TSX: Pack on the Prowl

Opening its Atlantic Coast Conference season against the defending conference champions, North Carolina State continued its impressive first month of the season with a performance that indicated that the Wolfpack have as good a chance as anyone to contend for the crown in 2010.

It's a sharp contrast to the usual mood under coach Tom O'Brien, whose first three teams cost themselves any chance at a strong season with poor Septembers. This is the first time in his four years that the Wolfpack will enter October without a loss.

There's no mystery why this is the case -- this is the first Wolfpack team under O'Brien's watch that can be carried on any given day by either the offense or the defense.

Russell Wilson seems to have shaken off the rust caused by spending the spring and summer on the baseball diamond instead of the gridiron, as his career-high 368 passing yards against Georgia Tech attests. Though the running game has been inconsistent, Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes looked better against the Jackets, and never in his Wolfpack career has Wilson had more solid options among his receiving corps -- especially when he's looking to throw the deep ball.

The defense has been more surprising. Last season marked the nadir for the unit in the O'Brien era, but it had always been a more passive unit that would get overwhelmed by quality offenses. That hasn't been the case in 2010 and certainly not Saturday, in which it held the potent Tech offense to 27 yards through the first three quarters.

Add to that the dangerous special teams -- which blocked a punt for the second consecutive game and features one of the nation's top return men in T.J. Graham -- and this Wolfpack team can afford to dream big as the calendar turns to October.

-- One nice change for the Wolfpack this season has been a reflection of coach Tom O'Brien's desire to run a more disciplined program; the lack of penalties. North Carolina State was flagged just four times for 35 yards in the victory over Georgia Tech. That actually was worse than what the team had averaged prior to the weekend, which it entered as the lowest-penalized team in the ACC at 32.7 yards per game.

--Two of the team buses carrying Wolfpack players crashed Friday while taking the team from the airport to the hotel. The buses sustained damage, but nobody was injured.

GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Nate Irving -- QB Russell Wilson had a record-setting day, but the most positive sign among the individual efforts was Nate Irving's return to form. The senior missed all of 2009 with injuries suffered in a car accident and hadn't shown his old stuff through the season's first three weeks, but had a monster game against the Yellow Jackets. Among his 16 tackles were 4.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including two sacks.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Steven Howard -- Who? That's what Georgia Tech was saying after Saturday's game. Howard wasn't even on the two-deep heading into the meeting with the Yellow Jackets, but among his two catches was an impressive 21-yard touchdown grab that saw him drag his toes at the very back of the end zone to make it count.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Bad things are going to happen to everybody. But you can't let it get you down. You get back out there. You get to work. You get your britches up. You buckle your chinstrap and be tough and physical. That's how I like to play football, and these guys are starting to play football the way I like to see it played." -- North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien told the Raleigh News & Observer.

Pretty much everything clicked in the victory over Georgia Tech. Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns and set a career high in passing yards, the defense shut down the triple option for much of the day, and the special teams blocked a punt.

STILL NEEDS WORK: North Carolina State hasn't been great at playing with big leads, and it allowed Georgia Tech to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. A 31-14 lead dropped to 31-28 after Georgia Tech scored twice in a 50-second span early in the fourth quarter, the second TD coming when Jerrard Tarrant returned a Russell Wilson interception 33 yards for a touchdown. The Wolfpack's offense had to get it back into high gear in a hurry to ensure the victory.

-- Andy Leffler took over the punting duties against Georgia Tech, replacing Jeff Ruiz. The redshirt junior walk-on punted three times and averaged just over 37 yards per kick.

-- LT Mikel Overgaard missed his second consecutive game with an elbow injury suffered in the Central Florida game.

-- RB James Washington missed his fourth game in a row with an injured hamstring.

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