Notebook: Huge Test for State

NC State (1-0) returns to the field Saturday night looking to upset Central Florida (1-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm, and the game will be televised on CBS College.

The Wolfpack will travel to Orlando to return the visit the Golden Knights paid to Raleigh for the season opener of 2007. That game was Tom O'Brien's first as head coach at NC State and was a disappointing 25-22 loss for his Wolfpack.

The Golden Knights began the game with a bang, scoring on an 80-yard touchdown run on their first play from scrimmage. The halftime score stood at 25-3 in their favor and the second half opened with Wolfpack starting tailback Toney Baker going down with a knee injury that would end up keeping him sidelined for the next two seasons.

The Wolfpack came back strong after halftime, scoring 19 points and keeping UCF out of the endzone, but a last minute effort to score fell short.

Tom O'Brien and George O'Leary have faced each other three times in their combined 26 previous years of head coaching experience. In O'Brien's first two years as head coach at Boston College, his Eagles met O'Leary's Georgia Tech squad twice. Georgia Tech won in Chestnut Hill, 42-14, on Oct. 4, 1997, while BC returned the favor the next year in Atlanta, winning 41-31 on Sept. 5, 1998.

The other meeting was in the season opener in 2007, Tom O'Brien's first game at NC State. Central Florida won that contest, 25-22.

Between the last practice before last year's season finale against North Carolina (Nov. 26, 2009) and the first practice of this year's fall camp (Aug. 3, 2010), 250 days elapsed. That's the amount of time that Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson DID NOT practice football. He missed spring practice. He missed seven-on-seven drills in the summer. He missed football workouts in the Murphy Center weight room. Instead, he was playing baseball for the Wolfpack squad in the spring and for the Colorado Rockies' Tri-Cities Dust Devils in the summer.

Although Tom O'Brien and Wilson himself said after Saturday's 48-7 win over Western Carolina that Wilson had to shake a little rust off in the season opener, it certainly wasn't evident from looking at the stat sheet.

Wilson threw for four touchdowns in the game (the sixth time in his career that he had thrown for four or more scores). He threw for 306 yards, marking the fifth time he's topped the 300-yard mark and he completed 68% of his throws (21 of 31). His 306 yards of total offense for the night gives him 5,936 for his career, which moves him past Terry Harvey into third place in school history.

Several members of the 2010 Wolfpack squad hail from the Orlando area, including senior wide receiver Jarvis Williams. Although he played 19 snaps AND caught two passes against Central Florida in 2007, this week's game will be a homecoming for the Orlando native. Williams played his prep football at Jones High School, just 16 miles from Brighthouse Networks Stadium. Halfback James Washington, who missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, attended Boone High School, which is just 17 miles from the stadium.

Senior offensive lineman Gary Gregory is from Apopka, which is just outside Orlando, while E.J. Carter, a transfer from Syracuse, attended Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando.

Senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski set an NC State record for consecutive point-after-touchdown makes on Saturday in the win over Western Carolina. With four PATs in the contest, he has now connected on 77 straight, dating back to the 2008 campaign. He also holds the Wolfpack career record for PAT percentage, as he has hit 81 of 82 tries for his career, a .988 mark. Czajkowski ranks fourth in school history in field goal percentage (.848), ninth in field goals made (28) and is tied for sixth in total PATs (81).

With a four-touchdown, 306-yard, .678 passing performance against Western Carolina, quarterback Russell Wilson now posts a 144.27 passing efficiency mark for his career. If his career ended today, that mark would be a school record, edging out Philip Rivers' tally of 144.16. Wilson's current rating is also the third-best in ACC history. The redshirt junior has been extremely efficient in his last two outings. In the season-ending win over North Carolina last year and the season opener against Western Carolina this year, his combined stats include a .706 passing performance for 565 yards and eight TDs with no interceptions.

The 2010 version of the Wolfpack football team has a central theme: YOUTH. Of the 105 players listed on the roster, 60 (57%) are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores (redshirt or true).

Although the youth of this year's team might be a concern early in the season, it certainly bodes well for NC State's future. On the depth chart for the first two games, 39% (17) of the 44 players listed on the offensive and defensive two-deep charts have been either true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores.

There were 30 players on the Wolfpack squad who played for the first time in an NC State uniform in the win over Western Carolina.

Six true freshmen saw action in the seaon opener for NC State, while one, offensive tackle Robert Crisp, started the Wolfpack victory. In addition to Crisp, defensive backs David Amerson (CB), D.J. Greene (FS) and Dontae Johnson (BS) saw action. Freshman A.J. Ferguson, who actually graduated from high school in 2009 but joined the team in January of this year, saw action on the defensive line, while true freshman Mustafa Greene played halfback.

In addition to those six true freshmen, a whopping 24 other players played for the Wolfpack for the first time. Transfers David Akinniyi (Northeastern) and Mikel Overgaard (Snow College) both started, while Ellis Flint (Hofstra) kicked off twice.

