NOTES: Pack, Heels Set To Battle

NC State will look to snap a three-game losing streak tomorrow at home against North Carolina. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

Saturday's game will mark the 103rd meeting in the series between the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels. The rivalry, which began in 1894, is the Wolfpack's oldest among ACC teams and the fourth-most played series in the ACC.

When the series began, the two teams actually played twice a year for several years (1894, 1899 and 1901). The series moved to an annual basis for 1919 through 1943 and then after a three-year hiatus, the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels have played every year since 1947 with one exception.

In 1952, the game between the two teams was cancelled because of a polio outbreak on UNC's campus.

The Tar Heels hold a 64-32-6 overall mark over the Wolfpack, including a 27-14-4 advantage in Raleigh. However, NC State has won five of the last six meetings between the two teams and four of the last five at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC STATE VS. UNC The 19th century was all UNC. The 20th century was more even. But in the 21st century, the Pack has definitely ruled.

The Tar Heels posted a 6-0-1 mark against the Wolfpack in the 1800s, then posted a 53-24-5 mark in the 1900s. But since the year 2000, NC State has won eight of 13 games against UNC - four at home and four on the road.

In the past decade, when NC State and UNC have met on the football field the final scores have been fairly close. In fact, the average scoring difference over that time frame is just 10 points, while five were decided by seven points or less.

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.

In the Davis household in Raleigh, some colors that usually don't seem to go well together are blending just fine. Pete and Debbie Davis certainly have a lot of red in their wardrobes, as their youngest son, Drew, is a redshirt freshman defensive end at NC State and they are always in the stands to cheer him on.

Their middle child is a basketball player, and when they go to his games, they have to wear that shade of blue that's not too popular among State fans. Luke Davis is a junior point guard for the UNC Tar Heels who played in 20 games last season.

Davis' oldest brother also attends UNC, as did his grandfather. Drew grew up pulling for the Tar Heels. Although his allegiance has obviously been reversed, he attends his brother's games at the Dean Smith Center frequently, which he says is "pretty awkward."

Just past the midpoint of the 2013 season, one player who could make a legitimate argument for team MVP would be junior placekicker Niklas Sade. Sade, who is the most experienced player on the team in terms of games started with 33, ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring for the season with 8.1 points per game.

His 13 field goals made in 2013 ranks second among league players while his .867 percentage on those kicks ranks fourth. He has already connected on as many field goals as he made in all of last season. In fact through seven games a year ago, he had only kicked seven FGs and posted a .700 mark. For the season last year, his mark stood at .565.

Sade ranks second in school history with 108 career PATs and needs just 11 for the school record. His 37 career field goals is the sixth best mark in the NC State record books.

Sade has been named a Lou Groza "Star of the Week" twice, is a two-time winner of the College Football Performance Awards "Placekicker of the Week" and was the ACC Specialist of the Week for the week of Sept. 7.

The third-best kicker in the country coming out of high school, he hit four field goals in the opener whch tied as the second-highest tally in school history and he personally outscored the entire Louisiana Tech squad, 16-14. Against Richmond, he connected on 46 and 19 yarders before nailing the game-winner from 48 yards with 33 seconds on the clock.

Graduate quarterback Brandon Mitchell's return to the field might not have come at the most auspicious time, as the Wolfpack was playing the No. 2 team in the nation on its home field, but following surgery for a broken foot, he was able to compete on 76 snaps and get his timing and rhythm back.

Mitchell completed 17 of 33 attempts for 128 yards to nine different receivers and was sacked three times in the contest. He ran 11 times as well.

Mitchell, a graduate student who transferred from Arkansas in July, appeared in 21 games for the Razorbacks, but had played wide receiver in 2012. He was named the starter before the season opener with Louisiana Tech and led the Pack on three promising offensive series - two of which were 65 and 75 yard touchdown drives. He completed all three of this throws for a quick gain of 93 yards before a broken foot sent him to the sideline where he has remained for the past five games.

One of the bright spots in the Pack's loss at Florida State was the play of sophomore tailback Shadrach Thornton. Thornton, who missed the first game of the season due to a suspension and did not break into the starting lineup until the fourth game of 2013, rushed for a career-high 173 yards in the contest, including a career-long 72-yard touchdown scamper. He was also the Pack's leading receiver in the game with five catches. That was the most rushing yards for a Pack player since 2006 and the 18th-best mark all-time.

Thornton's performance pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for this career, as he know boasts 1,051 career rushing yards after only 16 games.

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 was magnified after the Pack has suffered injuries at key positions earlier this season, but most of those players returned last week against Florida State.

