NOTES: Pack Returns Home

NC State returns to home to take on Syracuse. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

Although Saturday's meeting will mark the first time the Pack and the Orange have met as Atlantic Coast Conference foes, it will mark the seventh time that NC State and Syracuse have played. In all six previous matchups, the Wolfpack has come out on top - winning three games played in Carter-Finley Stadium and three played in Syracuse.

The last two times the two teams met, Syracuse was ranked in the top-20. In 1998, the Orange came to Carter-Finley ranked 11th in the national polls and left with a 38-17 loss. In 1997, the Pack faced the No. 13 Orange in the Carrier Dome and eked out a 32-31 victory in overtime.

In the 1998 Wolfpack win, junior quarterback Jamie Barnette completed 15 of 28 passes for 291 yards and a TD, while also running for two scores on a 15-67 rushing performance. In 1997, Barnette threw for three scores, including two to All-American wideout Torry Holt.

The Wolfpack will wear red and white and in between on Saturday when Syracuse comes to town. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the NC State squad will be wearing pink socks and wristbands and there may be other touches of pink on the sidelines.

Since the 2011 season, the NFL has supported Breast Cancer Awareness month by allowing players to wear pink cleats, gloves, and chin straps throughout the month of October and many college teams have followed suit. Wolfpack football supports the fight throughout the year, as all proceeds from State's annual spring game, the Kay Yow Spring Football Game, go to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and the Kay Yow Scholarship Endowment.

The 1973 NC State football team will reunite and be honored during Saturday's game versus Syracuse. Many of the names that populate the Wolfpack record books were on the ‘73 roster, including 2013 ACC Legends Dave and Don Buckey who led the squad in passing and receiving respectively. But head coach Lou Holtz's main weapon on that ACC Championship squad was the quadruple threat of running backs Willie Burden, Stan Fritts, Roland Hooks and Charley Young - otherwise known as "The Stallions."

That foursome combined for 2,594 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns, with Burden leading the way with 1,014 yards - a mark which set the State single-season record. He was named the ACC Player of the Year for his efforts.

The squad finished with a 6-0 mark in ACC play en route to the league title and went 9-3 overall, including a 31-18 victory over No. 19 Kansas in the Liberty Bowl. NC State ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 33.2 points per game and set offensive marks that still rank among the best in school history. Paving the way for those backs were All-ACC offensive linemen Bill Yoest and Rich Druschel, who were both drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1974 NFL Draft. On defense, Mike Devine pulled in seven interceptions, a mark that ranked second in school history until 2011. Ralph Stringer averaged 25.5 yards on kickoff return duty as a freshman in '73, and went on to hold the school record for return yardage for almost 30 years.

One of the biggest obstacles that Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren knew his team would face in 2013 was a lack of depth. That lack is magnified after the Pack has suffered injuries at key positions.

Against Wake Forest, the Wolfpack was without the services of its leading rusher and top two receivers. Freshman running back Matt Dayes, who is the team's leading rusher and touchdown scorer, dressed but was unable to go due to an injury. Freshman wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was the leading receiver through the first three games did not play for the second straight game. Six plays into the game, Rashard Smith, who had taken Vades-Scantling's place as the team's leading rusher, went down with an injury and did not return.

Starting left tackle Rob Crisp, the team's top returning player on a very thin offensive line, has missed the last three games and Brandon Mitchell, who won the starting job at quarterback in the preseason, has missed the last four games.

Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren has talked about building a wall around the state of North Carolina and keeping the in-state players at home. He's taken that a step further by fielding a team that boasts many local players seeing action. On the current roster, 21 players are from Raleigh or Wake County. Of those 21 players, eight are listed on the two-deep and five have started games this season.

One area where the Wolfpack has shown vast improvement from a year ago has been in the team's ability to stop the rush. Through the first five games of 2013, NC State ranks second in the ACC and 17th nationally in rush defense, giving up just 107.6 yards on the ground per game.

Three of the State's first five opponents have been held under 115 rushing yards, with two teams finishing with less than 100 (Richmond with 16, Central Michigan with 94). Last season, the Pack finished 53rd nationally, giving up 154.77 yards on the ground per game.

The Wolfpack ranks second in the ACC and fifth nationally in tackles for loss, with 44 stops behind the line (8.8/game) - including a season-high 12 vs. Clemson.

The Wolfpack's starters on the offensive line have not gotten a breather so far in 2013. Two starters - Quinton Schooley and Joe Thuney - have played every offensive snap of the season. In fact, in two games this season (Clemson and Wake Forest) all five starting linemen have played the entire game.

Four players went the distance in the season opener and against Richmond while three played the entire game against Central Michigan.

