There couldn't be a more dramatic way to close out the regular season for NC State. After defeating North Carolina for the fourth consecutive year last week in Chapel Hill, the Wolfpack continues to control its own destiny in its battle for the ACC's Atlantic Division crown and could play in the ACC title game in Charlotte IF it can defeat a strong Maryland team on Thanksgiving weekend.
Heading into the Clemson game on November 6, many believed that any loss in the month of November would knock NC State out of the hunt for an Atlantic Division title. Despite a heartbreaking 14-13 loss at Clemson, however, when that day ended, the Wolfpack was exactly where it was before the game: tied for second in the league standings after Florida State and Maryland suffered losses as well.
The Seminoles still stand at the top of the standings on the Atlantic side, as they have finished league play with a 6-2 mark. But a win for NC State at Maryland would give the Wolfpack the tie-breaker, since the Pack defeated the Seminoles earlier this season.
Of the four teams that entered the month of October in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title (NC State, Clemson, Florida State and Maryland), the Wolfpack is the only one that has had to go on the road three times in the last four games.
DOESN'T GET MUCH CLOSER THAN THIS ...
Which team holds the advantage in NC State's 100+year series with Maryland? Whichever team wins on Saturday at College Park. Entering the game, the all-time series mark stands at 31-31-4. The Wolfpack defeated the Terps in Raleigh last season, 38-31, but dropped the three meetings prior to that win and have lost seven of the last 10 meetings between the two schools. NC State has not won at Maryland since 2004.
... OR THIS!
Nine of the last 10 contests between NC State and Maryland (only three of which the Wolfpack has won) have been decided by 10 points or fewer. Only Maryland's 37-0 win over NC State in 2007 does not fall into that category since the 2000 campaign.
Four of those 10 games have been decided by four or less points and eight by less than 10 points.
HOW FAR THEY'VE COME Whatever happens on Saturday, the 2010 football team, especially the senior class, will always be a special one for head coach Tom O'Brien, who is in his 14th year as a head coach.
When O'Brien was named head coach in December of 2006, he inherited a team that had gone 3-9 and lost its last seven games. Through attrition (10) and injury (2), a dozen scholarship players on the roster that he inherited did not stay in the program.
His first Wolfpack squad opened the season 1-5, but pulled together to win four straight games, including a win over 18th-ranked Virginia and tough road wins at East Carolina and Miami. Despite the slow start, the Pack entered the last game of the season (against Maryland!) with a bowl bid on the line.
In 2008, his team started the season 0-4 in ACC play, but won its last four league games and earned a bid to the Papajohns.com Bowl. An injury to quarterback Russell Wilson in that contest hurt the Pack's chances for a victory and a winning season. In 2009, his team posted big wins over eventual Big East champion Pitt and a third-straight win over North Carolina but was decimated by injuries and finished the season 5-7. And then there is 2010. The Pack was picked to finish fourth in the division in the preseason picks, but already reached, or has in its grasp, several milestones for the program.
O'BRIEN LOOKS FOR 100th WIN
NC State head coach Tom O'Brien owns a record of 99-69 in his 14-year head coaching career and will go for his 100th career win against Maryland on Saturday in College Park.
Only two other ACC coaches, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech and Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech, have posted 100 or more career victories.
EIGHT AND COUNTING
The victory over North Carolina was the Wolfpack's eighth of the season, marking the first time since 2003 that NC State posted as many wins in the regular-season. Since 1993, only two Wolfpack squads have posted more than seven regular-season victories - the 1994 squad and the 2002 team, which played 13 regular season con- tests.
If the Wolfpack wins another contest, it will tie for the second-highest number of wins in school history. The record for wins was 11 in 2002.
PACK POSTS FIVE LEAGUE WINS
NC State has now posted five conference victories with one league game remaining on the schedule. The last time a Wolfpack squad posted five ACC wins in a season was in 2002 and a Wolfpack squad hasn't won six league games since 1994.
BACK IN THE POLLS
The Wolfpack has made its third appearance of the season in the national rankings, checking in at 21st in the Associated Press ranking and 23rd in the coaches' poll. This is the highest ranking for the Wolfpack this year, as the squad was ranked 23rd prior to the Virginia Tech loss and 23rd heading into the Clemson game (yes, the Pack has lost both games this season after being ranked).
The ranking prior to the Virginia Tech game (September 27) marked the first time since the week of Sept. 7, 2003, that NC State had made an appearance in the Associated Press poll.
NC State was ranked 16th in the preseason of 2003, Philip Rivers' senior campaign. The Pack climbed to 14th after opening the season with a win over Western Carolina, but after a loss to unranked Wake Forest fell to 23rd before traveling to No. 3 Ohio State. Although NC State managed to take the Buckeyes into three overtimes before falling by six points, a 1-2 overall record forced the squad out of the polls for the remainder of that season.
LEMON SWEET VERSUS TERPS
Defensive end Michael Lemon made two huge plays in the waning seconds of last year's contest versus Maryland to help preserve a Wolfpack victory. After the Terrapins scored to pull within seven at the 4:56 mark, NC State moved the ball to the Maryland 31 but turned the ball over on downs with just 59 seconds remaining in the game. An offsides penalty by the Pack and then two long rushes by the Terps moved the ball to the Wolfpack 34. After an incomplete pass, Lemon sacked the Maryland QB on second down for a loss of eight yards on second down and then after another incomplete pass, had the QB pressure on fourth down as time expired and the pass fell incomplete.
