NOTEBOOK: Pack, Deacs Battle In Raleigh

NC State (6-3) returns to the field tomorrow looking to knock off Wake Forest (2-7). Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 pm, and the game will be aired on

This weekend's matchup will mark the 104th meeting between NC State and Wake Forest, making it the longest running series in Wolfpack football history. NC State holds a 61-36-6 record overall. NC State has won 15 of the last 22 meetings, but only one of the last five. The Pack has won 11 of the last 12 matchups played in Raleigh, with the only loss in that stretch coming in 2006.

NC State has lost six of the last seven games played in Winston-Salem.

Heading into last week's game, many said that a loss would knock NC State out of the hunt for an Atlantic Division title.

Despite a heartbreaking 14-13 loss at Clemson, however, when the day ended, the Wolfpack was exactly where it was before the game: tied for second in the league standings and able to control its own destiny.

Florida State still leads that side of the conference race with one more victory in league play, but if the Wolfpack ends up tied with the Seminoles it would win the tiebreaker.

The Pack also has to travel to Maryland, the team tied with NC State for second in the standings this week.

Of the four teams in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title, the Wolfpack is the only one that has to go on the road three times in the last four games.

Fourth-year head coach Tom O'Brien has been named one of 15 semifinalists for the inaugural Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award, which is given by the Maxwell Football Club.

The choice for the winner of the award will be based on success on the football field, in the classroom and in the community. Three finalists will be announced on December 6 and the winner will be announced on the 18th.

Tom O'Brien and his Wolfpack squad are keeping their bags packed in the next month. NC State began the month playing Clemson on the road, then returns home for a Homecoming matchup with Wake Forest on Saturday, then will play down the road at Chapel Hill on the 20th and will travel to College Park, Md., to take on the Terrapins on Thanksgiving weekend.

The last time NC State played three road games in the month of November was in 1973, when Lou Holtz's Wolfpack squad won at South Carolina on Nov. 3, lost at No. 6 Penn State on Nov. 10, won at Duke on Nov. 17 and then knocked off Wake Forest at home on Nov. 24. That ACC championship squad ended up earning a bid to the Liberty Bowl, where it defeated Kansas, 31-18.

Saturday's game will mark the last in Carter-Finley for a group of Wolfpack seniors. The group includes players who have been with the program one year (David Akinniyi joined the team in January), two years (Natanu Mageo and Michael Lemon were junior college transfers in 2009), four years and five years.

Once again this season, the Wolfpack is collecting for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Campaign. Coca-Cola is donating $500 for every touchdown the Pack scores in 2010 to the effort and there are toy drop-off locations at Harris Teeter stores through- out the Triangle area.

On Saturday versus Wake Forest, fans are encouraged to bring unwrapped toys and drop them off at the Fan Zone in front of the RBC Center or to make cash donations at any stadium gate. Although all toy donations are appreciated, new toys for toddlers ages 2-4 and pre-teens ages 10-12 are needed most.

Tom O'Brien is on the national board for the Toys for Tots program and has brought his passion for that cause to his team. A highlight of the last three years has been the shopping trip when the players are able to purchase toys that will be given to children over the holidays.

Junior quarterback Russell Wilson has now run for 946 yards in his career. That's more than any quarterback in school history with the exception of Johnny Evans, who gained 1,259 yards on the ground and passed for 2,509 during his career, which spanned from 1974-77.

Wilson, whose 2010 passing mark of 2,302 is close to Evans' four-year numbers, has rushed for 13 career touchdowns. Evans also rushed for 13 touchdowns during his career, passing for a dozen (Wilson has passed for 67).

Junior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy had the best game of his career in the one-point loss at Clemson. He led the team with 10 tackles, the most for a defensive lineman in 2010. He tallied four tackles for a loss of 21 yards and two sacks for a loss of 16. He also recorded two quarterback pressures.

One of the sacks came as the first half was winding down and Clemson was deep in NC State territory. The other came on a caused fumble that led to the Wolfpack's second score of the day, a 28-yard field goal.

He was named the national defensive lineman of the week by the College Football Performance Awards.

NC State is getting its scoring from many different spots this season. Fourteen different players have scored touchdowns for the Wolfpack this season, a mark that ties as the fourth-highest in the nation. Four players have crossed the goal line four times each, while nine have scored two or more TDs.

In terms of positions, wide receivers (6), halfbacks (3), fullbacks (1), tight ends (1), defensive backs (2) and a quarterback (1) have been responsible for the Wolfpack's 36 TDs this season.

