Saturday's game will be the first for NC State and Central Michigan on the gridiron. Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien faced the Chippewas twice during his 10-year tenure at Boston College, winning 43-0 in Chestnut Hill in 2002 and taking a 31-24 victory at Mount Pleasant in the 2006 season opener - his last season with the Eagles. Led by second-year head coach Dan Enos, CMU posts a 2-3 record this season, including a 1-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference.
PACK CELEBRATES BOWL HISTORY
Saturday's game against Central Michigan will be a day where State honors its bowl tradition and brings back former bowl MVPs to be recognized. Several former bowl MVPs will be in attendance, but others won't be able to attend as they have other games this weekend, including NFL players Stephen Tulloch (MVP of 2005 Meineke Car Care) and Philip Rivers (MVP of 2003 Tangerine, 2002 Gator, 2001 Tangerine and 2000 MicronPC Bowl) and Russell Wilson (MVP of 2010 Champs Sports).
DEFENSIVE LINE IS DECIMATED
NC State has been forced to start three different combinations on the defensive line in just five games this season, all due to injuries. And the starting lineup isn't the only area that has taken a hit - the secondary unit, which plays frequently in the Wolfpack's scheme has also changed from week to week.
Here's a look at the game-by-game status of the defensive line:
Preseason Camp: Senior starting tackle J.R. Sweezy, a team captain, breaks his foot. Brian Slay moves to a starting role and redshirt freshman Thomas Teal moves to a backup role.
Game 1 - Liberty: Teal breaks his foot. True freshman T.Y. McGill moves to a backup role.
Game 2 - Wake Forest: In practice before the league opener, fifth-year senior Jeff Rieskamp, an end, injures his shoulder. Redshirt freshman Art Norman moves into the starting lineup.
Game 3 - South Alabama: no injuries on defensive line
Game 4 - Cincinnati: Sweezy, Teal and Rieskamp remain out, Slay injures his ankle and misses most of the game. Backup tackle A.J. Ferguson suffers a knee injury but attempts to come back and play. Walk-on Jacob Kahut sees action. Cato-Bishop moves out to end
Game 5 - Georgia Tech: Teal, Rieskamp, Slay and Ferguson were out. Darryl Cato-Bishop moves to end, transfer McKay Frandsen gets his first start. Fullback Taylor Gentry practices and plays five snaps at defensive tackle. Sweezy returns and plays 27 snaps as a backup at end. Gentry and Cato-Bishop both exit the game with injuries in the first half and don't return.
Against Georgia Tech, two starters on the defensive line were playing in their just their fifth game at NC State (Frandsen and Norman) and one was making his first start (Frandsen). The four backups (Sylvester Crawford, Kahut, McGill and Theo Rich) on the depth chart heading into the contest had combined for 15 games and just 184 snaps prior to Saturday.
INJURIES, PART 2
The defensive line isn't the only area on the team that has been hit by injuries during the first half of the season. Two of the six players manning the six linebacker spots on the preseason two-deep chart are out as well. Senior Sterling Lucas, a backup at middle linebacker, suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp. Starting weakside backer Terrell Manning has missed the last two games as well.
Jarvis Byrd, who redshirted 2010 after suffering an ACL tear, was slated to start at the boundary corner this year. During seven-on-seven drills in July, he tore his other ACL and will miss the entire season.
AND A FINAL NOTE ON INJURIES
Just to make sure the offense doesn't get left out of the act, that side of the ball has had it's physical difficulties as well. The coaching staff knew it would be without the services of 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene, who broke his foot in spring practice, and Andrew Wallace, who started every regular season game last season at offensive guard before suffering a knee injury in practice for the bowl game.
In addition to those two, who are still sitting out, this year's second-leading rusher Curtis Underwood, suffered a foot injury against Cincinnati and was unable to go against Georgia Tech. Backup wide receiver Quintin Payton also missed last week's game due to an ankle problem.
Not much else to say, but the Pack was also without the services of starting punter Wil Baumann against Georgia Tech. The true freshman suffered a groin strain ... in warmups prior to the game.
That brought the grand total of injured players missing the Georgia Tech game to 12 (including Byrd and Wallace).
Last week, the folks who give out the Fred Biletnikoff Trophy to the nation's top wide receiver, added a name to their list: NC State's T.J. Graham. Graham is having an outstanding senior campaign in two aspects of the game and is moving his way up to the top of the Wolfpack and ACC record books as well.