WILSON MAKES STRONG CASE FOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
With one regular-season game left to play in 2010, redshirt-junior Russell Wilson has made a strong case for ACC Player of the Year honors. The four-time ACC Player of the Week has his team in a position potentially to play for the conference title after being picked to finish fourth in the division in the preseason. He currently leads the league in passing with 270.6 yards per game. His total offense mark of 301.6 ranks 11th nationally and is 41 yards ahead of Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor in the league standings. His 24 touchdown throws are also five more than Taylor's to lead the league.
Wilson, who graduated from NC State in May, has thrown for 300 or more yards in seven games this season. He currently ranks second in ACC history in touchdown responsibility with 87 for his career. He ranks fifth nationally in that category for 2010.
SENIOR CLASS FINISHES SWEEP
The 2010 senior class can brag about something only two seniors classes in the history of the Wolfpack program can: four victories over North Carolina. NC State won five straight over its nearby rivals from 1988-92, giving the senior classes of 1991 and ‘92 four straight wins. The Wolfpack has won 31 games in the history of the 100-game series with UNC - 13% of those wins have been with Tom O'Brien as head coach.
HOME IS SWEET TO PACK IN 2010
The Wolfpack saluted the Carter-Finley faithful on November 13 with a resounding 38-3 win over Wake Forest. That 35-point victory was NC State's largest over an ACC opponent since 1988, when Dick Sheridan's squad defeated North Carolina, 48-3, in Chapel Hill. Tom O'Brien's squad finished the 2010 home schedule with a 5-1 record, its best mark at home since 2003, when quarterback Philip Rivers led the squad to a 6-1 home mark (the Pack was also 6-1 at home in 2002).
AND ROAD NOT SO BAD EITHER
The Wolfpack enters the game at Maryland with a 3-2 record in road games this season. NC State hasn't posted a winning record on the road since 2002 (4-2).
LINEUPS UNCHANGING FOR PACK IN 2010
One of the keys to NC State's success this season has been its ability to sustain the same starters from game to game. For the last eight games, the offense has started the same lineup (with the exception of the halfback) and the defensive unit has been the same in the last seven contests. By contrast, in 2009, the started five different starting combinations on the offensive line and seven different combinations in the defensive secondary.
IRVING SETS SCHOOL RECORD
Linebacker Nate Irving was a beast in the 38-3 victory over Wake Forest on Nov. 13. Playing in the last home game of his career, he made up for the season he lost with a school-record EIGHT tackles for loss. That mark broke the previous mark of six held by Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Irving now ranks third nationally in tackles for loss for 2010. Irving, a semifinalist for the 2010 Butkus Award, cost the Deacons 22 yards, including a seven-yard sack. He tallied 13 stops for the contest and now posts 89 stops and 18.5 tackles for loss for the season. That single-season tackles-for-loss mark currently ranks sixth in school history. He has tallied 37.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage for his career, the eighth-best mark ever by a Wolfpack defender.
Irving was named the College Football Foundation's National Defensive Player of the Week earlier this season when he had 16 stops at Georgia Tech.
SPECIAL TEAMS LIVE UP TO NAME
In the first half of last Saturday's win over North Carolina, the Wolfpack's special teams didn't look so special. After the Pack's first offensive possession ended with a punt, the Pack was called for catch interference, giving UNC the ball at the Wolfpack 41. In the second quarter, with the score tied at seven, the Wolfpack was pinned at its own eight-yard line after a block in the back penalty on a punt return.
The second half, however, was a different story. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the Wolfpack trailing 19-17, T.J. Graham returned a UNC punt 87 yards for the go-ahead score. That return tied for the third-longest in school history. Graham would end up with five kickoff returns for 100 yards as well.
After UNC pulled within two late in the fourth and after a Terrell Manning safety, the Heels tried onside kicks, which the Wolfpack fielded without mishap. And finally, senior punter Jeff Ruiz, who was knocked out of his starting role earlier this season, came on for two kicks and booted a career-best 57 yarder to pin the Heels at their own five.
CZAJKOWSKI MAKES DRAMATIC RETURN
It was ironic that the first player this season to suffer what looked to be a season-ending injury was the player who led the team in consecutive starts: senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski. The Wolfpack's record-holder in PATs injured his hamstring while trying to chase down a kickoff returner in the Clemson game on November 6 and immediately after the game, the word was that he would not return during the regular season.
But after missing one game, No. 36 was back in action last week against North Carolina, handling PATs and field goals (but not kickoffs). He booted three extra points in the contest and two key field goals, including a 47-yarder that was one yard from his career high.
Czajkowski is now the NC State record-holder for point-after-touchdown kicks with 113 for his career. He also ranks second in PAT percentage with a .982 mark for his career (115 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 (.824) and is tied for third in field goals made (42).
He currently ranks second in the ACC in kick scoring and third in overall scoring with 8.4 points per game.
WAM, BAM, THANK YOU, GRAHAM
T.J. Graham's name has not been called very often in recent weeks heading into last Saturday's game at UNC. In terms of receiving, he opened the season with a career-high six catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns and pulling in three catches for 54 yards and a key score at Georgia Tech, but had just 11 catches in the six games leading up to the contest with the Tar Heels. As as returner, he was on the cusp of setting the school record for kickoff-return yardage, but had struggled in that area and had just three kickoff returns and five punt returns in the four games prior to last week.
Although he did not catch a pass against the Tar Heels, he more than made up for it with his special-teams play. His five kickoff returns for 100 yards gave him the school record as he now boasts 2,073 yards in career, the seventh-best mark in ACC history.