In 52 of the 57 years since the ACC was formed, NC State has scored fewer touch- downs for the season than the Pack has already scored in nine games in 2010.

It took 10 games for it to happen, but the Wolfpack lost a starter due to injury in the game at Clemson. Senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski will miss at least the remainder of the regular season after suffered a hamstring injury at Clemson. Czajkowski leads the team with 34 consecutive starts.

Before this injury, the Pack had remained injury free for the most part in 2010. There are a couple of players still sitting out who were injured last season and haven't returned (cornerbacks Rashard Smith and Jarvis Byrd) and offensive guard/ tackle R.J. Mattes missed the first two games of the year after his 2009 knee injury. But so far in 2010, only one starter has been injured and forced to miss a game. That was offensive tackle Mikel Overgaard, who started the first three games before injuring his elbow and being forced to miss three games.

This healthy trend is a complete reversal of Tom O'Brien's first three years with the Wolfpack program. His first three Wolfpack squads were decimated by injuries. In the last three seasons prior to 2010 combined, players who were starters at one point in their careers missed an overwhelming total of 180 games. That's an average of 60 games missed per season.

NC State enters the 10th game of the 2010 season with some of the best offensive marks in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack currently leads the league in pass offense (286.4 ypg) and total offense (420.4 ypg) and ranks third in scoring offense (32.6 ppg).

Those marks would rank among the top five in school history in each of those categories if the season ended today.

The main thing that stands out about NC State's wide receiving corps is that it's very talented. Two members of that unit, Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, rank among the all-time greats in Wolfpack history in receptions and receiving yardage, alongside names like Torry Holt and Jerricho Cotchery.

Together, that group has caught 117 passes this season (60% of the team's total) and gained 1,523 yards (69% of the team's total).

But what stands out just as obviously is that the group often looks down on its competition. The Wolfpack's wide receiving corps (wideouts who have caught at least one catch in 2010) boasts an average height of 6'3. That mark is the second-highest among ACC schools (for wide receivers who have caught a pass in 2010).

In 2009, he threw for five touchdowns in a 45-42 loss in Tallahassee. This season, Russell Wilson managed just one scoring pass against the 16th-ranked Seminoles. He more than made up for that on the ground, however. Wilson rushed for three touchdowns in the October 28 matchup, marking the first time a Wolfpack field general had run for three scores since Preston Poag did it against Western Carolina on Sept. 3, 1988. Wilson has now run for 13 touchdowns in his career. His three TD runs against FSU were just one less than he had in the entire 2008 or 2009 seasons.

Wilson was named the ACC's Offensive Back of the Week (for the fourth time this season) for his performance against the ‘Noles.

Redshirt sophomore boundary safety Earl Wolff was thrown into the fire early in his career. He played in a dozen games and started four as a redshirt freshman last season for the Wolfpack's beleaguered secondary, which ranked 69th nation- ally last season in pass defense.

But last year's growing pains have become this year's experience, and Wolff has become the leader in the young secondary made up of a true freshman, a true sophomore and another redshirt sophomore.

Wolff has led the team in tackles in two of the past three games, tallying 15 in the loss at East Carolina and tying for the lead with eight in the win over Florida State. He now ranks second only to Nate Irving in tackles among WOLFF-pack players.

Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson enters the Wake Forest game leading the ACC in passing yards with 279.3 per game and total offense with 312.4 per contest. Wilson's marks for passing yards and total offense rank 12th and sixth respectively in the BCS this week. He is averaging 22.4 more passing yards per game and 54.3 more yards of total offense than any other ACC quarterback. Wilson has four more touchdown passes than any other ACC signal caller.

NC State dropped to second in the ACC and now ranks 18th nationally in third-down conversion defense this week. The Wolfpack's feisty defensive unit is allowing the opposition to convert on just 34.4% of it's third-down attempts (43 of 125).

The Wolfpack has forced the opposition into 33 three-and-outs this season, an average of 3.67 per game. That mark is tied for 12th nationally this week.

NC State's receiving corps was highly touted entering the 2010 season, with senior wideouts Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams and tight end George Bryan getting the lion's share of the attention.

And although those three players lead the team in receptions this season with 40, 33 and 26 respectively, they are just three of many who are contributing to the Wolfpack's high-powered aerial attack.

Seventeen different players have caught passes this season and nine have tallied double-digit reception totals. In five of the nine games in 2010, passes have been caught by 10 or more different players.

Eleven different players have at least one touchdown catch this season. Williams and Bryan lead the way with three TD receptions.

Redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 68 career touchdowns, the second-best mark in school history. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.96 to 1 is better than even Philip Rivers, the Wolfpack's all-time record-holder in every passing category, as Wilson has thrown 23 picks.

To illustrate just how strong that number is, the other 15 quarterbacks in ACC history with 50+ TD passes have a collective ratio of 1.6:1. In other words, Wilson's ratio is almost double the average amassed by the 15 most accomplished QBs in league history.

In the last five games, Wilson has thrown 10 interceptions - 43% of the interceptions thrown in his 32-game career.

Senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski, who will miss the remainder of the season with an injury, is now the NC State record-holder for point-after-touchdown kicks with 110 for his career. The redshirt senior also ranks second in PAT percentage with a .982 mark for his career (he's hit 110 of his 112 attempts).

Earlier this season, Czajkowski set a school record for consecutive PATs, connecting on 83 straight, dating back to the 2008 campaign. Czajkowski ranks fourth in school history in field-goal percentage (.866) and is tied for fourth in field goals made (40).

He currently ranks second in the ACC in kick scoring and fourth in overall scoring with 8.3 points per game.

It seems a little ironic that on the day where the country gained an hour as daylight savings ended, the Wolfpack lost the time of possession battle for the first time all season.

Head coach Tom O'Brien has preached the importance of controlling the time of possession since coming to NC State, but prior to this season, the Wolfpack was on the short end of that statistical category all three years that he has been the head coach.

The 2010 campaign is a different story, as the Wolfpack holds the edge in that category over its opponents by five minutes. NC State currently ranks first in the ACC and 10th nationally in TOP, averaging 32:30 minutes of offense per game. O'Brien's squad had controlled the time of possession in all eight games this season prior to Saturday's loss at Clemson, when the Tigers eked out a minute and eight seconds more of possession time. Last season, the Wolfpack won the TOP battle in six games all season.

In the early part of the 2010 campaign, NC State did a great job taking care of the football. In the first four games of the year, the Wolfpack turned the ball over just four times and was leading the ACC in turnover margin, having forced nine miscues.

In the last five outings, however, three of which have been Wolfpack losses, the Pack has turned the ball over 14 times, while forcing just 12.

Tom O'Brien's squad still boasts a +5 mark in the turnover-margin column. NC State has hauled in eight interceptions in nine games this season, after having eight in 12 games a year ago. NC State finished the 2009 season ranked 114th nationally in turnover margin, with 25 turnovers to just 14 takeaways. The Wolfpack is currently ranked 28th in that category for 2010.

Senior wide receiver Owen Spencer has moved into fifth place in school history in receiving yards with his play of late.

Spencer now ranks 14th in school history in receptions with 106. He ranks fifth overall in the ACC in receiving yards per game this week with 63.2 per game and tied for sixth in receptions per game with 4.44.

For his career, Spencer has averaged 19.8 yards per reception (2,098 yards on 106 grabs), a school record.

He set an ACC single-season record for yards per catch in 2008, averaging a whopping 22.3 yards on 31 grabs. In 2009, he bettered that mark by over three yards, leading the nation with 25.5 yards per catch and in the process, breaking his own school and conference mark.

Spencer led the team with 16 plays of 20+ yards last season. He also led the team in 2008 with 13 plays that went over the 20-yard mark. This season, he is tied for the team lead with 10.

The Wolfpack started the season with a young secondary. In one game this sea- son, two true freshmen actually started in that unit.

But that group of young players is evolving into a group of veterans, as the two redshirt sophomores and one true sophomore who are seeing action have now played as many snaps as many of their older teammates.

The sophomores who are starters, Brandan Bishop, C.J. Wilson and Earl Wolff, have gained great experience during their brief careers. Bishop, the regular starter at field safety, has played in 20 career games, starting 16. Wilson (field corner) played in all 12 contests last season, and has now started 15 games. Wolfe (boundary safety) started four of the 12 games in which he played last season and all nine games of 2010. David Amerson, who has started the last five games at the boundary corner, is the lone rookie in the group now.

There is one Wilson on the 2010 Wolfpack squad who gets a lot of attention: the one on offense wearing #16 on his jersey who has thrown for 20 touchdowns this season.

But there is another Wilson, playing on the defensive side of the ball, who is also helping the Pack put up points in 2010. Redshirt sophomore cornerback C.J. Wilson has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season - a 43-yarder at Central Florida and a 28-yarder in the win over Boston College.

Wilson is the first NC State player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same season since 1966. That season, Greg Williams had two INT returns for scores.

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