NOTEBOOK: Huge Game For State

NC State (3-3, 0-2 ACC) is looking to win its first ACC game of the season on Saturday at Virginia (4-2, 1-1 ACC). Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

Saturday's meeting will mark the 56th meeting between NC State and Virginia in the series that dates back to 1904. Although the Wolfpack holds a 33-21- 1 advantage in the series, the tally is 7-7 in the last 14 outings and the Pack hasn't won two in a row against UVa since 93-94.

State and Virginia played every year from 1960 - 2003, but have met just two times since ACC expansion, with the ‘Hoos winning in Charlottesville in 2006 (14-7) and the Pack taking the victory in Raleigh in 2007 (29-24). The last time NC State won a game in Charlottesville was in 1994 - a 30-27 victory over the 13th-ranked UVa team. Tom O'Brien was the offensive coordinator/quarterback coach for that Cavalier team that finished the season 9-3 and won the Independence Bowl.

Five of the last nine games between NC State and Virginia have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the last two (7-14 in 2006 and 29-24 in 2007). In 2003, NC State won by two touchdowns in Raleigh (51-37), but that game may have actually been the closest in recent history. In a battle of two quarterbacks who are now NFL starters, Philip Rivers and Matt Schaub, there were four ties and eight lead changes before the Pack went on to win, 51-37.

Close games between the two teams are nothing new, however. In 1944, in a game played in Norfolk, the Wolfpack gained a 13-0 victory in a driving rainstorm by recovering two UVa fumbles in the endzone for touchdowns. State failed to make a first down and had just 10 yards of total offense in that game, an NCAA record for fewest yards gained by a winning team and one of only two games in bowl subdivision history where the winning team failed to make a first down.

Cavalier head coach Mike London is one of O'Brien's seven former assistant coaches who have gone on to become head coaches. London served on the Boston College staff as defensive coordinator from 1997-2000.

This will mark the fifth time that O'Brien has faced one of his former assistants on the gridiron, with all four previous contests coming against Boston College. He faced Jeff Jagodzinski, his replacement at BC twice, and Frank Spaziani, who was his defensive coodinator for the Eagles, twice.

The Wolfpack coaching staff has some pretty strong ties to the University of Virginia, as well as to the Cavalier coaching staff. On the Wolfpack side, head coach Tom O'Brien was on the Cavalier staff for 15 years (1982 - 1996), coaching guards and centers for nine years, then serving as offensive coordinator for six seasons (four with the QBs, two back with the OL) under George Welsh. He helped lead the Cavaliers to 12 winning seasons, four bowl appearances and an ACC Co-Championship.

Four other members of the current Wolfpack staff also coached at UVa during that time frame: Mike Archer (linebackers, 1991-92), Jim Bridge (GA, 1994-95), Don Horton (GA, 1985-87), and Jerry Petercuskie (defensive tackles, 1995-96).

Linebackers coach Jon Tenuta lettered at defensive back at Virginia for three seasons, earning the team's John Acree Memorial Football Trophy and Kevin Bowie Award. He also served as a graduate assistant from 1981-82.

From the Virginia side, wide receivers coach Shawn Moore was a All-American signal caller for UVa during O'Brien's time on the staff (O'Brien was coaching the offensive line during Moore's career).

Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid was the defensive coordinator at BC in 2004, before O'Brien was head coach, but Wolfpack secondary coach Mike Reed's senior season.

Cavalier running back coach Anthony Poindexter was a safety at Virginia from 1994-98, crossing paths with O'Brien for his first three seasons with the program.

Several Pack players hail from the Old Dominion. Quarterback Mike Glennon grew up in Centreville and played at Westfield High, while defensive tackle Brian Slay is from Ashburn and attended Stone Bridge High. Wide receiver Jay Smith is a Norfolk native, having attended Lake Taylor High.

Offensive Tackle R.J. Mattes' father, Ron, played at UVa from 1981-84 and collected All-ACC honors while O'Brien was a member of the coaching staff. He spent the 2010 season coaching the offensive line for the Cavaliers.

