Like nearly every team in the ACC last season, NC State struggled to find a solid option at the quarterback position in 2007. Daniel Evans was named the starter out of training camp, but the junior lasted only a half a game before giving way to Harrison Beck.
Beck looked like the answer during the second half against UCF by throwing two touchdown passes and almost leading the Pack to a comeback win. Those two touchdowns were the last he would throw all season, as he followed up the UCF game with a no-touchdown, five-interception performance against Boston College.
That kind of inconsistency marred the entire season for the Wolfpack. Evans looked like he was turning the corner in wins over East Carolina and Virginia where he threw for six touchdowns and 682 yards, but he threw only two more touchdowns and had six picks in the final four games of the year.
No matter who was in the game, decision making was always an issue. Both Evans and Beck threw unnecessary passes to covered receivers or misread defenses and made throws that ended up as picks. The team had no idea what to expect on a game-by-game basis from its quarterbacks, and it showed on the field on Saturdays.
For the program to take the next step, there must be more consistent play from the quarterback position.
Arguably the deepest position on the team coming into the season, that depth was put to the test when Toney Baker went down after the first game of the season. Andre Brown became the go-to back for the next seven games of the season and averaged 4.7 yards a carry while scoring five touchdowns.
When Brown went down in the middle of the Florida State game, Jamelle Eugene became the workhorse back for the Pack. He started off with a flurry, running for 107 yards on 14 carries against the Seminoles, but appeared to wear down late in the season and was a non-factor in the final game.
Overall the Pack's group of running backs moved the ball 1236 yards on 296 carries for an average of around 4.2 yards per carry. They also hauled in 71 catches for 503 yards, and were responsible for 12 combined touchdowns. Considering the litany of injuries suffered by this group, they performed well and the emergence of Eugene was one of the bright spots for the Wolfpack offense.
John Dunlap continued his workman-like ways in 2007, leading the team in catches with 45 grabs for 375 yards and three touchdowns while playing the role of possession receiver for the Pack.
Donald Bowens and Darrell Blackman put up nearly identical seasons as the second and third options, with each receiver snabbing 41 balls for just under 600 yards. Bowens also carved out a place in Wolfpack history with his 202 yards, two touchdown game against Virginia. No Wolfpack player averaged more than 50 receiving yards a game.
The Wolfpack doesn't track drops, but for all the great grabs by the receivers there were some dropped balls on easy passes. The team's receiving core had a solid but unspectacular season - despite averaging over 245 passing yards a game the Pack's aerial attack yielded just 14 touchdowns. However, some may believe that stemmed from inconsistent play at quarterback.
Time will tell. The Wolfpack loses Blackman and Dunlap, but Bowens, Darrell Davis, Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams all made some plays. Add in the potential return of Geron James and redshirt freshmen Jay Smith and Steve Howard, and the Wolfpack appears to have quality depth at the position.
When All-ACC tight end Anthony Hill went down before the start of the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, the tight end situation looked bleak.
The options were Matt Kushner, a solid blocking end that lacked Hill's catching ability, incoming junior college transfer R.J. Armstrong, and Marcus Stone, a former quarterback that was more raw talent than anything else.
Kushner turned out to be a bigger contributer in the passing game, catching 10 balls for 67 yards and a touchdown while continuing to be a major factor in run and pass blocking. Armstrong played more down the stretch and developed into a reliable blocker, but Stone was the real surprise, accumulating the third-most receiving yards on the team while showing phenomenal hands and great route-running ability. He also had a knack for pulling down big third-down catches and improved his blocking substantially as the season progressed.
While Hill will be a welcomed re-addition next fall, Stone, Kushner, and Armstrong filled in admirably in his place in 2007. Assistant coach Jim Bridge did a great job with this unit.
The Wolfpack offensive line was relatively healthy all year, as only left tackle Julian Williams missed significant time due to injury, but Meares Green and Curtis Crouch did miss games due to injury.
Seniors Luke Lathan and Kalani Heppe started every game for the Pack, while true freshman Jake Vermiglio came in midway through the year and provided a spark when Williams went down. Jerrail McCuller also played well down the stretch at right tackle for the Wolfpack.
Clearly, the offensive line is still a work in progress. The Wolfpack offense averaged only three yards per rushing play and gave up 26 quarterback sacks on the season. The offensive line is a tough position to judge in a vacuum and they certainly weren't the only reason the offense sputtered for many games this season, but they have to be held accountable as well.
The silver lining is that they only lose Lathan and Heppe, so the Wolfpack is expected to bring back five players (Green, Crouch, Williams, McCuller, and Vermiglio) who have solid experience. This could be a strength in 2008, but the unit had some problems in 2007, particularly when the offense became one-dimensional.