Against Cincinnati, Graham set a new school record with 336 all-purpose yards, breaking a mark that had stood for 36 years (Ted Brown had 297 in 1975).
Graham, whose average of 214.8 all-purpose yards per game is leading the ACC and ranks second in the FBS ranks, had seven receptions for 176 yards at Cincinnati, the 10th-best receiving yards game in school history. He also had 160 yards in kickoff returns in that contest, a mark that is tied for sixth in school history.
Graham now boasts 4,366 all-purpose yards for his career, the third-best mark in school history and just four yards from passing former All-American Torry Holt for second place.
Graham boasted his first career 100-yard receiving game at Wake Forest, when he had six grabs for 117 yards and a 63-yard touchdown - the longest catch of his career at the time. He followed that with a 5-128 performance against South Alabama, and set a new career long with a 67-yard TD grab-and-run. Against Cincinnati, in addition to hitting the century mark for the third straight game, he pulled down an 87-yard reception for a touchdown - the fifth-longest in school history - to break his career-long reception mark again.
Those three contests marked the first time a Pack wideout had tallied three consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Jerricho Cotchery did so in five games to close out the 2003 campaign.
Entering the season, Graham had already made a name for himself as a kick returner. He entered the season as the school record holder in kickoff return yards for a single game (202), single season (1,028) and career (he now has 2,712). That career mark ranks second in ACC history and is just 272 yards shy of the league record.
Graham has also picked up his pace as a punt returner and has posted two of the top six single-game punt return totals in school history. He had two returns for 88 yards and a touchdown in the 2010 win at UNC and had three for 88 yards and another score in the opener versus Liberty. His big return in the opener was an 82-yarder, the 11th-longest in school history.
Graham now boasts 534 career punt return yards, the sixth-best mark in school history.
COLE ON A ROLL
A year ago, Audie Cole was playing strong side linebacker and tied for the team lead in tackles with all-conference performer Nate Irving, who was playing middle linebacker. Irving has now graduated and is playing in the NFL, and Cole is spending his final campaign at State playing in the middle. He moved to his new position in spring practice and is leading the team in tackles with 61 for the season.
Cole says that it took a couple of games for him to feel completely comfortable in his new spot and that new-found comfort has been obvious each of the past two weeks. He set a career-high with 16 tackles at Cincinnati and hit that mark again last week versus Georgia Tech. The leading tackler for the Pack in four of its five games this season, Cole currently ranks fourth in the league in tackles.
GOING BOTH WAYS
When Rashard Smith saw action on both sides of the ball (at cornerback and wide receiver) at Wake Forest earlier this season, it marked the first time since 2005 that a Pack player had played on offense and defense in the same game. Smith played both ways in that contest and the next week against South Alabama.
Although it had been the first time in six seasons that a player had done that, it didn't take long for it to happen again. Walk-on Jacob Kahut saw action on both the offensive and defensive lines at Cincinnati.
Last week versus Georgia Tech, senior fullback Taylor Gentry got into the act as well. Not only did he play his regular starting fullback spot and on most of the Pack special teams, but he also saw action on the defensive line (five snaps). He would have seen more time on defense, but exited the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return.
GLENNON THROWS TDs
In his first five games as a starting signal caller, redshirt junior Mike Glennon has made one thing perfectly clear: he can throw the football. Glennon has thrown 12 touchdown passes so far this season, the second-best mark in the ACC and a tally that ties for 13th in the FBS standings. His 1,079 passing yards is also the second-best mark in the league.
Glennon is only the second quarterback in Wolfpack history to throw for 12 touchdowns in his first five games as a starter - the other is ACC record-holder Philip Rivers.
Against Cincinnati, Glennon threw the fifth-longest pass in school history: an 87-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Graham. He has also completed passes of 63, 65 and 65 yards this season.
Glennon, who is tied as the second-tallest QB in the nation at 6'6 was one of 22 FBS quarterbacks making his first career start in the opening week of the 2011 campaign. Prior to the opener, Glennon had played in 10 games during his two years behind All-ACC signal caller Russell Wilson, but had been in for just 100 career snaps over two years. He saw action in 65 plays from scrimmage against Liberty.
Despite his lack of experience, he was named to the preseason ‘watch' list for the Maxwell Award. He was ranked the No. 3 quarterback in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school and was the Gatorade and AP Player of the Year in Virginia. His older brother, Sean, played quarterback at Virginia Tech from 2004-08.