Behind enemy lines: Gary Hahn

We caught up with N.C. State play-by-play announcer Gary Hahn to discuss Saturday's game at Carter-Finley Stadium between the Wolfpack and Pirates.

Josh Graham: What does the North Carolina State-East Carolina rivalry mean to you speaking from the Wolfpack perspective?

Gary Hahn: "It's a good rivalry for the state of North Carolina and I'm always for all of that. Anytime state schools can play and develop a rivalry, I think it's good for football in the state of North Carolina.

It's a game that I look forward to when I see it come up on the schedule. I know ECU fans do and I'm pretty sure N.C. State fans do. I hope the N.C. State players do because if they don't, they are going to be in for a rude awakening on Saturday."

JG: Who can we expect to see at quarterback from N.C. State?

GH: "I think Brandon Mitchell, if his ankle is healthy enough and is able to play, will start. He was the guy that was penciled in as the starter, looked very good in the preseason and looked very good in the first quarter against Louisiana Tech until he broke his foot. And then he missed five games and he's been battling back to catch-up.

"He's the guy that will start the game if his ankle that he injured against Duke is sufficiently healed. If not, it will be Pete Thomas. If Pete starts, it will be his seventh start at State, he's the Pack's No. 1 passer and throws the ball a little bit better than Brandon Mitchell.

"During the course of the season, if you watched any N.C. State games or videos, you've seen Bryant Shirreffs come on at quarterback. Shirreffs is a true freshman out of Jefferson, Ga., he's about 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and is basically a wild-cat quarterback that comes in and runs the ball the majority of the time, although, he can throw out of that.

"Garrett Leatham is another quarterback who has seen action. He's seen action at Boston College and also Syracuse. He's played in five games this year and he's got a good arm, decent mobility, but most of the time, he's been running as the third or fourth team quarterback.

"All four of them have played this year, which is a little bit odd. Most of the time you have a starting quarterback, most teams like to go with one guy and the numbers two, three and four rarely see the field. But with all of the injuries and everything that has gone on at N.C. State this season, the Pack has played all four of these guys. I don't know what's going to happen Saturday, but you could see all four of them."

JG: What has been the Achilles heel for the Wolfpack?

GH: "I would have to say injuries are No. 1. That's really hurt because this wasn't really a very deep team at the beginning of the season and they had their quarterback break his foot. That was a setback. Before the season, Logan Winkles, who is a very powerful full-back and a great blocker, was lost for the season with a knee injury.

"During the course of the season, the Wolfpack has lost its No. 1 deep threat at wide receiver, Bryan Underwood. He's out for the year. The free safety, Jarvis Byrd, is out as well and the secondary is not one that is real deep. All these injuries to key players have really put N.C. State back.

"And then the Wolfpack had some obvious questions on the offensive line to begin the season and then there were injuries along the offensive line that hurt the continuity of that unit to get better and improve. So it's just been one thing after another and you have a first-year coach with a new system coming in. It's basically been a rebuild mode for N.C. State football."

JG: What matchup will be most important for N.C. State when it lines up against ECU on Saturday?

GH: "What concerns me is that East Carolina is running the ball a little bit better and N.C. State has recently had trouble stopping the run. Syracuse ran all over the Pack, Boston College last week had a big-time day against State on the ground. That's what really bothers me more than anything else.

"Some of (N.C. State's) pass (defense) numbers are skewed by the fact that people are able to run the football. And if you can run it, you don't have to throw it that much. That's one thing that stands out to me. Somehow, someway the N.C. State defense has got to buck up and they have to do a better job stopping the run.

"And State's got to do a little better of a job of running the ball. Last week against Boston College, I don't think State had 50 yards on the ground and that goes back to the offensive line issues. Those are two things that I'm looking for in this game: N.C. State's ability to run the football against East Carolina and to stop the run.

"I have watched at least one of East Carolina's videos and I'm very impressed with what they do. I think you got to contain their screen game, you've got to make good tackles in open space because if you don't, a five-yard pass goes for 25 or 30 yards. Those are some of the things I think the N.C. State coaching staff has probably been harping on and trying to get the guys to buy into this week."

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