Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mistakes cost Deacs chance at upset

Wake Forest made a series of late mistakes and gave up a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to lose 28-27 to 18th-ranked Miami Saturday at soggy BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.

The Deacons were leading 27-14 when Devon Brown lost a fumbled punt return at the Miami 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter, setting up a two-yard score by Tervaris Jackson.

The Hurricanes then took the lead with a nine-play, 82-yard drive that included conversions on third-and-10 and fourth-and-10 to keep the possession alive. Travis Benjamin caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 remaining.

The Deacons managed to try a 60-yard field goal as time expired but it was well short.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner left the game with a possible concussion early in the fourth quarter and did not return.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Wake up on Miami at half, 20-14

Trying to break a two-game losing streak, Wake Forest led 18th-ranked Miami 20-14 at halftime at BB&T Field Saturday.

   The Deacons had led 20-7 before the Hurricanes got a three-yard touchdown run from Damien Berry with three seconds remaining in the half.

   Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanan and had a seven-yard touchdown run in the first half.

-- Ron Green Jr

Friday, October 30, 2009

UNC linebacker a class act

It's fitting to say thanks to linebacker Quan Sturdivant one day after North Carolina's biggest win of this football season.

With a spontaneous display of sportsmanship, Sturdivant became an example of what's good in college athletics after the Tar Heels' 20-17 defeat of Virginia Tech.

Redshirt freshman running back Ryan Williams was sitting on the Virginia Tech bench in absolute despair over his late fumble, which allowed North Carolina's Casey Barth to kick the winning field goal on the final play.

Sturdivant's teammates were dancing and celebrating the win, as they should. But ESPN's cameras captured Sturdivant away from his team.

Williams has been perhaps the best running back in the ACC this season, and he's having one of the best seasons a Hokie back has ever had. But on Thursday night, he'd made a mistake that dashed whatever hopes the Hokies have of going to a BCS bowl.

Sturdivant came over to console Williams. He got him up off the bench, patted him on the leg, leaned over and said what we can only assume were words of encouragement in Williams' ear.

It was a gracious act when an opponent was at his lowest point. And it might have been the best thing that's happened on an ACC football field this season.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pack's Michel, Graham out for FSU

Middle linebacker Ray Michel, who leads N.C. State in tackles, and wide receiver/kick returner T.J. Graham will miss Saturday’s game at Florida State with injuries, the school announced Thursday evening.

Michel, who has 53 tackles, has an ankle injury and will be replaced by Dwayne Maddox in the starting lineup. Maddox usually plays the boundary linebacker position, where Terrell Manning will start Saturday.

Graham, who has a leg injury, usually returns kickoffs and punts for the Wolfpack. Clem Johnson, Jamelle Eugene and Donald Bowens will split those duties with Graham out.

Ken Tysiac

In game: UNC at Virginia Tech

@ Blacksburg, Va.

With the score knotted 17-17 with 2:02 left, Hokie tailback Ryan Williams’ fumble was recovered by UNC’s Deunta Williams at the Virginia Tech 24. That set up a game-winning 21-yard field goal by Casey Barth as time ran out to win it.


UNC kicker Casey Barth ties it, 17-17, with a 19-yard field goal with 2:52 left.

On a first-and-10 on UNC’s own 20, Yates was intercepted by Rashad Carmichael, setting up another 1-yard touchdown run by Taylor. That gave the Hokies a 17-14 lead.


UNC leads again, 14-7 with 1:51 left in the third quarter. Yates found Greg Little for a 15-yard touchdown pass. (The big play on the drive was a 44-yard run by tailback Shaun Draughn).


Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor's 1-yard touchdown run has tied the game 7-7 with 6:44 left in the third quarter.

The Tar Heels, who allowed the Hokies only 108 total yards in he first half, just gave up an 82 -yard drive. Shades of last week, when they allowed FSU 100 yards in the first half, but 338 in the second? Stay tuned.


UNC leads Va. Tech 7-0 at halftime, and it's the first time the Hokies have been held scoreless in the first half all year...


T.J. Yates just completed a 13-yard touchdown pass Jheranie Boyd to give the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead over 14th-ranked Virginia Tech. The series included a scary moment when Yates -- who broke his left ankle against the Hokies last year, and missed six games -- came up limping on his right ankle after completing a 17-yard pass to Greg Little. But he shook it off, and completed the 13-play, 84-yard drive. Less than three minutes remain in the first half....


The Tar Heels' defense continues to keep them in it. Freshman Donte Paige-Moss just recorded UNC's third sack of the game, forcing Va. Tech to punt. It's still 0-0 halfway through second quarter ....


UNC finally got its first first-down of the game, on a 17-yard rumble by Ryan Houston. Houston carried for 31 yards on UNC's fourth offensive series. But coach Butch Davis opted to go go for it on fourth down on the first play of the second quarter, rather than have kicker Casey Barth attempt a 46-yard field goal. Quarterback T.J. Yates' pass to Anthony Elzy was short of the first down.

Houston had 31 of UNC's 24 first quarter rushing yards (Yates was sacked twice for -10 yards.)

And the game remains scoreless.


And some thought UNC's navy-navy uniform combination last Thursday against Florida State was bad? At Lane Stadium, No. 14 Virginia Tech has donned its sixth uniform combination of the season, and it doesn't look very good in person, much less on TV. This marks the first time in the Frank Beamer era the Hokies have paired orange jerseys with burgandy pants.

