Six games into the year, both are sidelined with injuries, as the Pack lost Baker in the season opener and Brown at Florida State. Now sophomore reserve Jamelle Eugene and true freshman Curtis Underwood will carry the load at running back. Eugene has performed well thus far, rushing for 164 yards, including a career-high 101 yards in Tallahassee, and 10 catches for 75 yards over the past two games. Wolfpack offensive coordinator Dana Bible expects Eugene and Underwood to continue to produce.
"We expect them to be winning running backs at that position," said Bible. "They are our players there, and we expect them to take advantage of the opportunity. Our expectation for them is to be successful."
One player who was really successful in the past game was starting quarterback Daniel Evans. Evans began the season as the Wolfpack's starter, beating out Harrison Beck and Justin Burke for the job. But after an unspectacular first half against Central Florida, he was replaced by Beck, who would start the next four games before missing the Florida State game with a shoulder injury. Evans took advantage of the opportunity and really seemed to show improvements in the East Carolina contest. The redshirt junior completed 29-of-44 passes for a career-high 335 yards and three touchdowns. On the season he is now completing 64.3% of his passes, the highest-mark among starters in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and has passed for 791 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
"We've worked each week to improve in the various facets at quarterback," said Bible. "The bye week allowed us to really step back. Rather then prepare for the next opponent, it was an opportunity for us to look at ourselves, see what we've done well, continue to build on that, and to see how each one of our players could eliminate the mistakes they were making from their games. The bye week really allowed us to do that."
Bible not only serves as NC State's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but he also handles the wide receivers. He has been pleased with the play of his wideouts, particularly senior starters Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap.
"Our two seniors do an outstanding job," Bible stated. "They are great role models as far as work ethic, and they are great role models as far as leaders. They are outstanding in that regard. The whole team benefits from that, but certainly the younger players at wide receiver have benefited. They have taken advantage of learning from the two older players."
Behind Blackman and Dunlap is sophomore Donald Bowens, and a trio of freshmen: Darrell Davis, Jarvis Williams, and Owen Spencer. All four young wide receivers are 6-foot-3 or taller and have made big catches over the course of the season. Davis had his first career touchdown catch at East Carolina, a 37-yarder in the first quarter that seemed to ignite the offense, and Williams and Spencer have been utilized on crossing and corner routes out of the slot position.
"The young receivers have worked very hard," said Bible. "They've bought in and are striving to improve each day. It's going to show itself on the game field. When that happens? They don't know, and I don't know, but Donald is one who has already taken advantage of it."
Donald Bowens has been the most impressive, and he is coming off a huge game against East Carolina. Currently the Wolfpack's third wide receiver, he received the majority of snaps late in the game when Dunlap left with an ankle injury. Bowens would finish the game with five catches for a game-high 93 yards. A physical player with great size and speed, Bowens is starting to showcase his talents. He may need to have another big game this weekend, as Dunlap is currently questionable for the Virginia contest with an ankle injury.
"I'll tell you what, Donald had a chance to step up, and he took advantage of it," Bible stated. "Like anything else, opportunity is the first step you need, and he was opportunistic. He did a nice job and made some plays for us."
Bible came to NC State from Boston College with Tom O'Brien. Most maintain that he wants a ball-control, run-oriented offense, but the Wolfpack have been far from that in 2007. Through seven games, NC State has attempted 273 passes, second-most in the conference behind Boston College (308 attempts). With that being said, the Wolfpack have tallied just 210 carries, the fewest amount of rushing attempts in the league. Don't expect Bible or the rest of the staff to worry about the numbers as they are simply trying to take advantage of what the opposing defense is giving them.
"It's a combination of playing to our strength and the situation that the game dictates," said Bible. "We don't go into a game saying we have to run this much or throw this much. We go in knowing we're going to play against the grain. If they are taking this part of the game away, we are going to go in this direction. Thus far that's how it has played out. It's not a preconceived strategy."