Notebook: Pack Prepares for Cardinals

NC State (1-3) returns to the gridiron this weekend against Louisville (2-2). Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

This weekend's matchup will mark the third between NC State and Louisville, but the first time the two teams have played on the Wolfpack's home field. Mike O'Cain's 1994 Wolfpack squad played at Louisville (10/8/94), losing by three touchdowns, 35-14.

The only other meeting between the two programs was in 1951, when the Pack under head coach Beattie Feathers fell at Louisville, 2-26.

For the second time this season, NC State's defense will go up against one of the nation's top quarterbacks - this time, Louisville's Brian Brohm. Brohm, who was listed on almost everyone's early list of Heisman hopefuls, currently ranks second nationally with 1,697 total passing yards, 424 passing yards per game and third in total offense with 427 yards per game.

Three weeks ago, the Wolfpack faced another of the country's top QBs - Boston College's Matt Ryan. Ryan currently ranks fifth in passing yards nationally with 1,341. Against a tenacious Wolfpack defense, Ryan threw for just 142 yards and one touchdown. In his other three games this season, he has averaged 400 passing yards and three touchdowns.

NC State's defense has been solid on third down so far this season, holding opponents to a third-down conversion mark of .294. The Wolfpack was leading the ACC heading into the Clemson game, but dropped to third after letting Clemson convert on half (9-18) of its attempts. That mark still ranks 21st nationally this week.

A big factor behind the Wolfpack's defensive prowess on third down has been it's success on first and second down. NC State's three opponents have needed an average of 7.4 yards to convert on third down this season. NC State's opposition has gained three yards or less on first down 58 times this season and has gained no yards or been knocked for a loss on first down 37 times.

On second down, Mike Archer's defense has held the opponent to three or less 51 times and to zero or negative yards 29 times.

The Wolfpack's Darrell Blackman is definitely the man of all purposes for the Wolfpack. Blackman leads the ACC by 23.8 all-purpose yards and ranks 17th nationally in that category three weeks into the season - averaging 179.8 yards per game.

Thus far in 2007, Blackman has 232 receiving yards on 15 grabs, 11 punt returns for 137 yards and 13 kickoff returns for 350 yards. He has moved up to eighth place on the NC State career list for all-purpose yards with 3,461. In terms of kickoff returns, Blackman has the best average in school history with a 28.2 mark - a mark that also ranks second in ACC history. He has moved into third-place on the Wolfpack career list for yards with 1,495 - 19th in ACC history.

He had a 99-yard return for a touchdown on Saturday versus Clemson - the longest kickoff return in school history.

As a punt returner, Blackman's 679 career yards is the third-best ever for a Wolfpack return man, and ranks 22nd in ACC history. His 9.98 punt return average for his career is the ninth-best ever by a Wolfpack player.

This season, Blackman has added his name to the single-game records as well. His 90 yards in punt returns in the season opener marked the fourth-highest single game total in school history and he now holds three of the top five marks on that list. He tallied 143 yards in kickoff returns against Clemson, the ninth-best single-game mark in school history. He now holds three of the top 10 marks on that list.

Blackman caught six passes for 128 yards (all in the first quarter) in the loss at Boston College. That marked the first 100-yard receiving game for a Wolfpack player since the 2005 season.

NC State has dug an early hole for itself in its three losses this season. In the games against Central Florida, College and Clemson, the Wolfpack was intercepted on its opening drive and all three times the opponent went on to score after getting the ball. The only time in four games that NC State has not been picked off on its opening drive was against Wofford, when the Pack scored on a nine-play, 74-yard drive.

In four games this season, the Wolfpack has broken up 28 opponent passes. In other words, 18% of the pass attempts by the opposing quarterbacks have been batted down or broken up by a Wolfpack defender. However, NC State's defense has just one interception for the season - Jeremy Gray's 15-yard return against Boston College.

Free safety Miguel Scott leads the Wolfpack with four PBUs this season, while linebacker Ernest Jones has three.

Of the five true freshmen who have seen action for the Wolfpack this season, defensive tackle Markus Kuhn is seeing the most playing time. With injuries and events forcing regular starters DeMario Pressley and Alan Michael Cash out of action in the early part of the season, the native of Weinheim, Germany has come in and made an impact for the Wolfpack defense.

Kuhn has tallied a dozen tackles, broken up three passes and tallying two stops behind the line of scrimmage in the three games he has played.

Although he's a freshman, Kuhn is 21-years-old. He didn't play football until he was 15 (as soon as German rules would allow him to play).

A big part of the Wolfpack's ability to snap it's nine-game losing streak against Wofford on September 15 was it's ability to effectively run the football. NC State ran for 217 yards in the contest, it's highest rushing total since the 2005 season when the Pack ran for 297 yards against Southern Miss (10/29/05).

Andre Brown led the way with 133 yards rushing (as well as three touchdowns), while Jamelle Eugene added 38, freshman Curtis Underwood had 32 and quarterback Harrison Beck had 18.

