Notebook: Pack Ready for Primetime?

NC State (2-0) returns to the field tonight looking to defeat Big East champion Cincinnati (1-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm, and the game will be televised on ESPN.

This week's game marks the first game of a home-and-home matchup with the Big East's Cincinnati, with the Wolfpack scheduled to make a return visit in 2011. Thursday night's game will mark the first meeting between NC State and Cincinnati.

Tom O'Brien has coached one game against the Bearcats. That matchup came during his first year as a head coach at Boston College. His Eagle squad dropped that contest, 24-6.

There is a strong Cincinnati flavor to the Wolfpack coaching staff. Three members are Cincinnati natives, one graduated from the University of Cincinnati and two coached there. Head Coach Tom O'Brien grew up in Cincinnati, where he attended St. Xavier High School, one of the oldest high schools in the nation (founded in 1831).

O'Brien graduated in 1968 and the next year a young running back named Dana Bible joined the Bombers' squad. Bible, who graduated from Saint X in 1972, was the leading scorer in the Greater Cincinnati league during his prep career. Bible ended up attending Cincinnati, where he started at cornerback. He earned his B.A. in 1976 and his M.B.A. from UC in 1982. His first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati (1976-77) and then as the full-time quarterbacks coach from 1978-80. He returned to the area in 1990, where he spent three seasons coaching quarterbacks for the NFL's Bengals and then spent the 1994 season back at UC as the offensive coordinator.

Bible's roommate during his graduate assistant days ended up marrying O'Brien's sister. Offensive line coach Don Horton was born in Cincinnati and went to Indian Hills High School. He attended Wittenberg University in nearby Springfield. Tight ends coach Jim Bridge, who hails from Cleveland, also attended Wittenberg. Finally, defensive line coach Keith Willis spent two seasons coaching at Cincinnati - 1999-2000.

There are also a couple of Wolfpack players who hail from Cincinnati and the Ohio area. Starting defensive end Jeff Rieskamp attended Elder High School in Cincinnati, while reserve tight end Anthony Talbert graduated from Winton Woods. Other Ohio players include redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Cheek (Lancaster) and freshmen offensive lineman Andy Jomantas (Dayton) and freshman wide receiver Bryan Underwood (University Heights).

NC State and Cincinnati both played games on Saturday, just five days before Thursday night's matchup, but the Bearcats played a day game at home, while the Wolfpack played a night game on the road.

Temperature at kickoff down in Orlando was 87 degrees, with high humid- ity and the game didn't end until 11 p.m. The team buses pulled back into the Murphy Center around 3:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. 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 defeating Clemson on the road in an ESPN Thursday contest (10/24).

Junior linebacker Audie Cole was the team's leading tackler in 2009, but never has he dominated a game like he did against Central Florida on Saturday. Cole was credited with a dozen stops in the contest, including nine solo stops, a 10-yard sack and two other tackles for loss. He also pulled down his first career interception and forced another fumble on a play that ended up being overturned.

Cole, who had twice as many tackles as any other defender in the game (for either team) was front and center in the Wolfpack's aggressive defensive scheme, making plays all over the field. Cole made his tackles count. Three times, twice in the first quarter, Cole made stops on third down to force the Knights to punt. His interception was on a pass from wide receiver Nico Flores on a reverse play in the third quarter to stop another UCF drive at midfield as the Knights were attempting to rally.

He was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week and the ACC Player of the Week for his performance.

Last season, the Wolfpack defense picked off eight passes in 12 games. On Saturday, that feisty unit pulled down three in a single contest. Audie Cole, Earl Wolff and C.J. Wilson all performed acts of thievery in the win at Central Florida, marking the first pick of each of their careers. Wilson took his interception to the house, returning it 43 yards for a score.

NC State forced a total of five turnovers in the game, one of which clinched the victory for the Wolfpack. With under a minute to play and UCF on NC State's 31 yardline down a TD, Knight quarterback Jeff Godfrey completed a 20-yard pass, but safety Brandan Bishop put his helmet on the ball to force a fumble and linebacker Terrell Manning recovered at the 10.

The most turnovers NC State forced in 2009 was three in a single game. Saturday's turnover tally was the most since the Pack forced UNC into six miscues in Chapel Hill in 2008.

For the season, NC State is at the +6 mark for turnover margin, as the squad also forced a fumble in the season opener. The Pack currently leads the ACC in turnover margin.

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 the season opening 48-7 win over Western Carolina that Wilson had to shake a little rust off, 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).

Last week's game at Central Florida was a slightly different story, however the outcome was the same: a Wolfpack victory. Wilson was sacked three times (he's been sacked six times so far this season) and was under consistent heavy pressure (especially after starting right tackle Mikel Overgaard went out with an elbow injury in the second quarter). He threw for 105 yards and a touchdown and had the lowest completion percentage of his career except for a 1-5 mark in his first college game versus South Carolina in 2008, when he left the game with a concussion in the first half.

After looking at his stat line following the game, Wilson smiled and said, "We won. That's all that matters to me."

Senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski set an NC State record for consecutive point-after-touchdown makes in the Sept. 4 win over Western Carolina and has now added to that streak. He has hit all eight of his PAT attempts in 2010 and has now connected on 81 straight, dating back to the 2008 campaign. He also holds the Wolfpack career record for PAT percentage, as he has hit 85 of 86 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 fifth in total PATs (85).

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 season 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.

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.

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