Notebook: Huge Game for State

After back-to-back wins, NC State now heads on the road to face Miami in a huge game for both teams.

NC State will face the University of Miami for the 12th time on Saturday, with eight of the previous 11 contests being played on the Hurricanes' home field. It does mark the first time the Pack has played the ‘Canes in their home stadium, however, in 25 years, as the teams' last matchup at the Orange Bowl was a 41-3 loss on Nov. 20, 1982. The two teams did play in Miami in 1998, meeting in the Micron PC Bowl. Miami won that game, which was played in Miami's Pro Player Stadium, 23- 46.

This will mark just the second meeting since UM joined the ACC, as the 2004 matchup in Carter-Finley Stadium marked only the second time in the history of the series (which dates back to 1939) that Miami has ever played the Wolfpack on its home field. NC State has won just three of the matchups with Miami, in 1942, 1944 and 1971.

Twenty-two players on the Wolfpack's current roster hail from the state of Florida, including 10 from the South Florida region. Those 22 players have combined to start 72 games for NC State this season.

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 encouraged his players to wipe that record out of their minds and concentrate on being successful in the next contest ... then the next contest ... then the next.

So far, the Wolfpack is undefeated in that ‘new' campaigh. In the first game of the ‘new' season, at East Carolina, NC State gained its first road win for NC State since November 5, 2005 (Florida State). In the second game of the ‘new' season, the Wolfpack won its first ACC game in 10 games.

Tom O'Brien and his staff continually emphasize the importance of coming out strong in the third quarter. The Wolfpack defense has definitely heeded that advice. For the season, opponents are averaging 7.4 points in the first quarter, 9.1 in the second quarter, but just 4.1 points in the third quarter.

The defense was particularly strong after halftime in the win over No. 21 Virginia. After allowing the Cavaliers to convert on 6-10 third-down attempts in the first half, UVa was just 1-9 on third down after the break. The Wolfpack "D" allowed just 97 total yards after halftime, 272 in the opening half.

For the season, NC State has held the opposition to 65 yards or less in the third quarter five times.

Sophomore receiver Donald Bowens etched his name in the NC State record books in Saturday's win over Virginia. The sophomore pulled down 11 catches for 202 yards in the contest, marks which both rank fifth on the Wolfpack single-game charts. It marked the highest receiving yards total for a State player since Jerricho Cotchery had 217 yards in a win over North Carolina in 2003 and the 11 receptions was the most since Cotchery's 13 in the bowl game that same season.

Bowens' marks were the best ever by a Wolfpack sophomore. Bowens also had two touchdown catches in the victory - the first TD of the game on a 40-yard thrown from Daniel Evans and the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter - a 30-yarder.

Bowens totaled eight catches in the first six games of the year and has had 16 in the last two. Bowens ranks second on the team in receptions (his 26 are eight behind leader John Dunlap), but leads the team in receiving yards (his 545 yards are 151 ahead of Dunlap).

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, and then started at Florida State when Beck couldn't go. But although he won the job back due to an injury, Evans has kept his starting job due to his competence.

In the last two games, both of which have been Wolfpack victories, Evans has averaged 341 passing yards and has completed 61% (74-122) of his throws. He has thrown six TD passes and been picked off just twice in those two games, posting a whopping 120 passing effiency mark. He has set career highs for completions (29 vs. ECU), yards (347 vs. UVa) and tied his mark for TD passes (3 vs. both teams).

Evans has been especially good in the fourth quarter in the last two weeks, completing 76% of his throws (13-17) for 205 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

With his performance against Virginia, Evans moved from 15th to ninth in career passing efficiency, now posting a 112.19 mark. His 128.9 mark for the season currently ranks eighth in the league.

After playing four of its first five games at home in Carter-Finley Stadium, last Saturday's game versus Virginia marks the Wolfpack's only home game between September 29 and November 11. NC State is finishing a stint of playing three of four games on the road, having travelled to Florida State on October 6, to East Carolina on Oct. 20 following an open week and then to Miami on November 3.

The Wolfpack won't leave the state of North Carolina for the rest of the season - playing host to UNC on November 10, making the quick drive to Winston-Salem on Nov. 17 to play Wake Forest, then hosting Maryland on Nov. 24.

Being a starter on the 2007 NC State football team might be a harbinger of bad tidings. Ten starters (including tight end Anthony Hill who was lost before preseason camp) have missed a total of 28 combined games this season due to injury and a different starter has gone out to injury in all eight games.

Continuing on the injury theme, 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 a 10th player (Julian Williams) injured a knee prior to the ECU game and has now missed two complete games, 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, an injury that will keep him out for the entire 2007 campaign. In the season opener tailback Toney Baker suffered a knee injury that also brought his season to a close. 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 and forced him to miss two games.

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 has undergone reconstruction. 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.

Before the Virginia game, the only two positions that had boasted the same starting lineup in every game had been the wide receivers and the linebackers. Following the Virginia game, there is no position that has not had at least two changes in starting lineups.

The ankle injury to John Dunlap kept him completely out of the game, giving Donald Bowens the start, while linebacker LeRue Rumph was able to play, but did not start after missing practice time with an ankle injury of his own.

In eight 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 the East Carolina game, when an injury forced a change. Another injury forced a third lineup combo for the O-line against Virginia.

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 three games. The shifty runner has gained 276 yards on the ground in the last three contests and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He has caught 13 passes for 89 yards in those three games as well, including a beautiful touchdown grab in the corner of the endzone in the win at East Carolina.

Eugene's 71 gradeable snaps at ECU were the most for a Wolfpack running back since 2000, when Ray Robinson played 72 snaps against Maryland. He topped that tally with 76 snaps in the Virginia game, most since Robinson had 89 earlier in that 2000 season.

Defensive secondary coach Mike Reed has shaken up his lineup in recent weeks, and the shakeup seems to have worked. Prior to the ECU game, Reed moved the veteran of the group, redshirt junior DaJuan Morgan, from strong safety to free, and put redshirt freshman safety Javon Walker into the lineup at strong safety. Those two players have led the team in tackles each of the past two weeks - Walker with 12 at ECU and Morgan with 13 vs. Virginia.

Neither player has missed a snap on defense in those two games, as each has played 177 gradeable snaps in the two games combined.

At corner, DaJuan's younger brother DeAndre has started each of the last four games, and has also played every snap of the last two. Jeremy Gray has moved into the starter's job at the other corner, where he has played all but five snaps in the last two games (172 total). He made 11 stops in the Virginia win and intercepted his second pass of the season.

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