Notebook: Pack, Seminoles Battle on ESPN

NC State (2-4) hosts Florida State (4-1) in a huge conference game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

The Wolfpack will host the Florida State Seminoles to close out a string of four straight home games, the longest consecutive home stretch since the 1984 season. The homestand could bode well for NC State, which holds an all-time .634 winning percentage in Carter-Finley Stadium. Head coach Tom O'Brien is 5-6 in Carter-Finley as leader of the Pack, including a 2-2 mark this season.

NC State and Florida State have met 28 times on the gridiron, with the Seminoles holding a 19-9 advantage, although NC State leads 4-3 in the last seven matchups. The squads met from 1952-57, from 1963-69 and then resumed a yearly rivalry when Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1992.

The Pack has won three of the last five meetings in Carter-Finley Stadium, including a 24-20 win in 2006 when the Seminoles last made the trip to Raleigh. In 2001, NC State became the first ACC team to beat Florida State in Tallahassee since FSU joined the ACC with a 34-28 win, then followed that up with a 20-15 win in 2005 to become the first ACC team to defeat the Seminoles at their house twice.

NC State has posted a 10-6 record all-time in games played on Thursday night, including a 7-6 mark when those games are televised by ESPN. That mark includes an impressive 8-3 record when those contests are played in Raleigh. NC State did not play a Thursday contest in 2007, the first season without at least one Thursday game since the Wolfpack's first such game in 1994.

This is the fourth Thursday meeting between the two teams, with all four taking place in Raleigh. The Seminoles are 2-1 in those games, with wins in 1996 (51-17) and 2004 (17-10) and a loss in 2006 (24-20).

NC State lost 27-10 to the Florida State last season, the first time in the last seven games that the margin was greater than 10 points. The previous six games, in which NC State posted a 4-2 mark, have been decided by an average of just 6.2 points.

During the 2006 season in Raleigh, Florida State was up 20-10 late in the third quarter when Daniel Evans, in just his second career start, threw a pair of touchdown passes to Geron James and John Dunlap. The Wolfpack defense never allowed the Seminoles back into the endzone and the Pack edged out a 24-20 win.

In 2005, NC State's victory over the ninth-ranked Seminoles came down to the last play of the game, when Garland Heath had to pick off a pass to seal a five point win. In 2004, FSU won 17-10 in a contest that saw just 16 combined first downs and 244 yards of total offense (for both teams!).

In 2003 at Tallahassee, it was an offensive shootout, with the 'Noles winning 50-44 in double-overtime. The 2002 Wolfpack win was another defensive fight, a 17-7 NC State victory, while NC State's win in 2001 was a more offensive battle (34-28).

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 12 starters - including projected starters - miss playing time because of injury for a total of 45 games. Ten 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 to USC. He played one snap - as a holder on an extra point - against William & Mary in the second game. He missed the South Florida loss with an undisclosed injury, but is now cleared and started the BC game.

Redshirt senior tight end Anthony Hill was out indefinitely after suffering a pectoralis strain after playing in the opener and catching his first pass since 2006. Hill missed all of 2007 with a knee injury but returned to action against BC and had one catch for nine yards. 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 Jamelle Eugene, the team's starting tailback heading into the season, missed the first three games of the year after leading the team in rushing and being named team MVP in 2007. 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 missed the first four games of the season, but saw his first playing time against USF before notching seven tackles and his first career interception against BC.

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.

Starting defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash - who O'Brien called the teams best lineman this season - and the Pack's most experienced offensive lineman, Curtis Crouch, are also out indefinitely. 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.

The North Carolina State Fair is an annual event hosted on the State Fairgrounds, which are located adjacent to Carter-Finley Stadium. This year's fair runs from Oct. 16-26, so the Florida State game will fall on the opening day of the fair.

NC State is 16-16-1 all-time when playing a home game at Carter-Finley Stadium during the State Fair, but has lost five of the last seven games, including the last two.

The 2007 State Fair shattered attendance records, including the overall attendance record with 858,611 total fairgoers. The second Saturday saw 145,955 fairgoers, the most ever in a single day for the State Fair.

Four of the first five teams NC State played this season were ranked at some point this season, and the Wolfpack has played the nation's No. 24 toughest schedule according to the USA Today/Sagarin Rankings this week. 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 had never played even three ranked opponents in the first five games of the season in school history until now.

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 secondbest yards-per-catch average on the team (16.3). His 628 yards in kickoff returns is the the most nationally, and he ranks 14th nationally in kick return average (28.5). Graham returned his first kick for a touchdown against BC, a school-record 100-yard sprint. His 628 kickoff return yards through six games this season already ranks fifth all-time for a single season in Wolfpack history.

He has had over 100 yards in kickoff return yardage in each of the last four games, the only time in school history a player has accomplished that feat. His 163 kickoff return yards against USF is the third most in school history for a single game. It also marks the second highest total for a freshman. Only Greg Golden's school record effort of 175 yards against Pittsburgh in 2001 bested Graham's total.

Graham leads the team and ranks second in the ACC in all-purpose yards at 140.5 yards-per-game, the top mark for all freshmen in the ACC and the fifth-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.

Senior running back Andre Brown has been a solid all-purpose back for NC State in his career. 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.

He has 2,097 rushing yards, good for 10th in school history. Brown now ranks 13th in school history with 2,924 all-purpose yards and needs just 76 yards to become just the 11th Wolfpack 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 (18).

Defensive coordinator Mike Archer has used his defensive schemes this season to rank 18th nationally with nine interceptions and 19th with 15 total turnovers forced. In 12 games last season, the defense had just 10 interceptions and 16 total turnovers.

The nine picks are fourth in the ACC. Seven of the nine 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. Safety Clem Johnson has his first career INT against BC in just his second career game after missing the first four with a broken jaw.

Redshirt sophomore Nate Irving came into this season with just four career starts, but his first four starts to open this season were impressive. He has now missed the the last two ball games with an ankle injury and is out indefinitely.

Since Irving has been out, NC State is giving up, on average, 178 more total yards, 42 more rushing yards and 137 more passing yards.

Irving started the season by notching an interception in each of the first three games to lead the ACC. 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. 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.

Starting middle linebacker Ray Michel has stepped his game up over the last three contests, averaging 11 tackles-per-game and hitting double digits in all three contests, including a career-high 13 stops against USF. He also has two quarterback pressures and one caused fumble in the last three games, after notching just one pressure in the first three this season.

The redshirt junior is averaging eight tackles a game on the season, good for eighth in the league.

He has started the last seven games dating back to the season finale in 2007, after not starting a single contest prior to that game.

Redshirt sophomore Owen Spencer notched his first career 100-yard receiving game with 102 yards on three catches, including a 61-yard run and catch for his first career touchdown in the loss to BC. It was the first 100-yard receiving game for a Wolfpack player in the last 10 contests. Spencer leads the team in catches (17) and yards (323). His yardage total is 146 yards more than the next highest mark on the team.

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 is currently second on the team in catches (15), is fourth in yards (158) and tied for first with two touchdowns. 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 then broke out in a big way against East Carolina, catching the game-tying touchdown with just over a minute left in regulation.

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