The heels had won 8 of their last 9 games against the Wolfpack, and Pack fans were chafing at that statistic. The last Wolfpack coach had, in fact, been fired in part because he was 0-for-Carolina.
The new Wolfpack coach, now in his third year, has brought a new attitude to the Pack. The change in Raleigh is palpable. Coach not only brought in a new attitude, he also changed the look of the Wolfpack -- including the Wolfpack logo -- to reflect the break from the old, losing ways. And in his first season the Pack rode the strength of a sizzling quarterback, surely a future pro, and a bona fide future pro wide receiver to an 8-win season (very close to being more) and a bowl game. Among those 8 wins was a big and memorable victory in Chapel Hill.
Coach's first team lived on offense, relying on outscoring the other team. The necessary defensive improvements were in the works, however. His second team struggled, showing some signs of defensive improvement, but the offense was hampered by the departure to the pros of the previous year's star wide receiver and the unexpected ineligibility of that season's projected star wideout. That year his team
fell to the tarheels in a disappointing loss in Raleigh.
Now in his third season, the Wolfpack coach is starting to build on successful recruiting and his team's commitment to his philosophy of a swarming defense and a potent, diverse offense. In fact, this Wolfpack defense, though young, is nationally ranked and features several likely future pros. Still, although the Pack has had a lot of success so far in the season, questions linger.
Their opponent is facing questions, also. The tarheels have not looked very promising so far in the season, and they bring a losing record to the game. This will be their coach's first State-Carolina game in Kenan. He knows that if he is able to exploit the emotion of this game successfully, it can turn the heels' season around. He is also keenly aware that not only do Pack fans expect a victory, but also they are trying to get themselves a ticket to the show. So the tarheels, in an effort to ward off the onslaught of red-clad fans and shore up the visible support in the stands for their struggling team, decide to declare the day of the game "Blue Blitz Day."
Despite the hype and publicity, the gambit fails spectacularly. Wolfpack fans show up in droves, smearing the Kenan blue with more red than you'd see on a B-horror-movie victim. The Pack brought so many fans that one TV announcer remarks on the "sea of red" in the Kenan stands. And the Pack appear to respond. They march right down the field and score a touchdown on their very first drive. The Pack shows several new wrinkles in its offense, reflecting Coach's obvious attempt to exploit Carolina's young and inexperienced defense.
But this is a rivalry game, and the tarheels aren't discouraged. In fact, they are able to show surprising offensive capability in the early going, moving the ball effectively against NC State's defense despite its formidable advantage on paper. On one drive the tarheels get close enough to score a field goal.
Still, after struggling early -- especially defensively -- against the tarheels, the Pack appear to start hitting its stride. The Pack's offense, a balanced unit featuring dangerous passing, helps open up a strong running attack, even as the Pack's prized
freshman tailback, a national record-setter in high school, battles injury. The rejuvenated Pack move the ball at will against the heels, and the heels offense wilts as their defense is continually dominated for score after score. A Wolfpack victory is inevitable; only the final score is unknown.
As it turned out, the final score was 48-3. Dick Sheridan's Pack turned "8 out of 9" into "2 out of 3." And they and the thousands of red-clad Pack fans in attendance turned "Blue Blitz Day" into the tarheels' Big Red Nightmare.
I said early last week that I was very happy to hear that John Bunting called for a "Blue Blitz Day" against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill this year. Now you know why.
beowolf (JimmyVpages@mindspring.com) isn't TSW's official Wolfpack historian; he's just a State fan, and TSW welcomes any fan of the Pack who has something interesting to contribute about NC State athletics.