Notebook: Huge Game for State

Returning home after a 34-20 victory over in-state rival East Carolina, NC State (2-5, 0-3) must now prepare to face the surging Virginia Cavaliers (7-1, 4-0).

Saturday's meeting will be the 55th meeting between NC State and Virginia in the series that dates back to 1904. The Wolfpack holds a 32-21-1 advantage in the series, but has lost 13 of the last 19 meeting with the Cavaliers.

The two teams have not played in Raleigh since November 1, 2003, when the Wolfpack won 51-37. The teams met in Charlottesville in 2006, with the Cavaliers winning a real offensive shootout, 14-7. The Wolfpack has won three of the last four games against UVa at Carter-Finley Stadium, but has lost the last five contests in Scott Stadium, dating back to a 30- 27 win in 1994, when current Cavaliers offensive coordinator Mike Groh led No. 13 Virginia as the starting quarterback.

NC State and Virginia played every year from 1960 until 2003, but have played just once since ACC expansion.

There are many connections between the current NC State coaching staff and the University of Virginia and there are also several connections between the University of Virginia coaching staff and the coaches at NC State.

Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien was on the Cavalier staff from 1982 - 1996, coaching guards and centers for nine years, then serving as offensive coordinator for six seasons (four with the QBs, two back with the OL). Four other members of the current Wolfpack staff also coached at UVa during that time frame: Mike Archer (linebackers, 1991-92), Jim Bridge (GA, 1994-95), Don Horton (GA, 1985- 87), and Jerry Petercuskie (Defensive tackles, 1995-96).

Current Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh played quarterback under coordinator O'Brien from 1991-95, starting his last two seasons. Groh is the only QB in Cavalier history to lead his team to nine wins and a bowl victory in backto- back seasons (94-95). Groh finished his career in the top three in every UVa passing category.

Cavalier running back coach Anthony Poindexter was a safety at Virginia from 1994-98, crossing paths with O'Brien for his first three seasons with the program.

NC State's bye-week came at an opportune time for Tom O'Brien's first Wolfpack team - midway through the 12-game slate. Barraged by injuries, the Pack posted a 1-5 mark in its first six games, but the head coach has encouraged his players to wipe that record out of their minds and concentrate on being successful in the last six contests.

That approach worked well in the Wolfpack's win at East Carolina - the first road win for NC State since November 5, 2005 (Florida State). Despite losing another starter to injury the week before the game, the Pack came together and never trailed in the contest, winning 34-20.

After playing four of its first five games at home in Carter-Finley Stadium, Saturday's game versus Virginia will mark the Wolfpack's only home game between September 29 and November 11. NC State is in the middle of playing three of its four games on the road, having travelled to Florida State on October 6, to East Carolina last weekend following an open week. The Pack will be back on the road at Miami on November 3.

Ten players who are listed as starters on this week's depth chart and 13 who have started multiple games this season are on track to graduate in December. That tally includes all three of the Pack's starting linebackers, all three seniors on the defensive line and four members of the offensive line. Two other members of the 2007 Wolfpack squad, Guerlin Dervil and Phillip Holloman, have already met their graduation requirements and will officially receive their degrees during December commencement ceremonies.

Here's a look at the other Wolfpack players who are on track to graduate in December: Pat Bedics, FB, Martrel Brown, DE, Andrew Evans, WR, Daniel Evans, QB, Kalani Heppe, OG, Ernest Jones, LB, Garrett Kline, OT, Luke Lathan, C, James Martin, LB, Yomi Ojo, OG, DeMario Pressley, DT, LeRue Rumph, LB, Miguel Scott, S, Marcus Stone, TE, Jimmie Sutton, CB, and Littleton Wright, DE.

NC State's football team should get a bulk discount when it comes to doctors performing knee surgeries this year. Nine Wolfpack players have undergone some type of knee surgery since the spring of 2007 and another player (Julian Williams) injured a knee last week and could miss several weeks, even though he won't have to undergo surgery.

