Continuity Key For Running Game

It would be hard to argue that injuries haven't played a role in the way the 2009 season has gone for NC State.

There have been key losses at nearly every area on the field – especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The offensive line is one place, however, that has seen perhaps as much consistency as any other group on the team. Although injuries and sickness have caused the lineup to shuffle from week to week, the same core group of guys has played throughout the season. The results, especially in the last few weeks, show just how important that consistency has been for the running game.

After running the ball well early in the season, the offense struggled to gain yardage on the ground against Wake Forest, Duke and Boston College. During those three losses the offense averaged only 25 rushes a game for a little more than 100 yards per contest. In its last three games State has rushed the ball 40 times a game and averaged 155 yards. That significant jump hasn't necessarily coincided with wins, but it has been something positive to see from a team looking for consistency.

Senior running back Toney Baker was all smiles when he talked about what it's been like to run behind a consistent offensive line during the last few weeks.

"It's been fantastic," he said. "It's been one of the best [offensive] lines I've played with definitely. They really know their stuff and they get after it."

Junior left tackle Jake Vermiglio said that this particular group of offensive lineman has been able to grow throughout the season despite smaller changes in the lineup and freshman R.J. Mattes' season-ending knee injury against Florida State.

"We've got basically the same group of guys," Vermiglio said. "We've been coming together real well and I think we've progressed and actually become a really good offensive line unit. I think the right side is more of a power side with Jeraill and Andy but I think we're a well balanced line."

The Pack will take its ever-improving run attack into Blacksburg this weekend in search of an upset against No. 15 Virginia Tech. The Hokies have an impressive running attack of their own with ACC rushing leader Ryan Williams leading the way. Williams has 1,235 yards coming into the game and has averaged 5.8 yards per rush this season.

This weekend's trip to Lane Stadium will be the first since 2004, when the Wolfpack used superior defense to beat the Hokies 17-16. Baker may be one of the few people on the team who can remember that game. He saw NC State rack up its 10 sacks in 2004 while on his official visit to Virginia Tech.

Baker said he definitely remembers the impressive show put on by Mario Williams and company. "It was a fantastic game," he said. "It's been a while."

While Saturday's game may no longer have post season implications for the Pack, there is no sense that this is just another game. Vermiglio said State is headed to Virginia to get a win.

"I'm playing for the seniors. Most of these guys it's the last two games they are going to play football in their career so I'm playing for them," he said. "I always have something to play for. It's not over for any of us. We want to go into Blacksburg and get this upset. Everyone says Blacksburg is a tough place to play so if you get a win there if it's so tough then you're obviously a good football team."

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