The NC State Wolfpack are making sure to ease into this season.
Last week’s season opener against Western Carolina of the Southern Conference provided little challenge to the Wolfpack, allowing for mistakes to be made and reconciled before facing stiffer competition.
One of those mistakes was allowing WCU to orchestrate a 10-play touchdown scoring drive on the first possession of the game. That would be the only score by WCU in the game, as the defense tightened its control.
Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson also got loose, throwing for 306 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was WR T.J. Graham, who has had injury problems over the last few years, limiting his effectiveness.
Eleven different receivers caught passes, but many would not have seen the field if the game were closer.
The running game faced questions this offseason, trying to replace Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, backs who had tremendous experience. But in a surprise move, coach Tom O’Brien decided not to start junior Curtis Underwood and featured two freshmen instead: Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene.
Haynes and Greene combined for just over 100 yards and two touchdowns on the day, showing they can provide some balance in the offense. However, more will be expected as they gain more experience and face tougher competition.
UCF figures to be a step up in competition before the Wolfpack faces last year’s Big East champion, Cincinnati, followed by nationally-ranked conference foes Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
The Golden Knights began their season last week against South Dakota. QB Rob Calabrese played an efficient game by completing 12 of his 15 passes.
Coach O’Leary still featured the running game, his trademark. The Golden Knights finished with 231 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, aided by a commanding lead throughout the game.
RB Brynn Harvey led UCF in rushing last season with over 1,100 yards and 14 TDs. He likely will not play as he recovers from a knee injury, but Jonathan Smith will fill in admirably. Smith’s short stature and thick build make him tough to tackle.
Time to Produce
The win last week against WCU was the first season-opening victory for Coach O'Brien in his four years at NC State. Injuries to critical players have limited the success of the program.
In the summer before the 2009 season, LB and defensive leader Nate Irving wrecked his automobile sustaining life-threatening injuries. He recovered fully but missed all of last season.
RB has been another position in turmoil. Toney Baker entered NC State as the leading rusher in North Carolina high school football history, but he missed nearly two full seasons at NC State (2007-2008) after injuring and re-injuring his knee. He chose to forgo a sixth season of eligibility granted to him for medical hardship and entered the NFL draft.
Earlier this spring, four team members, including Pre-season All-ACC TE George Bryan, were found with illegal drugs in their apartment. The cases against the players have all been dismissed, but the program could have done without the negative publicity.
It's time for O'Brien to put the pieces together and compete in the Atlantic Division or else look for new employment. NC State’s defense, led by LB Nate Irving, must be ready to stop the strong running of the Golden Knights in order to begin the journey of returning to a bowl game.