Although the Pack has been hampered by various other injuries as well, that particular body part has definitely been the biggest problem. Six players who were listed as starters on the preseason depth chart (or have since become starters) have undergone knee surgery.

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, will undergo 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.

Every position on the Wolfpack football team has undergone a change in starters this season - some multiple times - due to injuries or coaches decisions. In seven games, five different lineups have started on the defensive line and in the defensive secondary. Two different players have started at quarterback, while at running back, three different players have started at tailback and two at fullback.

The offensive line had started the same five players up until last week, when an injury forced a change. The Wolfpack's starting wide receivers, Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap, have been consistent, but in one game, the Pack started three wideouts. At tight end, Marcus Stone has started every contest, but the Pack also started two tight ends against East Carolina.

The offensive line had been stable until last week when Julian Williams went down, which leaves the linebackers as perhaps the most stable unit on the team in terms of starters. Seniors Ernest Jones, Lerue Rumph and James Martin, II have started all seven games for the Wolfpack and have all been steady performers as well. Jones and Martin are currently leading the team in tackles with 69 and 59 tackles respectively, while Rumph ranks fifth with 44.

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 eighth game 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 have been on display for the Wolfpack in the last two games. The shifty runner rushed for a career-high 101 yards on 14 carries at Florida State, 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 started the East Carolina game at tailback, rushing for 63 yards and gaining another 45 yards on five catches, including a beautiful touchdown grab in the corner of the endzone. As the Wolfpack's primary tailback (playing most of the game against FSU and starting and playing a whopping 71 snaps at ECU), he has tallied 239 yards of total offense.

Eugene's 71 gradeable snaps last week were the most for a Wolfpack running back since 2000, when Ray Robinson played 72 snaps against Maryland.

He may not be the flashiest receiver ever to play the game (although his catch to defeat Boston College in the final seconds of last year's game was one of the most dramatic in school history) senior wide receiver John Dunlap has been a solid performer for the Wolfpack offense in 2007 and throughout his career.

Voted a captain by his teammates prior to this year, Dunlap currently leads NC State with 34 catches this season and currently ranks fourth in the ACC with 4.86 grabs per game. His eight catches against East Carolina was a career high. Dunlap has pulled down 74 receptions in his career, the 12th-best mark among active ACC players.

Redshirt sophomore Julian Williams became the eighth starter to suffer an injury that caused him to miss a game last week when he suffered a knee sprain in practice.

Two weeks ago, it was junior tailback Andre Brown's turn when he fractured his foot against Florida State. Even more unfortunately, Brown 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.

It hasn't been an easy year for junior quarterback Daniel Evans. After being named the starter before the season opener, he lost his job for the second game of the season. He came off the bench in two later games after starter Harrison Beck went out with an injury, but he has been strong in his last two outings as the starting signal caller, leading the Pack to its first road win in two seasons last week at East Carolina.

Against the Pirates, Evans completed 29 of 44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, setting career highs for completions and passing yards, and tying a career high for touchdown passes. Evans finished the game with the most completions and the most passing yards in a single game by an NC State quarterback since Philip Rivers against Kansas in the 2003 Tangerine Bowl.

Evans was especially good in the first quarter when the Wolfpack was building a 14-0 lead, completing 10 of 14 passes for 101 yards and two TDs. And in the fourth quarter, as the Pack was trying to salt the game away, he was accurate and efficient, completing 6 of 7 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Evans currently ranks sixth in the ACC in passing efficiency and eighth in passing average. His .643 completion percentage leads all ACC signal callers.

Redshirt freshman safety Javon Walker has quietly become a force to be reckoned with on the Wolfpack defense and on special teams. He earned his second start of the season at East Carolina and made the most of his opportunity, leading the team with a dozen tackles, including nine first hits or solo stops. In fact, in both games this season in which Walker has played 40 or more snaps (Clemson and East Carolina), he has posted double-figure tackle totals.

