The Wolfpack of NC State should face a formidable FCS opponent when The Citadel comes to Raleigh on Saturday, fresh off a road upset of seventh-ranked Appalachian State. The previous week, the Bulldogs upset Georgia Southern, the team that was ranked third in the FCS polls.
The Bulldogs rushed for 463 yards in the win at Boone, and their triple option offense is averaging 466 yards per game.
The Wolfpack has faced the Bulldogs four times, but the teams haven't met on the gridiron since 1983, when State shut out the visiting Bulldogs, 45-0. The other three meetings took place in 1940 (a 20-14 Pack win), 1938 (a 14-6 Pack win) and in 1937 (a 26-14 Pack win). The 1938 contest was played in Wilmington.
LEADING THE WAY
The Citadel might be the military college competing in Saturday's game, but NC State and the Wolfpack football program has a proud military background as well. NC State has produced more four-star generals and admirals than any institution beside the service academics.
Over 50 NC State alumni have achieved the rank of Brigadier General or higher in the United States Military. The first four star officer at NCSU, General Maxwell R. Thurman, a former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. Hugh Shelton, now retired, was a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a four star general. General Dan McNeill currently commands the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. General William C. Lee is often referred to as the "Father of the U.S. Airborne."
NC State offers Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The first Army ROTC was established at NC State in 1917.
And head coach Tom O'Brien graduated from the Naval Academy and reached the rank of Major in the Marines before resigning his commission in 1980.
‘57 TEAM TO BE HONORED
More than two dozen surviving members of NC State's 1957 ACC Championship team will hold a 55th anniversary reunion this weekend before and during the Wolfpack's Military Appreciation Day contest against The Citadel.
Led by All-American Dick Christy, the Wolfpack finished the season with a 7-1-2 record, beginning with a season-opening win over North Carolina and including a memorable 14-14 tie against Duke at Riddick Stadium. Coach Earl Edwards' team was strong on defense, blanking the Tar Heels, Florida State. Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and snagging 15 interceptions. The most memorable part of the season, however, was the offensive performance of a single player -- the late Christy -- in the season finale against South Carolina.
The Wolfpack went into the Nov. 23, 1957, contest at Columbia, S.C., with a chance to win the ACC title, needing to win its game and for North Carolina to beat Duke in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels did their part early in the day, but the Wolfpack tied 26-26 with the Gamecocks when time expired. However, South Carolina's defense was called for pass interference on the final play, moving the ball to the 36-yard line.
Christy, who had never made a field goal in his four-year college career, convinced Edwards to let him try the game-winning kick. He had already scored the Wolfpack's other points on the day with four rushing touchdowns and a pair of point-after-touchdown kicks. But he had also missed two PATs. Christy had taken over as placekicker for captain Dick Hunter, his backfield running mate who had missed his last seven extra points.
Christy's low line drive sailed through the air for nearly six seconds before going through the uprights, clinching NC State's first conference title since 1927. It was the only field goal the team made all season.
HOME SWEET HOME
With Saturday's win over South Alabama, the Wolfpack has now posted a 12-2 record at home over the past two-plus seasons. In 2010 and again in 2011, State dropped just one home game - 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 on September 8 was the Pack's first over a non-conference BCS school on the road since an overtime victory at Texas Tech in 2002.
THE WORD ON THIRD
In the last two games - victories over Connecticut and South Alabama, third downs have not been a pleasant place for the Pack's opposition to be. In the last two games combined, a staunch Wolfpack defense has held the opponents to a 2-23 mark on third down conversions and an 0-3 mark on fourth down attempts.
Mike Archer's defensive unit held South Alabama without a third or fourth down conversion on the game as the Jaguars finished 0-for-11 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth. The last time NC State had held a team without a third down conversion came in 1992, when the Pack forced Virginia Tech to an 0-for-12 mark, a span of 228 games.
AMERSON AT IT AGAIN
The 15th interception of Wolfpack junior cornerback David Amerson's career showed why they call it a theft. The returning All-American and Tatum Award winner actually ripped the ball out of the receiver's hand.
Amerson now ranks second in NC State history in career interceptions and is tied for 14th in ACC history. He set the State and ACC single-season marks in 2011 with the second-best mark in FBS history - 13.
In 2011, Amerson was one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award, was a first-team Walter Camp All-American. He broke the record that had been set just a few years before he was born: Art Rooney (of the Pittsburgh Steeler Rooneys) held the record with eight in 1937 and again in 1938! He returned two picks for scores, also a BCS best, and led the national ranks in INT return yards with 205.
WIDE RECEIVERS OLD, INEXPERIENCED
The wide receiver spot was an area of concern heading into the 2012 campaign, as both starters from last season and another senior graduated. In the first three games of 2012, quarterback Mike Glennon has thrown the ball to 12 different players: receivers, halfbacks, fullbacks and tight ends. Five different wide receivers have caught passes.
Starters Quintin Payton and Tobais Palmer are leading the team in receptions, both with a dozen in the young season. Payton, a junior, scored his first career touchdown in the win over South Alabama and led the team with five catches for 61 yards. He was also the leader in the opener with Tennessee, with four catches for 129 yards.
Palmer, a senior, has not gotten into the endzone this season, although he is the most experienced of the Pack's wideouts and had five TDs in 2011. Sophomore Bryan Underwood has been the most prolific receiver in terms of scoring, with a touchdown in each game. Three of his seven grabs this season have been for touchdowns.
Junior Rashard Smith, a converted cornerback, also pulled in his first touchdown in the win over South Alabama. He has just two catches for the season.
UNDERWOOD LIKES THE LONG BALL
At 5'11, 174, sophomore wideout Bryan Underwood is the most diminutive member of the NC State wide receiver corps, but that doesn't stop him from reaching out for the long pass.
Underwood leads the team in scoring with three touchdowns this season - a mark which ties for sixth in the ACC in touchdown scoring. For his career, he has caught five TD passes.
Four of his five scoring grabs have been for 33 or more yards. Last season he scored on a 33- and a 79-yarder at Virginia and this season has caught TDs for 44 and 46 yards, along with a five-yard catch versus Tennessee.
It's fitting that the Grandpa of the Wolfpack defense should be named WOLFF. Senior safety Earl Wolff has played in 41 career games, more than any player on the 2012 NC State squad. The veteran of 2,017 snaps from scrimmage and another 400+ on special teams, is also the team leader with 286 career tackles.
Wolff was instrumental in the Pack's win at UConn on Sept. 8, 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 36 career starts, the highest mark on the team, while Earl Wolff has 33, 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 286 career tackles, the highest mark on the squad, while Bishop has 227 career stops to his credit. Those two totals constitute 47 % (513 of 1,099) 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, has started in Crisp's spot in the last two games.
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 has gotten back on the plus side, however, in the last two games, as the Pack now is tied for the ACC lead with five pics for the season - a mark that ties for 11th nationally. Against UConn, State intercepted three passes. 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.
Amerson had another against South Alabama, while backup safety Hakim Jones intercepted his first career pass.
Over the last two years, NC State is 6-0 when recording at least three interceptions in a game.
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.
TFL FOR THE DL
The Wolfpack defensive line doesn't have any big-named players in 2012 ... yet. But the members of that group have definitely earned their postgame meals in the last two weeks, helping hold the last two opponents to a 2-23 mark on third down and an 0-3 mark on fourth down.
The revolving units on the defensive line (the backup unit plays about a third of the game) have tallied a dozen tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks on in the last two games.