NOTEBOOK: Huge Opportunity For NC State

NC State faces No. 3 Clemson in Carter-Finley Stadium Saturday at 3:30 pm. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

For the past 34 years (since 1981), the series between NC State and Clemson has been dubbed the Textile Bowl, as that industry has a major economic impact on both states and both universities boast renowned textile colleges.  
NC State's College of Textiles produces more than half of the textile graduates in the country each year.  The North Carolina textile manufacturers donate money to NC State's scholarship fund every year in honor of the Wolfpack's MVP from the game.

Heading into Saturday's contest, No. 3 Clemson has won 35 consecutive games over teams not ranked by the Associated Press, and 33 in a row over teams not ranked in either the AP or USA Today polls. The last loss by the Tigers to an unranked team? NC State in 2011.

The Wolfpack celebrated its Homecoming that season with a 37-13 victory over the seventh-ranked Tigers, exploding for 27 unanswered points in the second quarter.

The defense forced four turnovers and tallied six sacks in the game.

Three of the last six times that the Wolfpack has faced a top 10 team, the team hasn't been ranked in the top 10 following the game.  

In 2014, the Wolfpack opened up with a 24-7 lead over No. 1 Florida State and was within four points entering the fourth quarter before falling 41-56.  The Pack was blown out by No. 2 FSU in Tallahassee in 2013, 17-49, and held tight with third-ranked Clemson that season, down just six at halftime.

Prior to that three contests, NC State won three in a row versus the top 10 - twice vs. FSU and once versus the Tigers.

Rk. Opponent Date Result Score
1 Florida State 09/27/14 L 41-56
2 @ Florida State 10/26/13 L 17-49
3 Clemson 09/19/13 L 14-26
3 Florida State 10/06/12 W 17-16
7 Clemson 11/19/11 W 37-13
9 @ Florida State 11/05/05 W 20-15

Wolfpack junior Matthew Dayes currently ranks 21st in the FBS in rushing yards with 793 - the second best mark in the ACC (to FSU's Dalvin Cook).  He leads the league in rushing touchdowns with a dozen (7th in FBS) and is tied with Cook for the conference lead in total touchdowns with a dozen each.

In the Wolfpack's win over Wake, Dayes became just the sixth individual in school history to rush for over 200 yards in a game and his 205 yards ranks as the fifth-best mark in school history.

Dayes is attempting to became the Pack's first 1,000 yard rusher since T.A. McLendon accomplished the feat in 2002.  If he were to break that mark, it would mark only the fourth time NC State has had a 1,000 yard rusher since 1984.

He is the first Wolfpack players since 2002 to rush for 100+ yards in five games during the season.

Last season, Dayes was one of just three players nationally with more than 300 yards rushing, receiving and in returns (Jamal Morrow of Washington St. & Temple's Jahad Thomas were the others).  He was the ONLY player nationally to reach those marks and also boast five or more touchdowns rushing and receiving in 2014.

One area where the Wolfpack has shown vast improvement in 2015 is in the return game.

Heading into game 8, NC State boasts a 15.8 yard punt return average - a mark which would be the second-highest in school history and the best mark since the 1967 season if the season ended today.

The Wolfpack's kickoff return average of 26.5 yards per return would also ranks as the second-best in school history.

Junior Bra'Lon Cherry currently ranks second in the ACC in punt return average with a 16.4 mark, while freshman Nyheim Hines ranks second on the kickoff return list at 27.4 yards per return.

NC State fielded the most balanced offense in the FBS last season, rushing for 204.5 yards per game and gaining 204.0 passing yards per contest.  With 5,311 yards of total offense, the difference between the rush and the pass was just seven yards (2,659 rushing, 2,652 passing).

This season, the Wolfpack is once again one of the most balanced squads in the FBS, averaging 212.3 rushing yards and 200.1 passing yards per game (1,486 rushing yards, 1,401 passing).

Here's a look at the most balanced teams (for teams with more than 1,400 rushing and passing yards for the season):

Rk. School Rush Pass Diff.
1 Georgia 1509 1497 12
2 Tennessee 1464 1447 17
3 Iowa 1501 1447 54
4 Baylor 2368 2435 67
5 Marshall 1427 1508 81
6 NC State 1486 1401 85
7 Stanford 1548 1635 87

Senior defensive end Mike Rose is currently the ACC leader in sacks with 6.5, the 11th-best mark in the FBS.  He had three crucial sacks in the win over Wake Forest - with all three coming on third down plays. That mark is tied as the fifth-best mark in school history (he also had three in the win over Syracuse last season).

The Bednarik Award candidate has now recorded a tackle for loss in 14 straight games dating back to last season. Over that span, Rose has 20 tackles for loss for 105 yards - including a career-best three sacks in the win at Wake Forest.

Rose has 28.5 career tackles for loss - the No. 17 mark in school history, while his 12.5 sacks ranks 19th.

It is no secret that NC State likes to spread the ball around in the aerial game, as a total of 14 players have caught a pass this season. But the majority of the Wolfpack's throws are not connecting with wide receivers.  Instead, 70-of-130 passes (54 percent) have been caught by the tight ends, fullbacks and running backs.

FB/TE Jaylen Samuels currently leads the Pack in receptions with 34, followed by running back Matthew Dayes' total of 22. The top ranking wideout is Jumichael Ramos with 18 catches.

The last time a non-WR led the Pack in receptions was Anthony Hill (TE) in 2006, and the last time the Pack's top two receiving targets for a season were not wide receivers was in 1995 when tight ends Mike Guffie and Jimmy Grisett were tops in receptions.

True freshman punter A.J. Cole is quietly having a solid season for the Wolfpack, averging 43.1 yards per punt over the last four games. His season average of 41.1 yards ranks ninth in the ACC, and he's booted a 50+ yard punt in each of the last five games.

Cole has put the Wolfpack defense in great position - literally - all season.  He's placed 16 punts inside the 20 yardline - the league's fourth-best mark - and seven of his 32 punts have been inside the 10.

For the season, the opponent's average start after a Cole punt has been its own 18.9 yardline.

After seven games, junior Bra'lon Cherry is tied for sixth on the Wolfpack single season record list in punt return yardage total.  Cherry, who currently ranks second in the ACC and seventh in the FBS in punt return average (16.4) has 19 returns for 311 yards thus far in 2015, and is just 11 yards shy of ranking in the top three in school history.  

Cherry's 16.4 yard per return average would be the first-best in school history if the season ended today.  His average was boosted with a 52-yard touchdown return in the win over Wake Forest.

Cherry returned four punts for 74 yards in the win over EKU.  He would have been the first Wolfpack player to go over the 100-yard mark on punt returns since 2004 if not for a somewhat questionable block in the back call).

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