NC State scored four rushing touchdowns in the game, the most for the Pack since scoring four TDs on the ground against North Carolina in 2003.

In the Wolfpack's three losses, the rushing game has definitely been a key factor. In the losses against Central Florida, Boston College and Clemson combined, NC State has rushed for a total of just 196 yards - an average of just 65.3 yards per game. Part of the Wolfpack's inability to run the football consistently is the inexperience of the Pack's offensive line. Coached by Don Horton, who named the second-best offensive line coach in the nation, NC State's OL had five players on the opening day two-deep who had never played a collegiate game and another who had seen action in just two contests. Only four players had ever started a game before the Central Florida game and those four had combined for just 38 starts.

NC State's nine-game losing streak ended on September 15 with a 38-17 win over Wofford. It marked the Wolfpack's first win since October 5, 2006 (Florida State). That streak tied for the longest losing streak for NC State since 1959, when Earle Edwards' squad also lost nine straight.

Junior tailback Andre Brown has carried the load for the Wolfpack in terms of rushing the ball this season, as his backfield compatriot Toney Baker suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener. Behind an inexperienced offensive line,Brown has rushed for 335 yards in four games for an 83.8 average that ranks sixth in the ACC. led the way for the Wolfpack against Wofford with 133 yards on 21 carries - his first 100-yard rushing game since he had 113 yards in the win over Florida State on October 5, 2006 (ironically, that was the Wolfpack's last win before Saturday).

Brown scored three touchdowns in the victory, tying with 14 other Wolfpack players for the fifth-highest rushing touchdown total in school history. Brown now ranks third in the ACC in touchdown scoring with five for the year for an avearge of 7.5 points per game.

For his career, Brown, who is on the preseason ‘watch' list for the Doak Walker Award, has 1,660 yards, a mark that ranks 12th in school history.

Twenty six players have made their NC State debut so far this season. Five true freshmen have played so far for Tom O'Brien: LB Thomas Barnes, DT Markus Kuhn, WR Owen Spencer, HB Curtis Underwood and OT Jake Vermiglio.

NC State's linebacking corps isn't made up of players with household names, but the group has proven to be quite solid in the early part of the 2007 season. That solid play is in large part due to the fact that the three linebacking spots are filled with seniors: Ernest Jones on the weak side, James Martin in the middle and Lerue Rumph at strongside LB.

Two of the Pack's three starting linebackers are leading the team in tackles, with Jones boasting 43 and Martin with 35. Rumph ranks fifth with 25 (Rumph left the Wofford game with an injury after just 19 snaps).

Although he hasn't had a catch as dramatic as the one that defeated Boston College in the final seconds of last year's game, senior wide receiver John Dunlap has been a solid performer for the Wolfpack offense in 2007.

The team captain leads NC State with 18 catches this season and is currently tied for sixth in the ACC with 4.5 grabs per game. After four games, he is almost 2/3's of the way to his entire reception total of 2006 (30).

Dunlap has pulled down 58 receptions in his career, the 16-best mark among active ACC players.

NC State has dropped from first to fifth in the ACC in passing yards, but is still averaging 220.8 aerial yards per game, but the Wolfpack has attempted (158) and completed (88) more passes than any team in the league except Boston College (113-183).

Two quarterbacks combined for 351 passing yards in the loss at College, the highest for the Wolfpack since the 2003 Mazda Tangerine Bowl. Starter Harrison Beck threw for 321 of those yards, the highest since Philip Rivers had 475 in that same bowl game.

In the season opener, NC State tallied 272 passing yards (207 by and 65 by Daniel Evans). That passing tally was the highest for a Wolfpack squad in 23 games (since a 286 yard total against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 17, 2005).

The Wolfpack completed 24 passes in the season opener, which was the most since the season opener versus Virginia Tech in 2005 (27). When that number was topped by 29 at BC, it was the highest since that 2003 bowl game.

Although the passing numbers for the Wolfpack offense have risen, the number of passing yards allowed by the Pack "D" has dropped. NC State ranks second in the ACC and 16th nationally this week in passing defense, allowing a lowly 161.2 yards per game. That number is even more impressive when factoring in that the Pack has already faced one of the nation's top QBs, holding BC's Matt Ryan to just 142 passing yards - his lowest total since midway through his sophomore campaign.

In his other three games, Ryan has averaged 399 yards. Against NC State, Ryan threw for just one TD.

NC State started a new punter in the September 15 game versus Wofford - walkon Bradley Pierson, who is simply known as "Sticks" to his Wolfpack teammates. That name certainly seemed appropriate after his performance in his first game as a starter. Pierson punted nine times in that contest, ‘sticking' five inside the opponent's own 20 yardline.

Pierson has now punted 17 times this season (twice against Boston College and nine times against Wofford, six against Clemson). Six of those 17 times, Pierson has pinned the opponent inside its own 20 yardline. Pierson also had a 50-yard boot in the win over Wofford.

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