Notebook: State Heads to Greenville

NC State (1-5) returns to the gridiron this weekend against East Carolina (4-3). Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on CSTV.

NC State and its neighbor from down the road, East Carolina, first met on the gridiron in 1970. Although NC State won 11 of the first 15 meetings between the two schools (all of which were played at Carter-Finley Stadium), the Pirates have won six of the last nine matchups to put the overall tally at 14-10 with the Wolfpack holding the edge.

After the series began in 1970, the two teams met every season through 1987. Since then, the teams have met just six times, with three of those contests being played at neutral sites. In 1992, the Pack played the Pirates in the Peach Bowl, losing 34-37. In 1996 and 2004, the two teams played regular season contests in Charlotte, with ECU winning 50-29 in ‘96 and the Pack gaining a 52-14 victory in 2004.

This will mark only the second time that the Pack has played at Dowdy Ficklin Stadium. In 1999, the Wolfpack finished the season with a 23-6 loss in Greenville in Mike O'Cain's last game as head coach.

The Wolfpack closed out a disappointing season with a loss to East Carolina on Nov. 25, 2006, falling 21-16 at home on Thanksgiving weekend. The Pack was up 10-7 at the end of the first half after a Toney Baker touchdown and a John Deraney field goal before ECU's quarterback hit a 53-yard touchdown bomb with just four seconds on the clock to put the Pirates up 14-10 at the half. Neither team scored in the third quarter, but ECU drove for a score to go up 21-10 in the fourth. The Pack would manage one more score - a two-yard run by Jamelle Eugene, in the last minute of the game.

Although NC State heads into the second half of the season with just one win, the Wolfpack's 1-5 start to the 2007 campaign is not unprecedented. Since the ACC was formed in 1953, NC State has now won just one of its first six games 11 times, with four of those marks coming in a head coach's first year with the program. In six of those previous 10 poor starts, the Wolfpack posted a winning record the following year.

After playing four of its first five games at home in Carter-Finley Stadium, the Wolfpack will play just one home game between September 29 and November 11. NC State is in the middle of playing three of its next four games on the road, having travelled to Florida State on October 6, and now to East Carolina this weekend following an open week. The Pack will be back at home on October 27 for a Homecoming contest against Virginia, then will be back on the road at Miami on November 3.

Although juniors Toney Baker and Andre Brown have been the most publicized tailbacks on the Wolfpack roster, it shouldn't be forgotten that in the season opener, Baker, Brown AND Jamelle Eugene were listed as co-starters.

Baker and Brown both crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark as sophomores, but in many preseason interviews, when head coach Tom O'Brien was asked about his two junior runners, he reminded his audience of the talents of the redshirt sophomore as well. He was also asked many times just how he would handle the overwhelming depth of having three talented tailbacks looking for playing time.

That depth is non-existent heading into the second half of the 2007 campaign, as Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury following the season opener and Brown suffered a broken foot against Florida State.

Eugene's considerable talents were on display for the Wolfpack in the loss to the Seminoles. The shifty runner rushed for a career-high 101 yards on 14 carries in the contest, averaging 7.2 yards per pop. He also led the Pack in receiving with five grabs for 30 yards and had a 31-yard kickoff return in the contest for a total of 162 all-purpose yards.

Eugene will start the East Carolina game at tailback. He has one previous start in his career - in the 2006 win over Florida State.

Junior tailback Andre Brown became seventh starter to suffer an injury that will cause him to miss a game when he fractured his foot against Florida State. Even more unfortunately, he may have become the fourth starter to suffer a season-ending injury.

Tight end Anthony Hill, tailback Toney Baker and long snapper Corey Tedder have already gone down with season ending injuries.

The Wolfpack was without the services of quarterback Harrison Beck in Tallahassee, as the starting signal caller in the previous four games was sidelined with a separated shoulder.

Beck suffered the injury in the third quarter of the loss to Louisville. He was sacked for a nine-yard loss on a first down play and was called for intentional grounding. Although he got up holding his arm gingerly, on the next play, a second-and-19, Beck completed his longest pass of the year, a 53-yard beauty to Donald Bowens down the Wolfpack sideline that moved the Pack to the Louisvile 14. After that throw, Beck came out of the game and went straight to the X-Ray room, and missed it when four plays later, Daniel Evans hooked up with fullback Ced Hickman for the Pack's only touchdown of the day.