At one point in the second half of the Syracuse game, seven of the Pack's starters for the season opener were out with injuries: Quarterback Brandon Mitchell, top two offensive linemen Rob Crisp and Joe Thuney, leading receiver Rashard Smith, defensive tackle T.Y. McGill, defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop and safety Jarvis Byrd. Add to that fullback Logan Winkles, the returning starter who was injured in preseason drills and several others who were hurt in the course of the game (QB Pete Thomas and CB Jack Tocho) and you have a pretty depleted Pack.

Against Wake Forest, the Wolfpack was without the services of its leading rusher and top two receivers. Freshman running back Matt Dayes, 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, Smith, who had taken Valdes-Scantling's place as the team's leading receiver, went down with an injury and did not return.

Each of those players, with the exception of Byrd, Crisp and Winkles, was available for the Florida State contest.

Fifty-six days into the 2013 football season, The Wolfpack left the state of North Carolina for a game when it traveled to Florida State to take on the No. 2 Seminoles last weekend.

NC State has played five games in Carter-Finley Stadium already in 2013 and Saturday's game will mark the first of three final home contests. The Wolfpack's only previous road game before the trip to Tallahassee was the quick bus trip down I-40 to take on Wake Forest.

The only other time the Pack will play a game outside of its home state this season will be on Nov. 16, when the squad heads north to take on Boston College. The only other road game will be at Duke on Nov. 9.

The Wolfpack ranks 13th nationally in tackles for loss, with 54 stops behind the line (7.7/game) - including a season-high 12 vs. Clemson. One reason behind that is perhaps the depth State has at defensive line, where at least nine players have seen action in every game.

Seven 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. Seven State players have rushed for at least 100 yards, but none had reached the 200 yard mark until Shadrach Thornton's breakout performance at Florida State.

Senior safety Jarvis Byrd suffered the third torn ACL of his career in the loss at Wake Forest and will miss the remainder of the season. Byrd, a member of the Pack's Leadership Council, had played 302 snaps and tallied 17 tackles before the injury.

The loss of Jarvis Byrd at safety has caused some shuffling in the defensive secondary. Dontae Johnson, who played safety as a freshman and sophomore, has moved back to that spot and true freshman Jack Tohco has moved into the starting job at corner.

Tocho didn't take long to make his presence known as a starter. The Charlotte native played 35 snaps in the Syracuse game before leaving with an injury, and during his time in the game made three tackles, broke up a pass and intercepted two others - returning them for 50 yards.

He had a pair of tackles and a pair of PBUs in 69 snaps at Florida State.

The Wolfpack's starters on the offensive line have not gotten a breather so far in 2013. Starting center Quinton Schooley has played every offensive snap of the season - a total of 497 (81.9 per game). Joe Thuney had played every snap prior to the Syracuse contest, when he had to exit with an injury after 38 snaps.

In three games this season (Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State) 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.

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 five 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.

In the preseason, there was much talk about how the Pack's new up-tempo offense hoped to wear down the opposing defense late in the game. Seven games into the 2013 campaign, however, it seems that it is the Pack's defense that is having that effect on the opposition.

In the 105 combined minutes of fourth quarter action through seven games, the Pack defense has given up an average of 53.0 rushing yards, 27.1 passing yards, and 80.1 yards of total offense. The Pack has forced 11 punts, three turnovers, and three times opponents have turned it over on downs in 26 fourth quarter opponent possessions thus far.

Only once has an opponent reached 50 yards passing in the final quarter this season (Richmond – 50).

In the season opener against Louisiana Tech, a team that led the NCAA in total offense last season, the Pack gave up just one first down, 2 yards rushing, and no yards passing. The Bulldogs had the ball for just 2:40 of the final 15 minutes, and were forced to punt twice and also had a fumble.

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 five games, he seems to have figured it out.

In the Pack's first three games of 2013, Underwood caught eight passes for a total of 56 yards and did not have any rushing attempts. But over the last four games, Underwood's role in the offense has grown dramatically.

Underwood has been the Pack's leading in three of those four outings, pulling in 24 catches for 326 yards.

He has also seen an increased role in the ground game - in the last five games, he has rushed 12 times for 135 yards.

Underwood has scored just one touchdown this season - against Central Michigan - after scoring 10 a year ago.

The Wolfpack's achilles heel in the first five games of 2013 was penalties. That trend has reversed in the last two contests, as the Pack, which had averaged 7.6 penalties in the first five games, has drawn just six yellow flags in the last two.

Almost 10 percent of the National Football League's starting quarterbacks are 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 has definitely made his presence known for the Wolfpack this season. The Pack's starting middle linebacker is ranked 12th in the ACC in tackles with 7.7 per game.

Against No. 3 Clemson, he had a dozen tackles and made three stops behind the line of scrimmage. 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.

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