Notebook: Pack Looking to Top Pirates

NC State (1-2) returns home to face in-state rival East Carolina (3-0) in a huge game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for noon, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

The Wolfpack will host East Carolina this Saturday to open a four-game homestand, the longest streak for NC State since the 1984 season. After ECU, Carter-Finley Stadium will play host to South Florida (Sept. 27), Boston College (Oct. 4) and Florida State (Thursday, Oct. 16).

The homestand could bode well for NC State, which holds a .638 winning percentage in Carter-Finley Stadium. Head coach Tom O'Brien is 4-4 in Carter-Finley as leader of the Pack.

NC State and its neighbor from down the road, East Carolina, first met on the gridiron in 1970. Although NC State won 11 of the first 15 meetings between the two schools (all of which were played at Carter-Finley Stadium), the Pirates have won six of the last 10 matchups to put the overall tally at 15-10 with the Wolfpack holding the edge.

After the series began in 1970, the two teams met every season through 1987. Since then, the teams have met just seven times, with three of those contests being played at neutral sites. In 1992, the Pack played the Pirates in the Peach Bowl, losing 34-37. In 1996 and 2004, the two teams played regular season contests in Charlotte, with ECU winning 50-29 in ‘96 and the Pack gaining a 52-14 victory in 2004.

The two teams haven't played in three straight seasons since 1987, when the 18-game streak to open the series came to a close.

No team has been able to establish even a two-game win streak since ECU won three-in-a-row in 1987, 1992 and 1996.

The Wolfpack played in Greenville in 2007, marking only the second time in the 25-game series that the game was played on the Pirates home turf.

NC State jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before ECU rallied within one at 21-20 to start the fourth quarter. NC State used two field goals and Daniel Evans' third touchdown pass in the final frame to grab a 34-20 win and jump start a four-game winning streak to even the Pack's record at 5-5.

NC State is 16-13 all-time in nationally televised games on ESPN, including winning six of the last 10 contests dating back to 2003. NC State lost on ESPN to open the season at South Carolina.

NC State has a hand in the Holtz family since Lou Holtz became NC State's 26th head coach in 1972 and the Pack will now face his son, Skip.

The elder Holtz spent four years with the Wolfpack, posting a 33-12-3 (.719) record and winning the 1973 ACC Championship. All four of his teams went to a bowl game, posting a 2-1-1 record. Holtz left to become the head coach of the NFL's New York Jets, before returning to college with coaching stints at Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

Redshirt sophomore Nate Irving came into this season with just four career starts, but his first three starts to open this season have been impressive. Irving has notched an interception in each of the three games to lead the ACC and rank second nationally in picks. He has had a pair of double-digit tackle games, with a career-high 13 against William & Mary. Irving was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week for his performance against the Tribe, when he also added an interception and fumble recovery that both led to scores.

Irving is fourth in the ACC (36th nationally) with an average of 9.3 tackles-pergame and fourth in the league in tackles-for-loss. In his career, Irving is averaging 8.6 tackles-per-game in his seven starts and has had a tackle in all 14 of his career games played. He has notched 60 of his 81 career tackles during the seven starts.

No NC State linebacker has ever had more than four interceptions in a single season, with Michael Hilka holding the record with four in 1967.

Defensive coordinator Mike Archer has used his defensive schemes this season to rank second nationally with seven interceptions and 10 total turnovers forced. In 12 games last season, the defense had just 10 interceptions and 16 total turnovers.

Five of the seven interceptions have come from players who had zero career picks coming into the season. DeAndre Morgan, Jimmaul Simmons (on his first career play), Nate Irving and Justin Byers had interceptions against USC. Jeremy Gray had his fourth career interception against William & Mary and Irving has had a pick in each of the three games this season.

Senior running back Andre Brown's has been a bright spot on the Wolfpack offense this season. The Greenville, N.C. native (home of the ECU Pirates) ran for 101 yards on 21 carries for his sixth career 100-yard rushing effort in the season opening loss to USC. Brown now has 1,980 yards rushing, good for 10th all-time in school history.

He ranks fourth in the ACC this week in rushing yards, averaging 69.3 yards-pergame and needs only 20 more rushing yards to reach 2,000 in his career. The senior from Greenville, N.C. ranks second in the ACC among active players in career yards and third in rushing touchdowns (16).

Coaches always tell their players that they are just one play away from being in the game, and NC State's tight ends are a perfect example of this. Third-string tight end George Bryan earned his first start in just his third career game because of injuries when he lined up on the first play against Clemson.

Redshirt senior tight end and starter Anthony Hill is out indefinitely with a pectoralis strain after playing in the opener. Backup tight end Matt Kushner, who started against William & Mary, left that contest with a knee inury and is out for the season.

Now Bryan, a redshirt freshman from Wilmington, N.C., is the lone scholarship tight end on the roster. He made the most of his opportunities against the Tribe, grabbing five catches for 41 yards and his first career touchdown.

He added three catches against Clemson and is second on the team with eight catches and third with 73 yards this season.