Beck sat out last season after transferring from the University of Nebraska, but was named the Wolfpack starter after leading the Wolfpack to 20 unanswered points and a near comback (23-25) to Central Florida in the opener. Against Clemson, he played just 10 snaps before hobbling out of the game with a knee injury.

Nine! That's the number of knee surgeries that have been performed on Wolfpack players since the spring of 2007. Six! That's the number of players who were listed as starters on the preseason depth chart (or have since become starters) that have undergone knee surgery.

Although the Pack has been hampered by various other injuries as well, that particular body part has definitely been the biggest problem. Over the spring and summer, wide receiver John Dunlap and quarterback Harrison Beck both had their knees scoped and walkon Zach Williams had reconstructive surgery. Beck and Dunlap missed training time during the offseason (Dunlap missed part of fall camp as well) but were back for the first game.

Three other Wolfpack starters, all of whom were honors candidates heading into the season, have been sidelined by knee injuries. NC State lost its leading receiver and rusher from last season, as well as one of its top defensive players.

In the last week of July, tight end Anthony Hill underwent reconstructive knee surgery for a torn ACL, just a few days after he was named to the preseason ‘watch' list for the John Mackey Award. His injury will keep him out for the entire 2007 campaign.

In the season opener, just a few days after he was named to the preseason ‘watch' list for the Doak Walker Award, tailback Toney Baker suffered a knee injury that also brought his season to a close. Baker, who led the Pack in rushing last season with 688 yards, had reconstructive surgery on October 11.

And just two days before the Boston College game, defensive tackle DeMario Pressley twisted his knee and underwent surgery on September 9. Although his injury was not season-ending, it came just after an elbow injury that kept him from starting the season opener. Pressley, who is on the preseason ‘watch' list for the Lombardi Trophy, missed the Boston College and Wofford games and was not full speed for the Clemson contest.

Those key players aren't the only ones who have had knee problems. True freshman offensive lineman Mike Golder, who was more than likely going to redshirt the season, also suffered a knee injury and will have to undergo reconstruction in October. Following the Clemson game, starting fullback Patrick Bedics and second-string offensive tackle Jerrail McCuller both went down with knee injuries and had surgery that week.

Obviously, the only number with any real meaning following the Louisville game was the final score, but the Wolfpack defense can still take pride in some of the numbers they turned in against the high-octane Cardinal offense.

Louisville came into the contest averaging 50 points and 620 yards of total offense. Against the Wolfpack, the Cardinals scored just 29 points and 498 total yards. Quarterback Brian Brohm, who was ranked second in the nation in passing yards and had thrown for more than 300 yards in his last seven outings, was held to 251 yards.

Two of Louisville's three touchdowns were on two and four-play drives after the Wolfpack offense turned the ball over. The defense was on the field almost 17 minutes longer than the offense and at halftime, the difference in the time of possession was Louisville 22:25, NC State 7:35.

NC State is currently ranked dead last in the nation (119th) in turnover margin. Through six games, the Wolfpack has committed 22 miscues (15 interceptions, seven lost fumbles), while taking the ball away from the opposition just five times (2 INTs, three fumbles). What's even more costly is that 79 of the opposition's 177 total points (45%) this season have come following a Wolfpack turnover.

At Boston College, the Wolfpack turned the ball of seven times, negating 407 yards of total offense in that 37-17 loss. That was the most in a game since 1995 (seven versus Clemson).

Against Louisville, the Pack turned the ball over five times, with three leading to scoring plays. The other two turnovers, although they didn't lead to Louisville scores, killed NC State drives deep in opponent territory.

Turnovers are anathema to any football coach, but especially to the 2007 Wolfpack staff. Head coach Tom O'Brien's 2006 Boston College squad led the ACC and tied for second nationally in turnover margin, while defensive coodinator Mike Archer's Kentucky squad led the SEC in that same category last season and tied BC to rank second nationally.

NC State's defense has been solid on third down so far this season, holding opponents to a third-down conversion mark of .343. The Wolfpack was leading the ACC heading into the Clemson game, but has dropped to sixth.

NC State's opposition has gained three yards or less on first down 95 times this season and has gained no yards or been knocked for a loss on first down 57 times. On second down, Mike Archer's defense has held the opponent to three or less 76 times and to zero or negative yards 45 times.

In six games this season, the Wolfpack has broken up 35 opponent passes. In other words, 19% 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 two interceptions for the season - Jeremy Gray's 15-yard return against Boston College and Alan-Michael Cash's pick against Louisville.

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