Notebook: Pack Ready for Huge Test

NC State (2-1) will be back in action on Saturday against Pittsburgh (3-0). The Wolfpack will be looking to win its final nonconference game of the 2009 season.

NC State and Pitt have met eight times on the gridiron, but this will mark just the third matchup in Raleigh. In 1952 and 1953, Coach Horace Hendrickson took his Wolfpack to Pittsburgh for back-to-back games, both of which NC State dropped by large margins (6-48 and 6-40). The two squads didn't play again until 1978 when Bo Rein's squad, led by running back Ted Brown, defeated the 16th-ranked Panthers in the Tangerine Bowl, 30-17.

From 1985-88, the two teams traded home games, with NC State tying and winning in Raleigh (14-14 in 1986 and 14-3 in 1988) and dropping both road games (10-24 in 1985 and 0-34 in 1987).

The squads met up in the Tangerine Bowl again in 2001, which ended up being the only loss in record-setting quarterback Philip Rivers' four bowl trips.

Entering the game versus Pitt, NC State leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranks second nationally in total defense. The Pack has allowed just 168.3 yards per game. Mike Archer's defense also leads the league in scoring defense, giving up just 9.3 points per game (the seventh-best mark in the FBS ranks this week).

In the first three games, NC State has allowed just 28 points, the fewest points allowed in the first three games of the season since 1991, when Dick Sheridan's squad allowed just three points in the first three contests.

In the season opener, NC State's "D" held South Carolina to just seven points. The next week, South Carolina put up 37 points against No. 21 Georgia, and last week scored 38 against Florida Atlantic.

On September 12, Murray State gained just 36 total yards, even though NC State played it's second, third and fourth teams. That yardage total was the lowest for a Pack opponent since the season opener of 1990, when Western Carolina gained just 17 total yards.

On a 13-yard throw to James Washington in the third quarter of Saturday's game versus Gardner Webb, redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson set the all-time record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Wilson broke the mark of 325, which was set by Kentucky's Andre Woodson from 2006-07 and now has thrown 329 passes without getting picked off. Wilson hasn't been picked off since the second half of the Clemson game on September 13, 2008 - a span of 12 games. His passing efficiency mark since that time has been 147.21.

Wilson had several career bests against Gardner Webb: passing yardage (345), completions (26), attempts (36) and he tied for his personal best with four TD throws for the second straight week. Although he's only a sophomore, Wilson currently ranks seventh among current ACC players in passing yards (2,602), fourth in passing touchdowns (25) and eighth in total offense.

Three players on the Wolfpack roster hail from the Keystone State: tight end Matt Kushner (Bethlehem), safety Clem Johnson (Carlisle) and offensive lineman Wayne Crawford (Philadephia). Kushner is NC State's second tight end, while Johnson is a regular starter (he missed last week with a thigh injury). Crawford was expected to play a key role on the offensive line this season before an injury kept him out of the first two games, but he was back in action last week.

In the last two games combined, the Wolfpack has scored a total of 112 points. That two-game point total is the highest for NC State since the last two games of 1920, when Bill Fetzer's squad hung 139 points on Wofford and Wake Forest. The Wolfpack currently leads the ACC in scoring offense with 37.7 points per game (despite scoring just three points in the season opener). That mark ranks 24th nationally.

This week's version of the NC State two-deep has a youthful look. Four freshmen are listed as starters, while five sophomores are slated to get the starting nod. If you go into the second team, 11 of the 44 players on the two-deep are either true of redshirt freshmen, while 10 are sophomores. In other words, almost half of the depth chart is made up of freshmen and sophomores.

Two true freshmen have started for NC State so far this season: Rashard Smith at corner and Brandan Bishop at safety. Redshirt freshmen RJ Mattes (OG), Andrew Wallace (OT), CJ Wilson (CB) and Earl Wolff (safety) have also started.

Two members of the NC State squad who missed the entire 2008 season with injuries and another who missed all but two games are all back on the field for the Wolfpack heading into the fourth game of the season.

Halfback Toney Baker had missed almost two entire seasons with a knee injury (he was injured in the season opener of 2007) and a couple of surgeries before being cleared prior to 2009 spring workouts. He has started the first three games for the Wolfpack, and currently ranks 10th in the ACC in rushing and third in scoring.

Tight end Matt Kushner suffered a knee injury in the second game of 2008 and was cleared before fall camp. He has played in all three games and started the Gardner Webb contest.

Wide receiver Donald Bowens was diagnosed with back fractures in 2008 preseason camp and missed all of last year. Then in the offseason, he injured his knee and had to undergo surgery. He returned to practice on the Tuesday prior to the Gardner Webb game and ended up playing 21 snaps and catching two passes.

Bowens ranks seventh among active ACC players with 59 career receptions, sixth in career yards with 815 and seventh in career touchdowns with six.