Five games into the 2013 campaign, the Wolfpack has had five different players lead the team in rushing. Three running backs, a quarterback and a wide receiver have all earned top rusher billing this season.

Who needs depth? We've got Joe Thuney! In 2013, two returning starters on the offensive line have lost time due to injury. The solution to both of those problems has been the same: redshirt sophomore Joe Thuney.

Thuney spent all of last season at center, where he played in eight games. He spent spring practice and preseason camp at right guard.

But when right tackle Tyson Chandler was forced to miss the opener with an injury, Thuney started in his spot. In the second game of the season versus Richmond, he was back at his regular spot - right guard.

Prior to the game against third-ranked Clemson, left tackle Rob Crisp went out with an injury. Thuney, who had never had played with his left hand down in his career, was the solution. He has now started each of the last three games at that position and against Central Michigan, posted the highest coach's grade of an offensive lineman all year.

The only position on the offensive line that Thuney has not played (so far!) is left guard.

It might have taken speedy junior wideout Bryan Underwood a while to find his role in the Pack's new offense, but based on his yardage in the last three games, he seems to have figured it out.

In the Pack's first two games of 2013, Underwood caught four passes for a total of 21 yards and did not have any rushing attempts. But over the last three games, Underwood's role in the offense has grown dramatically.

Underwood has been the Pack's leading receiver over the last three games, pulling in 20 catches for 247 yards. He has also seen an increased role in the ground game, as his seven carries for 101 yards over the last three games ranks third behind RB Shadrach Thornton (124) and QB Pete Thomas (108).

The Wolfpack's achilles heel in 2013 has been penalties. NC State currently ranks 102nd out of 125 teams in penalties this season, as the Pack has been flagged 38 times for 306 yards. NC State's average of 61.2 penalty yards per game ranks 13th among the 14 ACC teams.

The Wolfpack won't have to wander very far from its home den during the 2013 football season, as NC State is playing eight games in Carter-Finley Stadium and two others in the state of North Carolina. The Pack won't have to play a game outside of its home state until Oct. 26, when the squad heads to Florida State.

The only other game played outside North Carolina will be the Boston College contest on Nov. 16.

Almost 10 percent of the league's starting quarterbacks were NC State alums. No other school in the nation can boast three starting signal callers in the NFL and only two other schools have two (Florida State and USC).

Philip Rivers, who still holds the ACC career record with 13,582 yards of total offense, is in his 10th season with the San Diego Chargers - his eighth as the starter. Russell Wilson, who ranks eighth on the league's career total offense charts, was a rookie sensation for the Seattle Seahawks last season and is in his second campaign as the starter.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently named rookie Mike Glennon their starter. Glennon, a third round selection in the 2013 draft, ranks 30th in ACC history in total offense and was a two-year starter for the Wolfpack.

Senior linebacker Robert Caldwell is definitely making his presence known for the Wolfpack. The Pack's starting middle linebacker is ranked seventh in the ACC in tackles with 8.4 per game.

Against Clemson, he had a dozen tackles and made three stops behind the line of scrimmage. He ranks sixth in the league and 17th nationally in tackles for loss with 7.5 for the year.

Caldwell did not see action from scrimmage in 2012 after transferring from College of the Desert JUCO. He arrived to camp late from JUCO and did not have much time to learn the Pack playbook, but he did see action in every game on special teams.

Although the NC State defense finished in the middle of the ACC pack last season in most defensive categories, one thing it has was known for was picking off the opposition. The Wolfpack defense led the league each of the last two years in interceptions, with a school-record 27 in 2011 and 16 in 2012.

This season, the Pack did not pick off a pass in the first three games, but has made up for it in the last two outings.

In the win against Central Michigan, linebacker D.J. Green stepped in front of a pass and took it 37-yards in the opposite direction for State's first score of the day. Later in the game, safety Josh Stanley made an acrobatic touchdown-saving pick in the endzone and fellow safety Hakim Jones also had an INT.

At Wake Forest, senior Dontae Johnson pulled down his first INT of his career. Despite not recording an INT until the fourth game, the Pack's pass defense still has limited the opponents. Only one opponent has thrown for 300 yards (Richmond's Michael Strauss had exactly 300).

It took him a while to get in, but once he did, Shadrach Thornton made it count. The sophomore tailback, who led the team in rushing in 2012, missed the season opener due to a suspension. Early in the second game of the season against Richmond, he fumbled a kickoff return and did not come back into the game.

Against Clemson, he played 25 snaps and had two touches - a 21-yard touchdown run and a 32-yard reception to set up that touchdown run.

He worked his way back into the starter's job for the Central Michigan contest, responding with 71 yards on 13 carries (5.1 yards per carry) and scoring a TD. He had 36 all-purpose yards at Wake Forest.

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