"Wow," replied Maryland senior cornerback Nolan Carroll. "He's a great quarterback who can do a lot of things with his feet. He also has a gun which was surprising.
"When we played them it was real wet... raining hard. Before the game I didn't have much of a feel for him, but as the game kept going along he kept making plays. You realize this guy can get things done. He has the ability to do things in or outside the pocket. He just makes things happen."
Wilson's effort against Maryland showed that he and the Wolfpack had turned the corner. Playing in a heavy rain storm in College Park, he completed 18-of-28 passes for 187 yards and two scores while adding another 53 yards on the ground. NC State lost 27-24 in the final seconds, but that would be the last game they would lose in the regular season.
Wilson went on to post arguably the best season by a freshman quarterback in ACC history. The first rookie in league history to be named first-team all-conference, Wilson led the ACC in points responsible for (12.40 per game), passing efficiency (133.9), total offense (213), and touchdown passes (17).
He threw only one interception all season, fewest among all FBS quarterbacks ranked in yearNCAA passing categories and set a school record by attempting 249 consecutive passes without an interception, an active-streak that leads the country. He also added 388 yards and another four scores on the ground.
"You realize this guy
can get things done."
Things didn't start smoothly for Wilson, as he completed just 1-of-5 passes for 12 yards before being knocked out of the his first college game against South Carolina... only to return two weeks later and pass for just 92 yards in a loss at Clemson.
"Wilson surprised me," said Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp. "We played them early, but I saw how he played the rest of the year and he did really good.
"I didn't know he was the kind of quarterback who could get out of the pocket and run... make plays like he did. He's a real good quarterback."
Some Wolfpack fans had their doubts following the Clemson game because the 5'11, 207-pounder hadn't been particularly productive. That changed seven days later when he led NC State to an overtime victory against in-state rival East Carolina. He completed 21-of-31 passes for 210 yards and three scores, including a big-time touchdown late to George Bryan that forced overtime.
Wilson suffered an injury in that game as well, forcing him to miss the South Florida contest, and his status was unknown for Boston College until a few days before the game. Although the Pack lost to BC by seven, again in the final minutes, Wilson was spectacular, rushing for 40 yards and two scores while completing 19-of-33 passes for 218 yards and another touchdown.
"He's very good," said Boston College defensive end Jim Ramella. "He's athletic and he can throw the ball, and that's the biggest pain in the ass for a defensive lineman... someone who can beat you with their arm and their feet."
Ramella admitted that Boston College didn't have much of an idea of what Wilson could do because he was a freshman and had missed some time, but it didn't take long to figure out he was a playmaker.
"I didn't really know about him, but I knew about him by the third play of the game," said Ramella. "He was running around all over the field. He's good and he's young... he's a great player."
He didn't only impress opposing players... coaches liked what they saw too. Legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden spoke highly of Wilson to the media in Greensboro after watching from the sidelines as Wilson had 214 total yards of offense and two scores against FSU's vaunted defense.
"He's the most dangerous quarterback I saw last year," Bowden said. "He might be the most dangerous in the country."
"We didn't know what we had last year when we started the season and he gave us glimpses as the season went on," Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien said of Wilson. "He became a much better quarterback about the Boston College game, and as we became a better football team."
After losing tough conference games to Boston College, Florida State, and Maryland, NC State would reel off four-straight wins to end the season, including victories over in-state rivals Wake Forest, Duke, and North Carolina.
The streak started in Duke with a 27-17 victory over the Blue Devils where Wilson totaled 234 yards and two passing touchdowns.
"When he starts doing what he
can do, all bets are off."
"Really good player, tough to get a hand on," Duke defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase said of Wilson. "He makes a lot of plays for his team... good player."
It continued against the Demon Deacons where Wilson showcased his ability to move the chains and make key plays in crucial situations. He didn't have the best stats, completing just 16-of-33 passes for 152 yards, but he accounted for two passing touchdowns, and added 69 rushing yards and a key touchdown on the ground.
"Man, I was just telling somebody that he impressed me so much last year," said Wake defensive tackle John Russell. "Going into that game, we knew he was a leader and a winner and great athlete... but you don't really know until you get on the field with him.
"You can watch as much film as you want, but when a player just has a knack to make plays like him it's really tough. When he starts doing what he can do, all bets are off."
The problems Wilson presents are evident. He has the arm strength to hit receivers in stride for 60-yard scoring strikes. He's accurate enough to move the ball down the field through short passing routes and checkdowns. He's capable of extending drives with his feet by shaking defenders in-or-out of the pocket to secure a crucial first down. However, his best attribute might be his feel for the game... simply put, he's savvy.
"You can say he's that dual-threat, but more than anything he's heady," said Russell. "He's more mature than a freshman should be. He has a presence about him and great awareness... like he's been there before. I think his maturity and his heady nature is his best attribute. He has all the physical tools, but he has a great head on his shoulders.
"It's tough defending them. With Russell at quarterback you always feel like you can never stay in one place because he's going to make something happen. I feel like whatever their offensive gameplan is, if something bad happens he can get you out of it with his arm or feet. A bad situation can turn into something great for them because of him.
"That's the toughest thing I remember about playing NC State," added the Deacon defender. "He was so mobile and always moving... he'd be moving around looking to pass, then he'd drop back and pass, then he'd drop back and run. As a defensive lineman it was like you needed oxygen on the sidelines to chase after him."
Despite the praise from opposing players and coaches, Wilson can still improve and is making steps in the right direction. He needs to be patient with his progressions and stay in the pocket longer for his receivers to get open. He could also throw the ball away quicker or start sliding more to avoid big hits and potential injuries.
With all that being said, he's just a redshirt sophomore. NC State fans could have a lot of fun watching him play over the next three years.
"He's fantastic," added Russell. "It worries me that he's going to be around for awhile."