NOTES: ACC Opener For Pack

Wideout Bryan Underwood and NC State are looking to knock off Miami.

Although the University of Miami joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, The Wolfpack of NC State has faced the Hurricanes on the gridiron just three times since the turn of the century. The Pack has won each of the last two meetings - in overtime at the Orange Bowl in 2007 (19-16) and in Carter-Finley in 2008 (38-28).

That 2008 win made State the first team in ACC history to lose its first four ACC games and then come back to win four in a row and become bowl eligible.

Only one current Wolfpack player has ever competed against Miami: senior linebacker and captain Sterling Lucas. Lucas was a true freshman in 2008 when the ‘Canes came to Raleigh. He saw action from scrimmage on 13 snaps and made three tackles.

Saturday's game will mark the first of three this season when Tom O'Brien will face a former assistant that is now the head coach of the opposing team. Al Golden, in his second year with the ‘Canes, was on O'Brien's staff at Boston College from 1997-99, serving as the linebackers coach.

O'Brien, now in his 16th year as a head coach, is known for a low turnover rate on his staff. He has had just 23 assistants during his time as a head coach and seven of them have gone on to be collegiate head coaches. In fact, a third of the coaches in the ACC are a part of the Tom O'Brien coaching tree: O'Brien, Golden, Mike London at Virginia and Frank Spaziani at Boston College.

Since he took over as head coach of the Wolfpack after the 2006 season, Tom O'Brien and his NC State squad have faced teams from the ACC's Coastal Division 15 times. In 11 of those 15 contests, the Wolfpack has emerged victorious. That .733 winning mark ranks second among current ACC coaches.

O'Brien has had his most success versus Coastal Division teams on the road, posting a 6-1 mark with the only loss coming at No. 16 Virginia Tech in 2009. He has won at UNC twice, at Georgia Tech, at Miami, at Duke and at Virginia. The Pack has posted a 5-3 mark at home against Coastal opponents since 2007.

NC State and Maryland are the only Atlantic Coast Conference teams who have not played a league game this season, but that ends this weekend as the Wolfpack travels to Miami to face the 3-1 Hurricanes. It will be the third ACC game of the season for Al Golden's squad.

Tom O'Brien doesn't know what it feels like to play his first conference game in Carter-Finley Stadium. This will mark the sixth straight year that his squad has played its first league game on the road.

In fact, the last time NC State opened conference play at home, O'Brien was actually on the road! In 2006, he brought his Boston College team into Carter-Finley for State's first ACC contest (BC's second). The Wolfpack won that game, 17-15. NC State is the only ACC team that has opened on the road each of the past six seasons.

In the last three games, when an opponent gets to third down, their punter better be warming up. NC State currently ranks second in the ACC standings and 12th nationally in third down conversion defense, allowing opponents to convert just 25.5% on third down (13-51). On fourth down tries, the defense has held the opposition to an 0-7 mark in 2012.

In the last three games - all victories, a staunch Wolfpack defense has held the opponents to a .125 (4-32) percentage on third down conversions and an 0-5 mark on fourth down attempts. From late in the UConn game, until the 3rd quarter against The Citadel, opponents went 16 consecutive third downs without a conversion. On Sept. 15, 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.

It had been a while since a freshman rushed for over 100 yards in his first career game - 31 years to be exact - before rookie Shadrach Thornton surprised Wolfpack nation on Saturday night by running for 145 yards on 21 carries in the win over The Citadel.

Thornton, a true freshman who had not played a snap before Saturday's contest came out of the gates strong - gaining 35 yards on four carries on the Pack's first series, including a 19-yard touchdown run.

Thornton became the first freshman since Andre Brown in 2005 to rush for over 100 yards in a game. He became the first freshman to pass the century mark in his first collegiate game since Joe McIntosh had 131 against Richmond in 1981. Thornton tallied 171 all-purpose yards in the contest, also catching four passes for another 26 yards.

True freshman Shadrach Thornton was a very unlikely candidate to be starting in the fourth game of the season just a few short weeks ago. No one was listed ahead of him on the depth chart, because he wasn't even ON the depth chart.

Last year's leading rusher, James Washington, was returning for his senior season after gaining 897 yards in 2011 - most for a Pack player since 2002. Tony Creecy was returning for his red-shirt sophomore campaign after gaining great experience as the backup last season, as well as working hard in the Pack's off-season conditioning program.

