Notebook: Pack Prepares For Tech

NC State (3-5, 2-3) is reeling with Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-1) coming to town.

  • NC State has won its last four games against ranked opponents, including wins this season over then No. 20 Boston College and No. 17 Florida St.
  • All five of the Wolfpack's conference games have been decided by seven points or less this season.
  • Darrell Blackman is fourth in the ACC in both punt returns (24th in NCAA) and kick returns (20th). He is the only player in the top-5 in the ACC in both categories and one of just three players nationally to rank in the top-25 in both.

    NC State and Georgia Tech have only met 25 times on the gridiron, but Georgia Tech has certainly gotten the best of the Wolfpack in the series. The Yellow Jackets post a 16-9 mark against NC State, including a 10-2 record in Atlanta. NC State has defeated Georgia Tech just twice since 1994, a 30-23 overtime win in 2000, Chuck Amato's first year as head coach, and a 17-13 win against the 24th-ranked Jackets in Atlanta last season.

    In the five years prior to Amato's taking over the Wolfpack program, NC State had dropped five straight games to Georgia Tech. The average margin in those games was 16 points. In the six meetings between the two schools under Amato, the scoring margin has been only 7.7 points.

    All five of the Wolfpack's conference games this season have been decided by seven points or less.

    In Chuck Amato's 53 ACC contests, he has posted a 25-28 record. In 31 of those 53 games, the final outcome has been decided by a touchdown (seven points) or less, 35 have been decided by eight points or less and 39 have been decided by 10 points or less. His ACC record includes a 14-13 mark at home and the Wolfpack has lost just four conference games by double digits at home in the past seven years. In 14 home ACC wins, six have been by double digits, and the other eight have been by seven or less points, including the two-point win over BC and the fourpoint triumph over FSU.

    Amato is 11-15 on the road in ACC matchups and in 16 of those 26 games the score has differed by seven points or less, with NC State posting a 6-10 record in those games after a six point loss to Maryland and a seven point loss to Virginia over the last two games this season.

    Under Amato, NC State has lost by 20-or-more points just three times and by more than 10 points just seven times in ACC games.

    The Wolfpack defense has consistently stopped opponents on third down this season and currently leads the league and ranks ninth nationally in opponents third down conversion percentage. NC State is holding opponents to a 28.4% conversion rate on third downs and has allowed only 31 conversions on third down, tops in the conference. In ACC games only, NC State ranks second at 29.2% and is allowing an average of just 3.8 conversions a game. The Wolfpack defense allowed the Cavaliers to convert only twice in 12 attempts last week. Virginia was 1-for- 11 overall and 0-for-6 in the second half on third downs until their game winning drive. The Cavaliers converted a 3rdand- 1 with less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter and scored the winning touchdown three plays later.

    One bright spot in the recent three-game losing streak has been the increase in total yards since Daniel Evans took over at quarterback for his first career start against Boston College. NC State has averaged 316.6 total offensive yardsper- game, all against league foes. That mark ranks third in the ACC for conference games and the Pack is third in the league with an average of 5.3 yardsper- play.

    For the season, the team is still eighth in the ACC in total offense at 298.6 yards-per-game after averaging just 268.7 yards-per-game in the first three games of the season before Evans took over under center.

    NC State is 1-3 when outgaining its opponents this season, with the three straight losses to Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia and a win against Appalachian St.

    Junior return specialist and wide receiver Darrell Blackman is a valuable piece of the Wolfpack's offensive unit, but his play on special teams is just that - special. He is the only player in the ACC that ranks in the top five in the league in both punt returns and kick returns and one of just three players nationally to rank in the top-25 in both categories. Blackman is fourth in the conference in punt return average (11.1) and kick return average (26.2). His punt return mark ranks 24th in the NCAA while he is 20th in kickoff returns.

    He is fifth in the ACC in all-purpose yards (101.4) as well. Blackman was injured on the opening kickoff of the Southern Miss game and missed the remainder of that contest and the Boston College game with a MCL sprain.

    Since his return to action against Florida St., Blackman has averaged 111 all-purpose yards-per-game. Against the 'Noles, he returned a kickoff 64 yards in the second quarter to setup a Wolfpack field goal.

    He returned a punt for a 65-yard touchdown against Maryland in the fourth quarter to pull the Wolfpack within 10 points late in the contest, collecting 139 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. Blackman tallied 582 yards in kickoff returns last season, the fifth-highest single-season tally in school history and the best since 1987. He led the ACC and ranked sixth nationally in that category, averaging 29.1 yards per return.

    Blackman, who was named a second-team all-conference performer as a specialist in 2005, is second in career kickoff return average at 27.6 and ranks eighth in punt returns at 10.7 in Wolfpack history. He has tallied 490 career yards in punt returns, the fifth best mark ever.

    Chuck Amato says that it is imperative that teams win their home games. His teams have posted a 30-15 slate at Carter-Finley Stadium in his seven years with the program. However, in 11 of those 15 losses, the score was decided by single digits and in eight the margin was seven points or less including the three point loss to Akron on the last play of the game this season and the two point loss to Wake.

    NC State ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring offense, averaging 18.5 points-per-game. If that average holds, it will be the Wolfpack's lowest scoring output since 1985 when the team averaged just 16.9 points-pergame. The Wolfpack has failed to score more than 24 points in each of the first eight games. The last time a NC State team failed to score more that 24 points in its first eight games was also in 1985 when that squad went all 11 games without scoring more than 23 points as it finished 3-8 on the season.

    NC State has committed nine or more penalties in four of its five losses this season and is averaging 5.3 penalties a game in the three wins and 8.4 penalties in the five losses. The Wolfpack is ranked ninth in the ACC in penalties, averaging 56.5 yards a game and getting flagged 58 times, third most in the league.

    NC State has been called for the third most penalties in the ACC this season with 58 infractions. A majority of those flags have been thrown on the offense, as 71% (41-of-58) of the Wolfpack's miscues have come from the offense.

    The defense has committed just 11 penalties all season while the special teams' units have accounted for six. In ACC games that number jumps to 77%, as 28 of the 36 penalties have been on the offensive side of the ball. The defense and special teams have been flagged four times each in league contests.

    NC State has improved its percentage in converting third downs over the last three ball games despite losing all three games. The offense is converting on 42% (18- of-43) of its third downs over the last three games after converting on just 29% (19-of-66) in the first five contests this season.

    NC State has six successful third down conversions in each of the last three games and has just one game, 7- of-14 against Southern Miss. - of six or more conversions in the first five games.

    The team has had its struggles in the red zone this season on both sides of the ball. In the first four games of the season, NC State made just seven trips into the red zone and scored five times (four TDs, one FG). The defense had allowed 14 scores (nine TDs, five FGs) in 16 chances inside the 20-yardline.

    Those numbers have improved in the last four games, each against ACC foes, as the offense has nearly doubled its production in the red zone. NC State has made more trips inside the red zone than its opponents in only two of the eight games this season, against Florida State (5-to-3) and Wake Forest (4-to-1).

    In its five ACC games, NC State has scored on 12 of its 14 (85.7%) red zone trips, sixth in the conference.

    Since the start of the college football season nine weeks ago, an unranked team has knocked off a ranked opponent 14 times in the AP poll, and NC State has done it twice. When the Wolfpack beat Boston College it became just the fourth unranked team all season to that point to defeat a ranked team before knocking off Florida State for its second win over a ranked team in as many games.

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