Notebook: Racers Have Skills

Murray State comes to Raleigh this weekend looking to upset NC State fresh off a 66-10 thumping of Kentucky Wesleyan. The Racers started the 2009 season by flashing big-play potential in all three facets of the game.

Murray State comes to Raleigh this weekend looking to upset NC State fresh off a 66-10 thumping of Kentucky Wesleyan. The Racers started the 2009 season by flashing big-play potential in all three facets of the game.

Not only did they score through the air and on the ground offensively, Murray State also had two field goals, recorded two safeties, returned a fumble for a touchdown, ran back a punt for a score and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

At the end of the day, the Racers scored seven different ways in their 56-point victory. Leading the way was 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver Marcus Harris.

The junior scored three touchdowns, a 13-yard TD reception, 75-yard punt return, and an 86-yard kickoff return. He became the first Racer to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game and finished the game with 83 yards on two punt returns and 125 yards on two kickoff returns. He added 17 yards receiving to total 225 all-purpose yards.

Marcus Harris

For his efforts Harris was selected Pepsi Student-Athlete of the Week, the FCS Special Teams Player of the Week, and the Ohio Valley Conference Specialist of the Week.

However, he's not the only weapon Murray State has at its disposal. Wide receiver Derrick Townsel is closing in on the school's reception mark and was a preseason All-OVC selection (and a honorable mention All-American selection), guard Eric Ornella is garnering pro interest, and quarterback Jeff Ehrhardt is arguably the top passer in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Defensive the Racers feature Austen Lane, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end who is the preseason national player of the year, and linebacker Tamar Butler who tallied 17 tackles in the opener.

Head coach Tom O'Brien knows his team must be ready on Saturday night.

"They have a couple of good skill players," said O'Brien. "The one wideout, [Marcus] Harris, and the quarterback... he can pull the ball down and take off and run. They have good players.

"Everybody has good players these days and people who can beat you. We're going to have to play very well on Saturday."

It sounds like O'Brien believes his team will be prepared.

"They looked like they were very business-like in the way they have been," said O'Brien. "I haven't notice any difference from the week we prepared for South Carolina."

Washington To Get More Chances
The lone bright spot for NC State's offense in the opener may have been true freshman tailback James Washington.

James Washington

The Orlando, Florida native enrolled in January and all he did was beat out redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes and junior Curtis Underwood for the No. 3 spot on the Pack's depth chart behind seniors Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene.

Washington played just three snaps against USC, rushing for 16 yards on three carries. He flashed good quickness and acceleration and should receive more snaps on Saturday as Eugene is sidelined with a knee injury.

"As time goes on he'll get his opportunity," O'Brien said of Washington. "We think he's going to be a really good player, and he showed some flashes the other night. Hopefully he'll get some more opportunities to play in this game."

It's worth pointing out that Washington didn't play until the fourth quarter and could be a nice change-of-pace back for Baker and Eugene who are physical runners.

"Fresh legs always come into play," O'Brien said. "If you come in the game in the fourth quarter and guys have been trudging away for three. That's why it's good to have backs like that. We'll see how he does on Saturday."

Secondary Holds Up
Heading into the opener against South Carolina the biggest question mark most had about NC State was their secondary. The Wolfpack entered the game without its top cornerback, junior DeAndre Morgan who was sidelined with an injury, and started a former walk-on receiver in senior Koyal George and redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson.

For the most part, they passed the test against the Gamecocks. State limited Stephen Garcia to just 148 yards passing, and didn't give up a single big, explosive play.

"The secondary held up pretty well," said O'Brien. "I don't know if they were challenged."

Rashard Smith

A big reason for that is the play of NC State's front four. Going into the game the Pack needed a big effort from their senior-laden defensive line, and they harassed Garcia all game, preventing him from taking many shots deep.

"The thing you have to do is get a good pass rush, and we were able to do that and put him under pressure," O'Brien stated. "That kind of helped things out there in the secondary."

One Wolfpacker who made several big plays was true freshman Rashard Smith. The Dublin, Georgia cornerback recorded a tackle his first snap of the game and finished with four tackles and a sack. Late in the game he also had a big punt return that he came close to breaking for a potential score.

"I thought he did very well for a freshman," O'Brien said of Smith. "He was in there for a lot of crucial situations, and he held his own. He looked like he belonged. He wasn't wide-eyed at all on the field. We were very happy with what we saw out of him the first time out of the box."

Another reserve cornerback had to be in a good mood but for different reasons. Redshirt junior Robert Bell, had walked on to the team looking to contribute and after a strong spring he was awarded a full scholarship for this year.

Bell played just one snap defensively but contributed on special teams, and O'Brien stated the decision to give Bell a scholarship was due to his hard work.

"It's just his work he did last year for us," said O'Brien. "Coming into this season, being a fourth-year kid, if I have money available I try to reward them for what they've done for the program throughout their career.

"He certainly earned it. He's backing up and played on some special teams for us. He's contributing a lot."

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