Notebook: Pack Ready for ACC Opener

NC State (3-1) will be back in action on Saturday against Wake Forest (2-2). The Wolfpack will be looking to win its first ACC game of the season. Kickoff is set for 3:30 and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

This weekend's matchup with mark the 103rd meeting between NC State and Wake Forest, making it the longest running series in Wolfpack football history. NC State holds a 61-35-6 record overall.

NC State has won 15 of the last 21 meetings, but last year's win was the first in four tries. The Pack has lost five of the last six games played in Winston-Salem.

After opening the season with four straight home games for the first time since 1984, Tom O'Brien and his squad will go on the road for the first time this season when they travel to Winston-Salem this weekend. The October 3 date marks the latest conference opener for NC State since the 1959 season, when Earle Edwards' squad played North Carolina to open league play on October 3.

The Wolfpack has opened conference play with Wake Forest 16 times since the formation of the ACC, posting a 10-6 mark (6-3 at Wake Forest, 4-3 at home).

State has gone 2-2 on the road in ACC play each of the last two seasons, but hasn't won it's conference opener under O'Brien in his first two years with the program. The Wolfpack hasn't won it's first ACC road game since a 2005 win at Georgia Tech.

The Wolfpack begins its defense of the unofficial ‘state' title this weekend at Winston-Salem. NC State will play Duke on October 10 and will finish the season with North Carolian on November 28.

Head coach Tom O'Brien has been particularly strong when playing against instate rivals since arriving in Raleigh. O'Brien has posted a 6-1 mark against FBS teams from the state of North Carolina, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. In fact, his only loss to an in-state school was at Wake Forest in 2007.

The Wolfpack posted wins over North Carolina, East Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest in 2008. It marked the first time NC State has defeated all four in-state FBS schools in the same season since 1986.

Following the win over Pitt, NC State leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 201.2 yards per game. The Panthers entered the game averaging 380 yards per game, but were held to 300 against the Wolfpack. Mike Archer's defense ranks third in the league in scoring defense, giving up just 14.8 points per game (the 20th-best mark in the FBS ranks this week).

In the first three games of 2009, NC State 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. Since then, South Carolina has averaged over 30 points per game against No. 21 Georgia, Florida Atlantic and fourth-ranked Mississippi.

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 the September 19 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 364 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 13 games.

The Wolfpack currently leads the ACC in scoring, averaging 37.8 points per game. That mark ranks 14th this week among FBS schools. Pretty amazing considering that the Wolfpack didn't score a touchdown until the second game of the season and only scored three points in the season opener versus South Carolina.

In the last three games combined, the Wolfpack has scored a total of 148 points - 65 vs. Murray State, 45 vs. Gardner Webb and 38 vs. Pitt. The Wolfpack, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, also put up 148 points in three games in 2002 (65 vs. Navy, 32 vs. Wake Forest and 51 vs. Texas Tech). The last time that the Pack scored more points than 148 in a three-game span was in the last three games of 1920, when Bill Fetzer's squad hung 153 points on Virginia Tech (14), Wofford (90) and Wake Forest (49).

Four games has meant four different lineups in the defensive secondary for the Wolfpack. Injuries has played a big role in the changes, as cornerback DeAndre Morgan didn't play until the third game of the season, safety Clem Johnson missed the third game and corner Rashard Smith missed the last game - all due to injuries.

The only player to have started all four games in the defensive backfield is cornerback Koyal George, but even he has started at two different positions (field corner and boundary corner). Redshirt freshman Earl Wolff has started the last three games at the boundary safety spot, where he led the team in tackles last week against Pitt. Johnson has started two games, one at the field safety and one at the boundary safety.

Other players to start in the backfield this season have been Smith (two games at boundary corner), C.J. Wilson (one game at field corner), Justin Byers (one game at field safety), and Brandan Bishop (the last two games at field safety).

The Wake game could end up being the first game that the Pack comes out with the same starting secondary as the week before.

He has the best name ever for an NC State football player, but he also has the goods to back it up. Redshirt freshman safety Earl Wolff has started the last three games at the boundary safety spot and led the team in tackles with 10 in just 26 snaps from scrimmage last week in the win over Pitt. He also broke up a pass.

For the season, Wolff has 26 tackles, the second-highest mark on the team.

Quarterback Russell Wilson quieted any speculation about his hampered running ability on Saturday night versus Pitt. WIlson rushed for a career-high 91 yards in the contest (in addition to throwing for 322 yards), the highest rushing total for a Wolfpack quarterback in more than three decades. The last NC State signal caller to rush for more yards was Johnny Evans, now a color commentator on the Wolfpack radio network. Evans ran for 126 yards on 15 carries against Clemson in 1976. Wilson has tallied 503 rushing yards for his career.

