Weary OL Was Crucial In Lifting Pack Past Deacs

Without knowing it at the time, junior tailback T.A. McLendon gave the blueprint for beating Wake Forest five days before the Wolfpack actually faced the Demon Deacons.

During the Pack's weekly press conference last Monday, he was asked whether he preferred to run over defenders or run by them.

"I'll just say I like to run over the defense, because you wear them down and wear them down, and once you hit that safety so many times or a cornerback so many times, they're going to not want to tackle you anymore," McLendon said. "It happens all the time in the NFL or wherever; you hit them so many times, they just don't want to hit you anymore. Then you just give them a move and you might outrun them then.

"I guess you can say running over first, then run by them."

Little did McLendon know that, on his 30th carry against the Deacs, in overtime, his punishing style would pay huge dividends. Though he was doubled over between carries at that point, he summoned enough energy to burst through the line, creating a classic one-on-one matchup between he and the safety – a safety who didn't appear to be all that thrilled with the prospect of taking down the 232-pound McLendon by his lonesome. With just one man between he and the goal line, McLendon lowered the boom, knocked the safety aside easily, pranced into the end zone, was mobbed by his teammates, and then surely headed directly for the locker-room whirlpool.

But at the end of a brutally hot day in Carter-Finley Stadium, McLendon wasn't the only one in need of a hard-earned break and a chance to get rehydrated. In the second half, the Wolfpack offensive line grabbed control of the line of scrimmage and had its way with the Demon Deacons. In the second stanza and overtime, the Pack front gave quarterback Jay Davis enough time to hit 13 of 15 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown and allowed the State runners to gallop for 105 yards on the ground.

It didn't come without a price. Center Jed Paulsen lost 13 pounds during the course of the contest, while tackle John McKeon dropped eight. Paulsen and McKeon each gutted out 85 plays, while guard Leroy Harris was in for 82 snaps and tackle Chris Colmer contributed 79. Offensive line coach Mike Barry called it his unit's finest outing of the year, with the group using 35 knockdowns, 11 intimidations and 16 "Raleigh Rails" to help the Wolfpack tally a season-best 455 offensive yards, including 314 in the second half.

Despite the heat and humidity, State's seven stalwart offensive linemen carried the day. Junior Merci Falaise and redshirt freshman Luke Lathan are out with knee problems, redshirt senior Ricky Fowler and redshirt freshman Yomi Ojo haven't played in any of the past three games, and Colmer and sophomore Derek Morris have been slowed by injuries as well.

True to the nature of offensive linemen, however, the post-game headlines went to Davis and McLendon – and deservedly so. Davis' impressive second-half performance turned plenty of heads, leading to hope that he is ready to become "the man" at quarterback in 2004. And McLendon barreled for 139 yards and two touchdowns on his 30 carries, breaking 11 tackles along the way.

"He had to knock off like three helmets running over a couple of guys, breaking tackles," said junior tight end T.J. Williams. "I was amazed … He's been doing those things since he's been here, so it's just a continuation.

"I was watching the film at home, and I was really surprised … Helmets were flying everywhere and guys were being run over."

Yet it was the seven offensive linemen who gave Davis the protection he needed to hit deeper routes in the second half. It was a group of exhausted "big uglies" who opened up creases for McLendon for four straight plays in overtime to cement the game.

It was the offensive line that helped the Wolfpack emerge the victor in the tale of two halves – and provide a glimpse of what a balanced NC State offense could accomplish in the remainder of the season.

Pack Pride Top Stories