Notebook: Huge Game for State

Bragging rights are on the line as NC State (5-5, 3-3) faces Wake Forest (6-4, 4-3) in a huge game for both teams.

NC State and Wake Forest have met 100 times on the gridiron in a series that dates back to 1895. Although the rivalry is the second-oldest in Wolfpack history (NC State and North Carolina played in 1894), NC State has played Wake Forest more than any other team.

The Wolfpack holds a 60-34-6 advantage over the Demon Deacons, but has lost the last two games and three of the last four. Going back further, NC State has won 14 of the last 19 matchups. The Wolfpack's 25-23 loss to Wake Forest last year at Carter-Finley marked the first time the Pack had lost at home to WFU since 1984. The Pack has dropped four of the last five games played at Groves Stadium.

The Wolfpack roster boasts 49 players who call the state of North Carolina their home. NC State natives also populate the Wolfpack depth chart and of the nine NC State players who have been drafted by the NFL in the past two years, six of them were North Carolinians.

Two weeks ago, when the Wolfpack played the Miami Hurricanes, there were former high school teammates from the state of Florida playing for both teams. Last week when the Wolfpack took on North Carolina, there were natives of the Tar Heel state playing on both teams.

This week, when NC State travels the short distance to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest, there will be Florida natives and North Carolina natives with former high school teammates on the other squad.

If you've been around anyone associated with Wolfpack football lately, coaches, players or maybe even fans, you'll hear folks talking about the ‘new season.' In terms of records, the ‘new season' began on October 20 with the game at East Carolina, but the ‘new season' actually began in practice on October 7 - the day after the Pack lost at Florida State in its sixth game of the 2007 campaign. NC State had an open week at the midway point and two weeks to get ready to start the second half of the 12-game slate.

That week, the coaching staff focussed on fundamentals, made a couple of lineup changes and continued to teach the consistent message that they've espoused since the spring. Head Coach Tom O'Brien encouraged the team to forget it's record up to that point (which stood at a lowly 1-5) and just concentrate on becoming 1-0 in the ‘new season.'

Now a month later, NC State is 4-0 in the ‘new season,' posts a 5-5 record for the year and a 3-3 mark in conference play - winning three ACC games in a row.

The Wolfpack has broken several negative streaks along the way. In the first game of the ‘new' season, at East Carolina, NC State gained its first road win since November 5, 2005 (Florida State). In the second game of the ‘new' season, the Wolfpack won its first ACC game in 10 tries, knocking off #21 Virginia, and in the third game, NC State knocked off Miami in overtime, winning its first league road contest in eight tries. Last week, State broke a three-game losing streak against rival North Carolina.

NC State will play its third game against an in-state rival when it heads to Wake Forest next weekend, and enters the game with a 2-0 mark against teams from within the state. NC State won at East Carolina, 34-20, on October 20 and defeated North Carolina 31-27 last weekend. Although the Wolfpack won't face the state's other football bowl subdivision team, Duke, this year, a win over Wake Forest would give NC State bragging rights in the mythical ‘state title.' The Demon Deacons are also 2-0 against North Carolina schools this season, posting wins over Duke and UNC.

There have been very few times in NC State's football history that the Wolfpack has put together four consecutive wins this late in the season, but even more rare that the Pack has won five straight. Including this season, only seven times in the 55 years since the ACC was formed has the Pack gained four consecutive victories in its last six regular-season contests.

During that same time frame, only one other Wolfpack team has ever won five straight during its last six regular season games. The 1965 NC State squad is the only other team on that list that entered its last six games of the season with a losing record before winning at least four straight.

Besides NC State, there is no other team in the bowl subdivision ranks in 2007 that has started off so poorly and posted such a dramatic turnaround. NC State is the only squad that has started 1-5 and reached the .500 mark after 10 games. No other team in NC State history has ever started so poorly and ended up with a winning record. The 2005 squad started 2-4 and then went 4-1 in its last five games to earn a bowl bid, then won a bowl game to post a 7-5 final slate. In 1966, the Pack started 1-4, then went 4-1 to finish 5-5. The 1926 team started 1-5 and finished 3-1, but still posted a losing record for the season.

Only seven other teams have winning streaks longer than the Pack's.

His head coach, Tom O'Brien, calls him the "Energizer Bunny" and says "he keeps going and going." Defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, says "Eugene is the little engine that could. He won't stop. Ever." Offensive guard Kalani Heppe describes him as "a thoroughbred."