In the last three games, Russell Wilson has thrown a dozen touchdown passes, a mark which is the highest three-game tally in school history. That mark breaks the previous three-game record of 11, which Philip Rivers posted against Duke, Virginia and Florida State in 2003. Wilson currently ranks second nationally in touchdown throws.

In the September 19 game against Gardner Webb, Wilson set several career-highs: passing yardage (345), completions (26), and attempts (36). He has posted his personal best of four touchdown throws in each of the last three games.

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.

And after playing just 16 career games, Wilson's 29 touchdown passes already rank sixth in school history.

This week's version of the NC State two-deep has a youthful look. Three freshmen are listed as starters, while six sophomores are slated to get the starting nod. If you go into the second team, nine of the 44 players on the two-deep are either true of redshirt freshmen, while nine 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 (two games before being injured) and Brandan Bishop at safety (the last two games). Redshirt freshmen offensive guard RJ Mattes (four games), OT Andrew Wallace (one game), cornerback CJ Wilson (one game) and safety Earl Wolff (three games) have also started.

He calls himself "the Hurricane" and his head coach has called him the "Energizer Bunny." But halfback Jamelle Eugene was just glad to get his number called on Saturday night versus Pitt. The senior captain hadn't played since the season opener because of a knee injury, but seemed to be back to true form in the win over the Panthers.

Eugene tallied 86 all-purpose yards - rushing 16 times for 59 yards and catching three passes for another 27. For his career, he now has 1,263 rushing yards.

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 in 2009.

Halfback Toney Baker had missed almost two entire seasons with a knee injury (he was injured in the season opener of 2007) and undergone a couple of surgeries before being cleared prior to 2009 spring workouts. He has started the first four games for the Wolfpack, and currently leads the team in rushing and 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 four 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 in the contest. He saw action but did not catch a pass last week versus Pitt.

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

Although he isn't a starter, defensive coordinator Mike Archer has called senior safety Bobby Floyd the leader of the Wolfpack secondary. He has certainly led by example so far in 2009, coming off the bench to lead the team in tackles with 11 stops in each of the wins over Murray State and Gardner Webb.

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 played football, basketball and baseball in high school. In other words, he's pretty athletic. Bryan has shown that ability this season as he has been the go-to guy for quarterback Russell Wilson. Bryan currently leads the team in receptions with 16 for 155 yards in four games. His three touchdown catches also leads the Wolfpack.

Bryan 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 is tied for ninth in the ACC this week as he is averaging four catches per game.

Although he missed almost two complete seasons, Toney Baker has shown no sign of hesitation while 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 250 yards and five touchdowns on 48 carries and has caught nine passes for 154 yards and two other scores.

Baker currently ranks second in the ACC in touchdown scoring and seventh in rushing. He has moved into 16th place in school history in career rushing with 1,552 yards and his 16 rushing touchdowns rank 11th in school history. He has posted 2,027 career all-purpose yards.

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 versus Gardner Webb and another pair versus Pitt.

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 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. Bishop and Smith have each started two games. So far this season, 31 players have seen their first action at NC State.

Although he had only attempted a dozen, junior placekicker Josh Czajkowski had never missed a field goal at Carter-Finley Stadium until last Saturday against Pitt. In the second quarter he missed a 32-yarder and then in the third, had a 37-yard attempt blocked. He did connect on a 25-yarder in the second quarter and was 5-5 on his point after attempts.

One of the Pack's most dependable performers last season, Czajkowski 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. His .800 mark for his career (20-25) is the fifth best mark in history. He has nailed 50 of his 51 career PAT attempts and hasn't missed a point-after in 13 games.

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

Willie Young celebrated his 24th birthday with a win over Gardner Webb on September 19. 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 (36.5) and sacks (16.5).

Young, who earned his degree from NC State in May, is tied for eighth in school history in tackles for loss and ranks 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 three seniors: Julian Williams at guard, Jerraill McCuller at tackle and Ted Larsen at center (Williams and Larsen are actually graduates). Those three players boast 60 starts between them.

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 64 starts among them (Burgess and McKeen were transfers in 2008, so are just in their second season with the Wolfpack).

When redshirt freshman R.J. Mattes earned the starting nod at offensive right guard for the season opener with South Carolina, he was the baby of the offensive line. At that point, the line was made up of two graduates, a redshirt senior, a junior and him. But Mattes can't be considered a rookie any more. He's now played 235 snaps, one of the highest totals on the team, in the first four games and continues to improve according to the coaching staff.

Mattes is the youngest player to start the opening game of the season on the offensive line for NC State since the 2003 season, when Leroy Harris (now with the Tennessee Titans) got the nod at left guard versus Western Carolina.

Wolfpack offensive line coach Don Horton isn't known for starting players that young, this early in the season. The only offensive lineman he and Tom O'Brien could remember starting the opener as a redshirt freshman at Boston College was Gosdur Cherilus in 2004. Cherilus was a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2008.

Pack Pride Top Stories