After opening the season at a neutral site and then gutting out a tough road win at Connecticut in Week 2, the NC State Wolfpack will finally get to play in front of the home fans on Saturday, taking on South Alabama at 6 p.m.
This season marks the first time the Pack has opened with two games away from home since 1997, but it's the latest home opener for State since the 1983 season, when Tom Reed's team played its first game at Carter-Finley on September 17.
The Pack has posted an 11-2 record at home over the past two seasons, dropping one home game in each of the past two seasons, both to a visiting ranked team. State defeated No. 7 Clemson in Carter-Finley in 2011.
The road has been a little bit tougher, as the victory over UConn was state's first over a non-conference BCS school on the road since a win at Texas Tech in 2002.
NC STATE vs. SOUTH ALABAMA
Saturday's game will mark the second meeting between NC State and the Jaguars of South Alabama, with the Wolfpack winning the only meeting in the series.
On Sept. 17, 2011, the Jaguars came into Carter-Finley Stadium never having lost a game in the brief history of its program (they began play in 2009). USA, which will move up to the FBS ranks in 2013, had posted a 19-0 record since beginning play in 2009 prior to the 35-13 loss to the Pack last year.
The USA game was the Pack's third contest of the 2011 season and was a bit of a coming-out party for quarterback Mike Glennon in his first year as a starter. Glennon completed 17 of his 20 attempts in the contest for 274 yards and four touchdowns. That completion percentage (.850) was the highest for a Pack player since Philip Rivers went 26-30 (.866) against Western Carolina in the 2003 season opener.
PACK GUTS IT OUT
The game itself might not have been pretty, but the "W" on the record looks OK heading into week three of the 2012 campaign. The Pack won the game at Connecticut with just one touchdown and 10 points. It was the lowest point total in a victory since a 10-0 shutout of South Carolina in 1999 (Lou Holt's first game with the Gamecocks) and the lowest in a road victory since a 10-6 win at Wake Forest in 1968.
The Wolfpack defense kept the Huskies out of the endzone for 53 minutes, allowing the first score at the seven minute mark in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter, the Pack held UConn to just one first down - with that one coming on a roughing the passer call. UConn managed just 36 yards in the first quarter, 239 for the game.
BAUMANN ON TO PUNT
Sophomore punter Wil Baumann must have had rubber legs following the win at Connecticut. Baumann punted nine times in the contest, tying his career high. While battling swirling winds, intermittent rain and everything else Mother Nature could throw at him, he still managed to pin three punts inside the 20 yard-line and boot a long punt of 46 yards.
Baumann punted 64 times during his freshman campaign, tying as the 10th-highest mark in school history.
THE GOTTFRIED CONNECTION
NC State has a pretty strong tie to the athletics program at South Alabama, but it doesn't come from the football program. Joe Gottfried, father of Wolfpack men's basketball coach Mark Gottfried, was the Director of Athletics at USA for 25 years before retiring in 2009. He had been with the program since 1981, when Mark was still in high school.
During the elder Gottfried's tenure, South Alabama teams won 104 Sun Belt Conference titles and appeared in 54 NCAA championship events. He also oversaw the construction of the Mitchell Center basketball arena and the renovation of the Stanky Field baseball complex, as well as shepherding in the school's fledgling football program, which began play in Division I in 2009.
It's fitting that the Grandpa of the Wolfpack defense should be named WOLFF. Senior safety Earl Wolff has played in 40 career games, more than any player on the 2012 NC State squad. The veteran of 1,962 snaps from scrimmage and another 400+ on special teams, is also the team leader with 280 career tackles.
Wolff was instrumental in the Pack's win at UConn on Saturday, racking up seven tackles (including five first hits or solos) according to the coaches' game film, even though he played just three quarters and played just after leaving with an injury. He was in for just 47 snaps, his lowest total since midway through the 2010 season. He was named the ACC Player of the Week at defensive back. In the first half, with Connecticut driving, Wolff pulled down the fifth interception of his career and returned it 16 yards. But his biggest play of the game was on the interception that he missed.
In the third quarter, with State up 3-0, he barely missed a pick and the pass was completed behind him. Immediately after the catch, fellow safety Brandan Bishop forced a fumble and Wolff was there to fall on it. That gave the Pack the ball at the UConn 41 and three plays later, State scored its only touchdown of the afternoon.
That was the second fumble recovery of Wolff's career. He is tied for fifth in school history with seven caused fumbles.
