Notebook: Bulls Up Next for Pack

NC State (2-2) hosts No. 13 South Florida (4-0) tomorrow in a huge nonconference game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN-U.

The Wolfpack will host the South Florida Bulls in the second of four straight home games, the longest home stretch since the 1984 season. The homestand could bode well for NC State, which holds an all-time .638 winning percentage in Carter-Finley Stadium.

Head coach Tom O'Brien is 5-4 in Carter-Finley as leader of the Pack, including a 2-0 record this season.

For just the second time ever, NC State and South Florida will square off on the gridiron. The two teams first met on New Year's Eve in 2005 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. at Ericsson Stadium, a 14-0 win for the Wolfpack. The game was the last bowl appearance for NC State, and the first-ever bowl game for the Bulls. The Wolfpack defense held the Bulls to just 10-of-30 passing, a team bowl record for lowest opponent's completion percentage.

Four of the first five teams NC State plays this season were ranked at some point this season, including the upcoming matchup with No. 13/14 South Florida. NC State is the only ACC team to face four teams in the first five weeks of the season that have been ranked at some point in 2008. In fact, a NC State team has never played three ranked opponents in the first five games of the season in school history.

NC State's injury troubles were well documented in 2007, with 13 starters missing time in 44 total games, with six starters missing multiple games. So far during 2008, NC State has already had 10 starters - including projected starters - miss playing time because of injury for a total of 27 games.

Seven players have now missed multiple games because of injury.

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 pass since 2006. Hill missed all of 2007 with a knee injury.

Hill's replacement in the starting lineup for the second game against William & Mary, Matt Kushner, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the contest.

Redshirt junior starting tailback Jamelle Eugene missed the first three games of 2008 after leading the team in rushing and being named team MVP in 2007. He returned against ECU to catch a team-high seven passes for 50 yards.

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 is out indefinitely. Johnson was slated to start for injured safety Javon Walker, who had knee surgery and is out for the year after being injured in the Miami game late in the 2007 season.

The latest injured players are out indefinitely - starting defensive tackle Alan- Michael Cash, the Pack's most experienced offensive lineman, Curtis Crouch, talented linebacker Nate Irving, and quarterback Russell Wilson.

In addition, redshirt junior tailback Toney Baker had knee surgery prior to the 2008 opener and is out for the season. Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury after starting the opener against Central Florida last season.

NC State redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for his performance against No. 15 East Carolina. Wilson finished the contest 21-of-31 for 210 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers in leading the Wolfpack to an overtime upset.

Wilson's first two touchdown throws both came on third down plays, with both scores tying the game. His first career touchdown - a four-yard toss to Andre Brown - came early in the second quarter on a third and goal and tied the game at 7-7.

Wilson's second touchdown came at the start of the third quarter when he found Jarvis Williams for a 20-yard strike on a third-and-17 to tie the score at 14-14. Wilson's final touchdown came with just over a minute left in regulation. He connected on 4-of-5 attempts for 56 yards on the game-tying drive, including an eight-yard hookup to George Bryan on third-and-seven to give NC State a first and goal at the one. Wilson connected with Bryan again, this time on second and goal for a five-yard touchdown to send the game into overtime.

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

The eight picks rank second in the ACC and are tied for fourth-most nationally, and the 12 turnovers forced are tied for sixth nationally.

Six of the eight 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 their first career interceptions against USC. Jeremy Gray had his fourth career interception against William & Mary and Irving has had a pick in each of the first three games this season. Byers added his second against ECU.

Senior running back Andre Brown has been a solid all-purpose back for NC State in his career. Brown ran the final 26 yards in overtime on two runs, including the 10-yard game winner, as the Wolfpack beat East Carolina, 30-24. He ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing (70.2 yards-per-game) and seventh in all-purpose yards (97.2 yards-per-game) this week.

He became just the 10th player in school history to amass 2,000+ career rushing yards after running for 73 yards in the win over No. 15 ECU, including the last 26 yards in overtime and the game-winning 10-yard scamper. Brown added 35 yards receiving - including his first career receiving touchdown - in the win over the Pirates. He ranks 15th in school history with 2,798 all-purpose yards and needs 202 yards to become just the 11th player to reach 3,000.

The senior from Greenville, N.C. ranks second in the ACC among active players in career yards and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (17).

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. In the six games Beck has come off the bench in his career, he has thrown for 632 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

In the his four starts, Beck has thrown for slightly less 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.

NC State will play back-to-back games against AP top-15 opponents for the first time since the 2002 season. In the last game of the regular season, NC State won its 10th game with a 17-7 win at home over No. 14 Florida State to earn a berth in the Gator Bowl.

In the bowl game, the Wolfpack took out No. 11 Notre Dame, 28-6, to finish off a school-record 11-3 season and a final AP ranking of No. 12. East Carolina was ranked 15th in the AP poll, the highest ranked opponent NC State has defeated since defeating No. 9 Florida State on the road in 2005.

The win was also the highest ranked opponent the Pack had downed at home since downing the No. 14 Seminoles in 2002 and the highest ranked non-conference foe since the win over the Fighting Irish in the Gator Bowl.

Head coach Tom O'Brien is 2-2 against ranked teams as the leader of the Pack, including a 2-1 mark in Carter-Finley Stadium. He posted nine wins over ranked teams while at Boston College.

Redshirt sophomore Nate Irving came into this season with just four career starts, but his first four 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 11th in the ACC with 8.2 tackles-per-game and is tied for first with three interceptions and ranks fourth in the league in tackles-for-loss.

No NC State linebacker (since 1960) has ever had more than four interceptions in a single season, with Michael Hilka holding the record with four in 1967.

Irving will miss the USF game with an injury.

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. Redshirt senior tight end and starter Anthony Hill is out indefinitely with a pectoralis strain after starting the opener. Backup tight end Matt Kushner, who replaced Hill in the starting lineup against William & Mary, left that contest after 24 snaps with a knee inury and is out for the season.

Enter redshirt freshman George Bryan, who earned his first start in the Clemson game because of injuries and has been impressive since, as he currently leads the team in catches (13), is third in yards (127) and tied for first with two touchdowns.

Bryan, who was the third-team tight end to start the season, is one of just two healthy scholarship tight ends left on the roster. The other, true freshman Mario Carter, will likely be redshirted this season. Bryan made the most of his opportunities against the Tribe after Kushner got hurt, grabbing the first five catches of his career for 41 yards and his first career touchdown.

He added three catches against Clemson in his first start, then broke out in a big way against East Carolina, catching the game-tying touchdown with just over a minute left in regulation.

The six players listed on the two-deep at linebacker combined for just five career starts coming into 2008. Redshirt sophomore Nate Irving had four of those starts and redshirt junior Ray Michel started the last game of 2007.

Redshirt senior Robbie Leonard, a former walkon, not only had never even 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.

Irving, Michel and Leonard have each started the first four games of 2008 and are currently three of the top-four tacklers on the team.

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 (21.9) average on the team. Graham leads the team and ranks fifth in the ACC in all-purpose yards at 127.5 yards-per-game, the top mark for all freshmen in the ACC and the fourth-best freshman mark nationally.

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.

JUCO defensive end Shea McKeen has made a quick transistion to NC State, as he ranks second in the ACC in sacks with 2.5, including his game changing performance against East Carolina.

McKeen shed his block on the third play in overtime and hit ECU's quarterback Patrick Pinkney in the back, forcing a fumble that was recovered by NC State's Willie Young.

Three plays later, NC State's Andre Brown scored the game winner. McKeen has 16 tackles and four quarterback pressures on the season to go with his 2.5 sacks.

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