Junior cornerback DeAndre Morgan also saw his first action of 2009 after missing most of preseason camp and the first two games with an ankle injury. Morgan was the most experienced member of the secondary heading into 2009, as his 806 snaps from scrimmage last season led all returning players. He has started 19 games in his career.

Morgan is listed as a starter for the Pitt contest.

Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Wayne Crawford was also back in action against Gardner Webb after sitting out the early season with a foot injury. Crawford, who moved over from the d-line in the spring, was listed as the second-team center heading into fall camp, but is also playing at guard now.

The Largo, Fla., native came to NC State as a walkon, but earned a scholarship prior to this season. He said his first goal was to get on the field. He accomplished that in 2007, when he saw action in nine contests, mainly on special teams. His next goal was to play from scrimmage, which he did in 91 snaps last season. He also wanted to start, which he did one time in 2008. Now, he says, his goal is to be an impact player and help his team win, which he is obviously doing with his hard hits on both special teams and from scrimmage.

Redshirt sophomore tight end George Bryant didn't get the start over Gardner Webb after he missed practice time with the flu during game-week preparations. But he came off the bench and made up for missed time, catching a career-high six passes, for a career-high 89 yards and a career-best two touchdowns.

Bryan leads the team with a dozen catches for the season, tying for eighth in the ACC this week.

Although he missed almost two complete seasons, Toney Baker has shown no sign of hesitation of returning to his old form in 2009. Baker, who fumbled on his first play back on the opening drive against South Carolina, has since rushed for 169 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries and has caught six passes for 83 yards and another score.

Baker currently ranks second in the ACC in touchdown scoring and 10th in rushing.

When Baker crossed the goal line at the 14:57 mark in the second quarter against Murray State on September 12, it marked the first time he had been in that particular area in 1,022 days! He liked being in the end zone so much that he took two more trips there before the night was over - marking the second time in his career that he scored three TDs in one game. He added two more scores last week versus Gardner Webb.

On September 1, 2007, Baker's life and football career took an unexpected turn when he limped to the sidelines after playing just 26 snaps. The knee injury ended up being a type that makes a torn ACL seem minor. He knew early in the recovery process that it could end up being two years before he could see action again, but Baker, who had rushed for 1,272 yards in his career to that point, approached his rehab just as he does an opponent's linebacker: he met it head-on.

Baker was cleared to return to drills in November of 2008 and went through full contact spring practice with the Wolfpack.

Six true freshmen have seen action so far this season: S Brandan Bishop, DT Brian Slay, CB Rashard Smith, HB James Washington, TE Asa Watson and C Camden Wentz.

So far this season, 31 players have seen their first action at NC State.

One of the Pack's most dependable performers last season was placekicker Josh Czajkowski. As a sophomore, he ranked third in the ACC in field goal percentage with an .842 (16-19) mark - the ninth best mark in school history for a single season. Only one other league player returning in 2009 posted better marks than he did in 2008.

Although he has been called on more for PATs than for field goals in the last two games, Czajkowski has been even more dependable in 2009. He has hit all three of his field goal attempts and all 12 of his extra points this season, while also handling the kickoff duties.

For his career, Czajkowski ranks fourth in Wolfpack history in field goal percentage (.864), fourth in PAT percentage (.978) and 12th in field goals made (19). His nine consecutive field goals made marks the sixth-longest streak in school history.

Czajkowski, who is on the preseason ‘watch' list for the Lou Groza Award, ranks ?? among active ACC players in career field goals, fifth in PATs. He is tied for fifth in the ACC this week in kick scoring.

Willie Young celebrated his 24th birthday with a win over Gardner Webb on Saturday. The grandfather of the team, who was rated the ninth-best player in the ACC by in the preseason, also ranks as the active ACC leader in career tackles for loss (35.5) and sacks (15.5).

Young, who earned his degree from NC State in May, ranks ninth in school history in tackles for loss and seventh in sacks. He has been named a preseason candidate for four national awards: the Bednarik, Hendricks, Lombardi, and Nagurski.

Not only does the Wolfpack boast 20 seniors this season (one of the top marks in the ACC), but of the nine starting spots on the two lines, seven are now being held down by seniors, giving the Pack leadership and experience at those important positions.

The offensive line boasts four seniors: Julian Williams and Andy Barbee at guard (Barbee started the last two games), Jeraill McCuller at tackle and Ted Larsen at center (Williams, Barbee and Larsen are actually graduates). Those four players boast 58 starts between then On defense, all four spots up front are being manned by seniors: Shea McKeen and graduate Willie Young at end and Leroy Burgess and Alan-Michael Cash at tackle. Those four boast 60 starts among them (Burgess and McKeen were transfers in 2008, so are just in their second season with the Wolfpack).

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