NC State's pair of super safeties were the team's leading tacklers in the season opener and are two of the most experienced players on the 2012 Wolfpack squad. Brandan Bishop has 38 career starts,the highest mark on the team, while Earl Wolff has 31, which ties as the second-highest mark.
Wolff posted a career-high 18 tackles in the season opening loss to Tennessee, including a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage. Bishop turned in 10 stops, including one for loss, and also caused a fumble on the goalline to prevent a Volunteer score at the end of the first half. Wolff has made 280 career tackles, the highest mark on the squad, while Bishop has 221 career stops to his credit. Those two totals constitute 48% (501 of 1,053) of the career tackles on the 2012 Wolfpack squad.
A STERLING COMEBACK
Senior middle linebacker Sterling Lucas has been somewhere that no other player on the squad has been: the coaches' box.
Lucas was forced to redshirt last season after suffering a knee injury in preseason camp. Although he was devastated to miss what was supposed to be his senior campaign, he decided that he wanted to be just as involved in the daily preparations as any of the players in uniform. When he wasn't in treatment, he was at practice. And on game days, instead of watching from the sidelines, he asked if he could sit in the coaches' box, so he could hear how the game progressed from that viewpoint.
Lucas, who led the team in tackles at Connecticut with eight, says that he learned a great deal during his 13 games in the coaches' box that he can translate into play on the field.
Heading into the 2012 campaign, the Wolfpack offensive line was one of the most solidly entrenched (no pun intended) units on the squad. All five starters on the OL had started games previously during their careers, while four plus a projected backup had been season-long starters. In order to get the most experienced, most talented players on the field, the coaching staff did some shifting in the preseason.
Senior R.J. Mattes moved to the fourth starting position of his career, left guard, so that talented junior Rob Crisp could man the left tackle spot. Andrew Wallace, a season- long starter at guard two years ago, moved over to right tackle. Center Cam Wentz and right guard Zach Allen stayed put. The unit entered fall camp in that alignment.
That continuity was broken just two weeks into the season, when starting left tackle Rob Crisp, was unable to compete due to an injury suffered in the season opener. Backup right tackle Tyson Chandler, a redshirt sophomore, started in Crisp's spot at Connecticut - a tough venue for his first start, as the Huskies blitzed almost the entire game.
PACK PICKS UP THE PICKS
The Wolfpack led the nation in interceptions last season, committing 27 acts of aerial thievery - the second-best mark in ACC history. In only one game last season did the defense fail to pick off a pass and that was versus Georgia Tech, a team that threw just 12 times, completing just four in the entire game. In the last three games of 2011, the Pack pulled down seven total interceptions.
So the season opener was a bit of a downer for the State defensive secondary, as they failed to get their hands on any passes. The team got back on the plus side, however, in the win at Connecticut, as the three top career interceptors on the team each added one to their career totals.
Safety Earl Wolff started the pick parade early in the second quarter, gathering in the fifth interception of his career and returning it 16 yards. Next, the Pickoff Artist, David Amerson, got into the action, pulling down the 14th of his career (he set the ACC single-season record with 13 in 2011). And finally, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Brandan Bishop pulled a pick, the 10th of his career.
Over the last two years, NC State is 6-0 when recording at least three interceptions in a game.
TFL FOR THE DL
The Wolfpack defensive line doesn't have any big-named players in 2012 ... yet. But the members of that group definitely earned their postgame meal in the win at Connecticut, helping hold the Huskies to a 2-12 mark on third down and an 0-2 mark on fourth down.
The revolving units on the defensive line (the backup unit plays about a third of the game) tallied five tackles for loss and two sacks on Saturday, including four tackles for loss or stops for no gain coming on third down. T.Y. McGill tallied two stops behind the line of scrimmage, while Brian Slay, Thomas Teal and Forrest West each added one.
In 2012, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien has a luxury that he hasn't been afforded in previous campaigns with the Wolfpack: senior starters. In first two games of the season, 11 spots on offense and defense have been manned by seniors who have had starting experience prior to 2012.
That number is almost double the most senior starting experience O'Brien has had during his first five years with the Wolfpack. The number is particularly high on offense, where seven of the 11 starting spots are slated to be filled by seniors with previous starting experience.
Three Pack players ranked among the most experienced returning players in the ACC in terms of career starts heading into the 2012 season: safety Brandan Bishop (5th), OG R.J. Mattes (t9th) and safety Earl Wolff (t9th). For the 2008 season, there were only two projected starters who were seniors with starting experience. In 2009, there were seven.