NC State will travel to Charlottesville after a much-needed break. The Wolfpack entered the midway point of the season with a 3-3 record, but an 0-2 mark in ACC play.

The main goal for the break is to get some players back who have missed time with injuries during the first half of 2011. Versus Central Michigan, several players who had missed action were back in the lineup, including defenders J.R. Sweezy (DT), Terrell Manning (LB) and Brian Slay (DT). On offense, Logan Winkles (FB) and Andrew Wallace (OG) are back after missing time since last season with knee injuries.

Other players who could possibly return for the game at Virginia are A.J. Ferguson (DT) and Curtis Underwood (HB).

The Wolfpack has enjoyed some success after open dates under Tom O'Brien. During his first season with the program, the Pack came back after the open date to reel off four straight wins. In 2008, his squad lost to Florida State after a semi-open date (the FSU game was on a Thursday night following an open Saturday), then won at Duke following the true open date.

In 2009, State dropped a close contest, 42-45, at Florida State following the break and last year defeated the 16th-ranked Seminoles, 28-24, after a week off.

NC State is hoping that the second half of 2011 falls into the pattern of previous years under Tom O'Brien and the 3-3 record turns into a winning one at season's end. Under O'Brien, NC State posts a 13-11 record in the last six games of the regular season.

In 2007, O'Brien's first year with the Pack, State opened the season with a 1-5 mark, but then won four of its last six games (including four in a row). In 2008, after opening ACC play 0-4 and starting with a 2-6 overall mark, the team won four in a row to become the first league team ever to start out so poorly and finish with a balanced conference slate. The Wolfpack ended up earning a trip to the PapaJohns. com Bowl that season.

In 2009, the injury-devasted Pack was just 2-4 in the second half of the season, which included three straight games against ranked opponents (State won one of those contests - versus No. 23 UNC).

Last year, the Wolfpack finished the season with a 3-3 mark, including wins over No. 16 FSU and UNC.

The Wolfpack is already getting second-half turnarounds this season on a game- by-game basis. The Pack has been outscored 71-92 in the first half in 2011, but has outscored the opposition 121-89 in the second half.

State has started off slow, being outscored 24-55 in the first quarter this season (including being held scoreless in the first frame three times - Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech). In fact, the Wolfpack has outscored the competition in the three other quarters.

On the flip side, the team finishes strong, outscoring five of six opponents in the fourth quarter (Cincinnati posted a 3-0 advantage in the fourth) and posting an overall 58-40 scoring advantage in the final quarter this year.

NC State looks to start its fourth different combination on the defensive line in just six games this season on Saturday, with all of the turnover 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.

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 that contest.

Sophomore cornerback David Amerson is the national leader in interceptions heading into the Virginia game. The Greensboro native now has six for the season, including a pair in the season opener and another pair versus Central Michigan. He leads all players in the FBS, FCS and Division III ranks and is tied with one player in Division II who also has six.

Amerson, who was one of just three true freshmen to start a game for the Pack in 2010, is the baby of the defensive secondary, even though midway through his sophomore campaign he already has 15 starts to his credit. Last season, he didn't have a pick in 640 snaps played.

Amerson was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week following the Central Michigan game.

With six games left to play in 2011, Amerson is just two INTs from tying the single-season school record that has stood for 73 years! (Art Rooney in 1937 and again in 1938).

Each week before a home game, the coaching staff selects scout team MVPs, who are then given the honor of leading the team onto the field at home games, carrying the North Carolina and American flags.

Here's a list of this year's Scout Team Players of the Week.

Liberty: Fullback David Hyde, Defensive Back Shane O'Toole
South Alabama: Halfback Jonathon Fisher, Defensive Back Hakim Jones
Georgia Tech: Wide Receiver Josh Stanley, Defensive End Dave Mann
Central Michigan: Offensive Lineman Alex Barr, Defensive Back Juston Burris

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