Ten redshirt freshmen got into the game as well: Darryl Cato-Bishop, Ryan Cheek, Duran Christophe, Donald Coleman, Rickey Dowdy, Dean Haynes, Sam Jones, Everett Proctor, Hans Rice, and Anthony Talbert. Tight end Mario Carter, who redshirted as a freshman and then missed last season with an injury also played, as did linebacker William Beasley.

And finally nine walk-ons who had never played before got into the contest: Donovan Counts, Jackson Diaz-Cobo, Zach Gentry, Tyler Kloc, Travis Leggett, Curtis Martin, Seth Pavarnik, Cameron Ray and Keegan Ray.

Of the nine starters on the offensive and defensive lines, seven got their first career starts at NC State in the season opener. Four of the five starting offensive linemen started for the first time: tackles Rob Crisp and Mikel Overgaard, guard Zach Allen and center Cam Wentz. On the defensive line, end David Akinniyi joined tackles Natanu Mageo and Brian Slay as first-time starters for the Wolfpack.

The only first-time starter that wasn't on one of the two front lines was Dean Haynes, who started at halfback.

There isn't going to be much chance for Tom O'Brien's squad to ease into the 2010 football season. This week, the Wolfpack will play a 7:30 contest in Orlando on Saturday, and then five days later will play host to Cincinnati in an ESPN Thursday night game back in Carter-Finley Stadium.

Only twice since 1980 has NC State had a five-day turnaround which included at least one game on the road. In 1997, Mike O'Cain's Wolfpack topped Northern Illinois at home (9/20) before falling at Wake Forest (9/25), while Chuck Amato's 2002 squad beat Duke at Carter-Finley Stadium (10/19) prior to stunning Clemson on the road in an ESPN Thursday contest (10/24).

Although a 5-7 record in 2009 wasn't what the NC State coaching staff was hoping for, a closer look at the scores shows that the Wolfpack wasn't too far away from being 8-4. Three of the team's losses last season were by six points or less: a three-point loss at Florida State, a six-point loss at Wake Forest and a four-point loss to South Carolina to open the season.

In 2008, the Wolfpack posted a 6-7 mark, winning four straight games to close the regular season and earn a bowl bid. Four of the seven losses that season were by nine points or less: a seven-point loss to BC, a nine-point loss to Florida State, a three-point loss to Maryland and a six-point loss to Rutgers in the Bowl.

In all, of NC State's 14 losses in the past two seasons, seven have been by nine points or less, five by six points or less and three by four points or less.

For the first time since he took over as head coach in 2007, Tom O'Brien does not have the luxury of having a returning starter at halfback this season. He inherited a trio of talented and experienced backs -- Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene -- when he took the job prior to the 2007 campaign.

This season marks the first under O'Brien that at least two of those players aren't vying for time in the backfield.

Entering the 2007 campaign, those three backs had combined for 24 starts and 1,330 snaps. In 2008, those three boasted 36 starts and 2,183 snaps between them (Baker ended up sitting out the entire season with an injury). Last season, after Brown went on to the NFL, Baker and Eugene combined for 20 career starts and 1,684 career snaps heading into the season opener.

Heading into 2010, the players who were battling for time at the halfback spot had combined for zero career starts and 157 career snaps.

The biggest surprise of the opening depth chart for 2010 came at halfback, where redshirt freshman Dean Haynes earned the job as the starter, backed up by true freshman Mustafa Greene.

Haynes redshirted last season at safety and started off 2010 preseason camp playing in the secondary. He moved over to tailback just two weeks prior to the opener and rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the opener. The Tunnel Hill, Ga., native played quarterback and running back in high school, leading his area in rushing with 878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.

Greene was ranked the 26th-best running back in the nation by last season at Irmo High School in South Carolina. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 18 touchdowns in eight games, averaging nine yards per carry. In the opener, he gained 35 yards and rushed for a score on 10 carries.

Freshman halfback Mustafa Greene, known as "The Moose" to his teammates, scored the Wolfpack's first rushing touchdown of the season, a two-yard run in the third quarter to put NC State up 41-7 after the PAT. Greene rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries for the night and had two receptions for another 22 yards.

Greene became the first true freshman to rush for a touchdown in his first game since tailback Reggie Davis scored at Duke on October 25, 2003. Although that game was later in the season, coaches had planned to redshirt Davis before calling him into action for that 28-21 Wolfpack win.

Heading into the season, wide receiver T.J. Graham had just one touchdown reception for his career (although he had two scores on returns). After one quarter in 2010, he had three TD grabs. Graham scored on 26- and 25-yard passes from Russell Wilson in the victory, gaining a career-high 96 yards on a career-high six receptions. He also had a 50-yard kickoff return. Despite missing five games due to an injury last season, return man extraordinaire T.J. Graham ranks fourth in school history in career kickoff return yardage and he is only a junior. His 1,652 yards is the 19th-best mark in ACC history as well.

Graham already holds the school records for single-game kickoff return yards (202 versus Duke in 2009) and single-season kickoff return yards (1,028 in 2008). Two of his returns have been for touchdowns.

For his career, Graham posts 2,410 all-purpose yards. He started three of the seven games he played in last season as a receiver, before his season ended due to a stress fracture in his leg.

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