And anyone who saw his performance in the Wolfpack's victory over North Carolina last week would simply call him ‘the difference.' Jamelle Eugene has been a huge factor in NC State's second-half resurgence in 2007. After entering the season as the third-string tailback, he gained the starting job through injury, but is keeping it through competence.

The redshirt sophomore from Naples, Fla., rushed for 159 yards on 32 carries in the win over the Tar Heels - tying for the seventh-highest number of carries in school history. His 159 yards in that contest was a career-high and the most for a Wolfpack tailback since Toney Baker had 174 yards on November 11, 2006 in a loss at Clemson. He tallied 192 all-purpose yards in the contest, also catching six passes for another 33 yards. Eugene also scored three rushing TDs in the win against UNC, the highest for a Pack back versus a bowl championship division team since T.A. McLendon had five against Texas Tech in 2002.

In the last four games, Eugene has accounted for more than 100% of NC State's net rushing yards. He's netted 423 rushing yards in those contests (all Pack wins), while the team has netted just 410. Against UNC, he rushed 32 times without losing a single yard.

Eugene has gained 557 all-purpose yards in the last four games (over 139 yards per game). He has played an incredible 297 snaps in those four contests.

In addition to the Wolfpack's 4-0 start to the second half of the season in the win-loss column, several other numbers have improved for the Pack as well. The Wolfpack is scoring almost nine more points per game in the last four games than in the first six.

NC State has also averaged 2.5 less turnovers per game in the last four than in the first six contests, while forcing 1.4 more TOs per game.

One of the best personnel moves that the Wolfpack coaching staff decided to make during the open week was at the defensive end position. Instead of the ends lining up on the left or right side, they decided to put speedy sophomore Willie Young on the side away from the tight end - in other words, to let him operate "in space."

Space is definitely where Young belongs. In the last four games, Young has tallied nine tackles for loss, including six sacks and has pressured the opposing quarterback 19 times (including eight in the win over North Carolina).

The season didn't get off to a very good start for Daniel Evans, but then again, it didn't get off to a very good start for the entire Wolfpack team. After being named the starter before the season opener, Evans 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 four games, all of which have been Wolfpack victories, Evans has averaged 279.5 (1,118) passing yards and has completed 58% (100-172) of his throws. He has thrown seven TD passes and been picked off just four times in those four games.

Evans has set career highs for completions (29 vs. ECU), yards (347 vs. UVa) and tied his mark for TD passes (3 vs. ECU and Virginia).

Two of the top 10 kickoff return men (in terms of average) in the Atlantic Coast Conference wear the red and white from State. Darrell Blackman currently ranks fifth in the league with a 24.0 yard per return mark, while Donald Bowens is seventh at 23.7.

The return tandem has combined for 955 yards of kickoff returns this season (NC State ranks second in the conference with 1,105 total return yards). Blackman was the hot return man in the first six games of the season, gaining 491 yards on 20 returns in that span. But in the last four contests, teams have kicked away from him, giving Bowens 12 returns for 284 yards in those four games.

On Saturday, November 3, he kicked the winning field goal in overtime to give the Wolfpack the rare gift of a victory in the Orange Bowl. On Monday the 5th, he was named ACC Specialist of the Week. On Tuesday the 6th, he interviewed at Tufts Dental School in Boston. And later that afternoon he was named a semi-finalist for the 2007 Lou Groza Award.

Pretty good for a guy who wasn't even on the Wolfpack's spring roster! In fact the whole year has been pretty good for Wolfpack placekicker Steven Hauschka, who is leading the ACC in field goal percentage with a 93.8 mark. Out of 100 players listed in the NCAA field goals per game list (where Hauschka ranks tied for 28th), his percentage is the fifth-best. In 10 games, Hauschka has connected on 15 of his 16 field goal attempts, including eight kicks in the last three games. He is 24-24 on his extra point attempts and has also kicked off 52 times with a dozen touchbacks.

Hauschka missed his only field goal of the season, a 29-yarder, in the second quarter of the Miami game, but more than made up for it, making kicks from 31, 35, 47 and 42 yards - including the game-winner in overtime. He kicked off five times in the contest, with four being 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.

After giving up a whopping 314 yards on the ground in the overtime win at Miami, the Wolfpack shut down North Carolina's running game on Saturday, limiting the Tar Heels to just 12 rushing yards - the fewest against the Pack since Wake Forest had -11 in 1998.

Since the halfway point of the season, NC State's defense has been very effective at shutting down either the pass OR the run, although not generally in the same game. While UNC couldn't buy yardage in its ground game, the Tar Heels did throw for 291 yards. While Miami ran up and down the field, the ‘Canes completed just one pass.

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