Adding to the abundance of depth at halfback was Mustafa Greene, the leading rusher for NC State in 2010 who missed all of last season with an injury. And finally, red-shirt senior Brandon Barnes was on the roster as well - a player who had been hampered by injuries throughout his career. Creecy started the season opener, but Greene came in and led the team in rushing. Greene started the next week at Connecticut in a defensive battle, but was suspended following that contest and is still not back on the depth chart. Creecy started against versus South Alabama, and then the injury bug hit. At one point the week before The Citadel game, Creecy, Washington and Barnes were in injured jerseys.

Enter the true freshman, who was able to get the nod versus The Citadel and make the most of it, gaining the most yards for a back in his first game since 1981.

Junior cornerback David Amerson just can't keep his hands off other people's .... well, let's just say that he intercepts a lot of passes. The returning All-American stole his third of the season and the 16th of his career in the win over The Citadel, tying the NC State career record held by Eric Williams (1978-82) and Art Rooney (1936-38).

Amerson is now tied for ninth in ACC history in career interceptions. He set the State and ACC single-season marks in 2011 with the second-best mark in FBS history - 13. He returned two picks for scores, also a BCS best, and led the national ranks in INT return yards with 205.

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! NC State posts a 10-2 record when Amerson records an interception.

Since giving up touchdown passes of 41 and 72 yards in the loss to Tennessee in the season opener in Atlanta, the Wolfpack defense has virtually shut down the opposition's passing game. That wasn't surprising against The Citadel, a team that only passes a handful of times every game, but in the last three games, the only passing TD the Pack has given up was an eight-yarder with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter in the win over South Alabama.

In the past three games, NC State has allowed just 164.7 passing yards per game. The Wolfpack ranks fifth in the ACC in pass defense, despite giving up 333 yards to the Volunteers in the opener.

After turning the ball over a dismal four times in the season opening lost versus Tennessee, the Wolfpack has turned its butterfingers into sticky fingers. State has turned the ball over just three total times in the last three games.

Quarterback Mike Glennon, who threw a career-high four interceptions against the Vols, has not been picked off since that contest. In terms of fumbles, the Pack has dropped three. On the flip side, the defense only had one takeaway in the season opener, but has since forced nine TOs in three games: six interceptions and three fumbles.

Even with the stats from the shaky start, the Pack ranks third in the ACC with a +0.75 turnover margin heading into the fifth game of the season.

The Wolfpack currently ranks eighth nationally in tackles for loss with a total of 34. That mark ranks second in the ACC. Fourteen different defenders have tallied stops behind the line of scrimmage for State this season, led by linebackers Ricky Dowdy with 5.5 and Rodman Noel with five.

The Pack has tallied 11 sacks this season, the fourth-best mark in the ACC.

When it comes to cornerbacks, NC State can definitely look down at other teams. Research has been unable to find another pair of starting cornerbacks in the country as tall as the Wolfpack's. Both David Amerson and Dontae Johnson are listed at 6'3.

In the ACC, only Virginia Tech has two starting cornerbacks listed over 6'0.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Bryan Underwood ranks third on the team with nine catches this season, but he leads the team and ranks seventh in the ACC in touchdown scoring.

The most diminutive member of the NC State wide receiver corps at 5'11, 174, Underwood has scored in all four games this season. That four-game streak of touchdown receptions is tied as the second-longest in school history. Only Koren Robinson had a longer streak, opening the 2000 season with five straight TD grabs from quarterback Philip Rivers.

Four of his six 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.

At 6'6, NC State's Mike Glennon is tied as the tallest quarterback in the ACC (Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is also listed at 6'6). That is usually a pretty positive stat for the Wolfpack, but it also means he has further to fall.

NC State is next to the bottom is terms of sacks allowed this season with 14, and 13 of those have been on Glennon. Connecticut sacked him six times. Although nine of those sacks have been the responsibility of an offensive lineman, head coach Tom O'Brien says that running backs and even Glennon himself have been at fault when it comes to allowing sacks.

State has lost 98 yards on sacks this season.

Thirteen different players have caught passes for the Wolfpack in 2012, as five wide receivers, two tight ends, five halfbacks and a fullback have all been on the receiving end of a Mike Glennon throw.

The wide receiver spot was an area of concern heading into the 2012 campaign, as both starters from last season and another senior graduated. Quintin Payton has been on the recieving end of the majority of Glennon's throws, catching 17 passes for 338 yards. He ranks ninth in the ACC in receptions (4.2/game) this week, and is sixth in receiving yards per game with 84.5.

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