nightís Belk Bowl against Louisville, a game between 7-5 teams playing very well at the moment.
OíBrien, who coached Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at Boston College, had a hunch the Wolfpack wouldnít miss a beat.
ěWeíve all made the comparison that heís Matt Ryan reincarnated,î OíBrien said. ěThe way he throws the ball, thereís a lot of similarities with Matt. Itís just a question of playing and gaining experience. He learned a lot as the year went on. You would expect that. Heís a kid that studies the game and works at it.î
After a 3-4 start, the Wolfpack won four of their last five games to become bowl eligible.
Glennon threw eight touchdown passes in his final two games, including five in the season finale when he brought the Wolfpack back from a 33-point deficit to beat Maryland and clinch a bowl berth.
Louisville linebacker Dexter Heyman said the Cardinals must slow Glennon if they are to win their second straight bowl game under coach Charlie Strong.
ěWe have to stop their pass game and make them a run-first offense and thatís something people havenít been able to do, particularly late in the year,î Heyman said.
Heyman said Glennon has a rocket for an arm, but his skills donít stop there.
ěHe can really put the ball in a tight window,î Heyman said. ěAnd heís smart and savvy. He doesnít throw many interceptions.î
Wolfpack tight end George Bryan said the transition to Glennon was easier than most outsiders think. Even though Wilson, who later transferred to Wisconsin, put up big numbers during his three years at N.C. State, Bryan said teammates knew what to expect from Glennon and immediately rallied around him.
ěEven in the spring we were with Mike because Russell was gone playing minor league baseball,î Bryan said. ěIt wasnít anything different. At that point we thought Mike was just there as an experiment. But it turned out he was there for the rest of the year ó and that was a good thing.î
Glennon said replacing a team leader like Russell didnít bother him. In fact, he relished the opportunity.
ěI felt like I had a lot of confidence in myself and teammates had confidence in me that I could lead us to a lot of victories and get us to a bowl game,î Glennon said. ěMy personality is kind of laid back so I didnít worry about replacing Russell. I just let things play out.î
Louisville has a good quarterback of its own in freshman Teddy Bridgewater, although he has a completely different style than Glennon. Gifted with a knack for keeping alive plays with his feet, Bridgewater is the kind of exciting quarterback who could give the Wolfpack fits.
Bridgewater took over as the teamís starter the third week of the season against Kentucky. After an initial rough patch he led the Cardinals to wins in five of their final six games and a share of the Big East title. However, because of a tiebreaker West Virginia represented the conference in a BCS bowl.
ěYou have to contain him,î OíBrien said. ěHeís such a talented guy with his legs. He has a great arm and can throw the ball. Anytime you have a quarterback who can break the defense down by creating on his own there is the potential for problems.î
Bridgewater, one of six freshman starters on offense, finished the season with modest numbers, throwing for 1,855 yards with 12 touchdown passes with nine interceptions. But his mobility helped spark Louisvilleís stagnant running game.
His best game came against South Florida in the season finale when he threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
ěI think we play fast and try to eliminate mistakes,î Bridgewater said.
If Bridgewater hopes to do the same against N.C. State, he may want to avoid throwing to cornerback David Amersonís side of the field. Amerson led the nation with 11 interceptions in 2011 ó four more than the next closest player ó and anchored a defense that led the country in picks.
ěHe has a strong arm and he can move a little bit so you want to rattle him back there a little bit so we can make some plays in the secondary,î Amerson said.
Amerson said Bridgewater reminds him a lot of Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros, which isnít necessarily good news for the Wolfpack. Collaros threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns in the Bearcatsí 44-14 win over N.C. State on Sept. 22.
Of course, N.C. State is much healthier on defense than they were earlier in the season.
ěIn that game we blitzed a lot and it we werenít getting there ó and we paid for it,î Amerson said. ěSo itís imperative that we get to the quarterback.î
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