The six players listed on the two-deep at linebacker have combined for just 14 career starts, and nine of those have come in the first three games in 2008. Redshirt sophomore Nate Irving has seven of those starts and redshirt junior Ray Michel has started four. Irving is second in the ACC in tackles at 9.3 per game, and has three interceptions, third-best nationally.

Redshirt senior Robbie Leonard, a former walkon, not only had never PLAYED linebacker in a collegiate game until the opener against South Carolina, but the converted safety had played in only 12 games from scrimmage in his career. He has now started the first three games of the season and is tied with Michel for second in tackles with 21.

Freshman wideout T.J. Graham has instantly added speed to the Wolfpack.

Graham has returned punts and kicks for NC State, in addition to posting the top yards-per-catch (20.8) average on the team. Graham leads the team and ranks sixth in the ACC in all-purpose yards at 109 yards-per-game, the top mark for all freshman in the ACC.

He won the North Carolina 4-A title in the 100 and 200 meters with times of 10.44 and 20.82, respectively. He also posted the nation's fastest time in the 200 meters at one point during the season. In 2007 while at Wakefield HS in Raleigh, Graham finished third nationally in the 100 meters at the Nike Nationals.

NC State's injury troubles were well documented in 2007 (see note later in this release), and so far during 2008 NC State has already lost a pair of projected starters - Donald Bowens and Clem Johnson - for the season. On top of that, four other starters have already been sidelined this season. Redshirt freshman starting quarterback Russell Wilson returned to the starting lineup against Clemson after suffering a concussion in the second quarter of the opening game loss. He played one snap - as a holder on an extra point - against William & Mary in the second game.

Redshirt senior tight end Anthony Hill is out indefinitely with a pectoralis strain after playing in the opener and catching his first catch since 2006. His replacement in the starting lineup for the second game, Matt Kushner, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the William & Mary game.

Redshirt junior starting tailback Jamelle Eugene hasn't played this year with an ankle injury after leading the team in rushing and being named team MVP in 2007.

The most recent casualty is redshirt junior starting defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash, who is out indefinitely after knee surgery following the Clemson game.

Junior wideout Donald Bowens, the team's top returning receiver by yardage and per catch average in 2007, was diagnosed with lower back stress fractures that will keep him sidelined in 2008. Bowens was a lock to start.

Clem Johnson, a junior college transfer who could have started at safety for the Pack, broke his jaw in the team's second scrimmage and will most likey miss all of 2008.

In addition, redshirt junior tailback Toney Baker had knee surgery to clean out some residue in his knee and is out for the rest of the year. Baker had a season-ending knee injury in the opener last season and had to redshirt.

Finally, redshirt freshman defensive end Jeff Rieskamp is out for the East Carolina game with a shoulder injury. Through three games, Rieskamp was leading the Wolfpack in sacks (2.0) and was tied for third in tackles for a loss.

Starting quarterback Russell Wilson suffered a grade three concussion in the second quarter of the season opening loss to South Carolina and was transported to Richland Memorial Hospital. It was determined at the hospital that Wilson suffered no injury to his spinal cord.

He played on only one special teams play against William & Mary - as the holder on an extra point - even though head coach Tom O'Brien said Wilson was cleared to play.

So far, Wilson has played less than six quarters of football in his brief college career, with both starts coming on the road - at South Carolina and at Clemson. He has completed 11-of-26 passes for 104 yards and one interception and has gained 52 yards on the ground not counting sack yardage.

The Wolfpack defense has been extremely stingy in the first half of games so far, giving up just 102 and 103 yards, respectively, against South Carolina and William & Mary. The Pack forced three turnovers in the first half against USC and two against W&M.

Clemson was a different story however, even though NC State did force a turnover and trailed just 7-6 after the first quarter. As a team, the defense has now forced six of its 10 turnovers in the first half.

Redshirt junior Harrison Beck might be a safer bet as a backup if you look at his numbers during his two-year Wolfpack career. Beck came off the bench to replace starter Daniel Evans in the William & Mary game and found success through the air, passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns.

He came in late in the Clemson game and completed 5-of-8 passes for 60 yards and an interception. In the five games Beck has come off the bench in his career, he has thrown for 585 yards and four touchdowns with only three interceptions.

In the his four starts, Beck has thrown for more yards - 624 - but has eight interceptions and no passing touchdowns (he did run for a score against BC in 2007 in his first career start).

Beck showed signs of being a clutch reliever during his freshman year at Nebraska before transferring to NC State. He came off the Cornhuskers' bench late in the season to complete a 21-yard pass with a minute remaining that led to a game-winning field goal against Kansas State.

From the day he took the job at NC State, Tom O'Brien and his staff made a commitment to sign the top talent in the state of North Carolina. That goal has certainly been accomplished in a short period of time, as eight of the top 30 recruits in the state (according to signed to don the red and white in 2008 - three more than any other school (Virginia Tech signed five of the state's top 30 players). The Pack also landed three of the top six North Carolina prospects.

NC State's 2008 signing class ranked higher than any school in the state according to both and The 2008 Wolfpack roster is made of up 54 players who call the state of North Carolina home.

Pack Pride Top Stories