Walker played a whopping 110 gradeable snaps in the win at ECU - 86 on defensive and 24 on special teams. He leads the Wolfpack in special teams tackles and ranks fourth with 109 special teams snaps.

Led by coordinator Mike Archer, the Wolfpack defense has wreaked havoc on several opponents averages this season - most recently East Carolina's.

The Pirates entered Saturday's game with NC State averaging 191.3 rushing yards per game. Against a tenacious Wolfpack defense, however, ECU managed to eke out just 72 rushing yards.

On September 29, Louisville came into Carter-Finley Stadium averaging 50 points and 620 yards of total offense per agme. Against the Wolfpack, the Cardinals scored just 29 points and 498 total yards. Quarterback Brian Brohm, a Heisman Trophy candidate who was ranked second in the nation in passing yards at the time and had thrown for more than 300 yards in pervious last seven outings, was held to 251 yards.

In the second game of the season, the Pack "D" held another Heisman hopeful, Boston College's Matt Ryan, to well below his average. Ryan to just 142 passing yards - his lowest total since midway through his sophomore campaign. In his other seven games, Ryan has averaged 334.3 yards. Against NC State, Ryan threw for just one TD.

He wasn't on the spring roster. He wasn't on the Wolfpack's list of signees back in February. But he is NC State's starting placekicker this season and has done very a great job. He's Steven Hauschka and he is the only starting placekicker in the ACC and one of just four nationally that hasn't missed a field goal this season, In seven games, Hauschka has connected on all seven of his field goal attempts, including a 49-yard boot against Wofford. He is 17-17 on his extra point attempts and has also kicked off 32 times with eight touchbacks.

Although he's one of the newest members of Tom O'Brien's squad, he's also one of the oldest. A Needham, Mass., native, Hauschka didn't play football in high school. He didn't play his freshman year at Middlebury College. Instead, he was a soccer player, whose football player friends urged him to bring his leg and try out for that sport as a sophomore.

In his first year, he broke the Middlebury record for field goals in a season, going 10-12 with a long kick of 41 yards. He also served as punter and earned conference Defensive Player of Week honors after one game for placing eight punts inside the 20. He was a second-team All-Region performer in 2006. After an unexpectedly successful career on the football field, Hauschka graduated from Middlebury this spring and took advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule. After graduating with a 3.54 GPA in neuroscience, he is enrolled in graduate school at NC State and hopes to some day pursue a career in dentistry.

The Wolfpack's Darrell Blackman has definitely the man of all purposes for NC State during his career. The senior ranks sixth in school history in all-purpose yards with 3,692, third in career kickoff return yardage (1,636) and third with 718 career punt return yards.

For much of this season, Blackman has led the ACC in all-purpose yards per game and ranked high nationally in that category. In the last two games, however, the opponent defense has closed him down, as he has gained just seven receiving yards, 56 kickoff return yards and 11 punt return yards in the games against FSU and ECU combined - a total of 74 all-purpose yards in two games.

Blackman boasts the second-best average in school history with a 27.3 mark - a mark that also ranks second in ACC history. His career KOR yards rank 12th in ACC history.

He had a 99-yard return for a touchdown versus Clemson on September 22 - the longest kickoff return in school history. As a punt returner, Blackman ranks 20th in ACC history. His 10.11 punt return average for his career is the eighth-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 singlegame 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.

Senior defensive end Martrel Brown was elected a team captain by his teammates prior to the 2007 season and has been cited for his outstanding leadership by his head coach. That why is was disappointing to the coaching staff and even more so to Brown himself when his performance on the field wasn't quite up to his own standards.

The coaches benched Brown for the Louisville and Florida State games, and that served as a wake-up call. Against Florida State, Brown tallied a season-high five tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage and a sack. He earned his starting job back for East Carolina and had four tackles, including a four-yard sack, and had a key fumble recovery to set up a Wolfpack touchdown.

Brown has also broken up a pass in each of the last two games.

Pack Pride Top Stories