Not that it matters to their game play. The game is scoreless, but doesn't seem like it, as UNC quarterback T.J. Yates has already been sacked twice on third-and-long plays by defensive end Nekos Brown.

UNC’s defense – after giving up a 25-yard run by Ryan Williams on Va. Tech’s first offensive play – tried to get something going early when Charles Brown stripped Hokie receiver Jarrett Boykin on a pass play, and cornerback Kendric Burney recovered the fumble. But UNC’s first drive ended with a three-and-out.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Amato issue fades at N.C. State

It's now the third season since Chuck Amato was ousted as N.C. State's football coach, and his name barely has been mentioned as the Wolfpack prepares to face Florida State.

Amato is the executive associate head coach at Florida State, which plays host to N.C. State at noon Saturday. N.C. State senior running back Toney Baker said Wednesday that he would be happy to talk with Amato if he sees him on the field.

Baker, who was one of the best recruits Amato signed from inside North Carolina, expressed fondness for his former coach but hasn't talked to him since he left N.C. State. Baker missed the last two meetings between the schools because of a knee injury.

"I thought he was a good coach," Baker said. "I like him as a person. He recruited me here. I don't have anything negative to say about him. . . .He was a fiery guy. He was a passionate guy and he was really into what he was doing."

There's a reason Amato has faded as an issue for the Wolfpack this week. N.C. State (3-4, 0-3 ACC) is desperate for a win after a dreadful start to conference play. Some fans who used to enjoy poking fun at Amato now are directing their ire at his successor, Tom O'Brien, and current N.C. State defensive coordinator Mike Archer.

Amato has his own problems, too, at Florida State. Head coach Bobby Bowden, who's like a father to Amato, has faced pressure to retire from fans and even the head of the school's Board of Trustees.

Florida State (3-4, 1-3), which was the preseason pick of the media to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, is barely ahead of N.C. State at the bottom of the standings. Rumors of a fight between Amato and Florida State head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher were so persistent that Amato wound up denying them to reporters.

In other words, Amato has enough to worry about at Florida State. That's why the angle of his meeting with his former team hasn't gained much traction this week.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chick-fil-A Bowl retains prominent ACC slot

The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta retained its prominent position in the ACC's bowl selection order through the 2013 season under an agreement announced Wednesday.

After the Bowl Championship Series chooses from the ACC, the Chick-fil-A Bowl will get first choice from among the eligible teams. The deal marks a four-year extension to the ACC's existing agreement with the bowl.

The bowl matches the ACC with an SEC opponent in the Georgia Dome. This year's game will be played at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 31. The ACC has had a conference tie-in with the bowl since 1992.

"Our 18-year partnership with the ACC is among the most important assets we have and is a huge part of our bowl's success," Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan said in a statement.

The Chick-fil-A has held the first non-BCS selection from the ACC since 2006.

Ken Tysiac

Pack's O'Brien gives unusual answer

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien was asked Wednesday to predict whether Saturday's game at Florida State will be high-scoring.

Coaches almost always politely decline to answer such a question.

They'll cite games in the past where Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky unexpectedly were shut down. To predict a high-scoring game is to admit that your defense is vulnerable.

But at this point, that's probably something O'Brien figures everybody already knows about N.C. State. The Wolfpack has lost three straight ACC games, giving up a total of 820 passing yards over two games against Wake Forest and Duke before Boston College piled up 293 rushing yards heading into last week's open date.

Florida State, meanwhile, leads the ACC in total offense.

"You look at the way they're playing offense, it seems to indicate we're going to have to score some points to win the football game," O'Brien said during the ACC coaches' teleconference.

N.C. State will start its seventh different group of defensive backs in eight games against quarterback Christian Ponder, who's the ACC's total offense leader.

"All indications to the way they've played offense and the points they've scored, you look at our secondary, as decimated as we are and all the young players that we're playing, Ponder is probably salivating down there at the opportunity to play against us," O'Brien said.

It was true enough.

But it was unusual to hear a coach say it. Maybe he's trying to motivate his players.

Maybe it's just impossible to deny.

Ken Tysiac

Davis eager for more Thursday home games

It sounds like there will be more Thursday night home football games in Chapel Hill if North Carolina coach Butch Davis has anything to say about it.

The Tar Heels played their first Thursday night home game last week. For years, campus leaders had resisted playing at home on Thursday nights.

Logistical problems such as traffic with UNC Hospital adjacent to the stadium and jamming the campus with people on a school night caused campus leaders to veto Thursday night home games in the past.

But since Davis was hired, he has lobbied for the chance to play at home on a Thursday night. He often says Thursday night games provide a great opportunity to showcase a football program and a campus in front of a large audience on ESPN.

Last week's game took place while students were on break, so students didn't miss classes and traffic problems were reduced. Davis said logistically the event went very well thanks to cooperation between campus, city and hospital officials.

"The feedback was overwhelmingly positive from just about everybody associated with it, except for the outcome of the game," Davis said Wednesday during the ACC coaches' teleconference.

North Carolina lost 30-27 to Florida State. But Davis said the school took a "very positive step forward" toward being able to add Thursday night home games in the future.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

UNC TE Pianalto 'healthy and ready to go'

UNC junior tight end Zack Pianalto (above), who sustained a concussion in last Thursday’s loss to Florida State, returned to practice Sunday and has been cleared to play against Virginia Tech Thursday.

"We've got the leading experts in the entire field," Tar Heels head coach Butch Davis said today. "They immediately do [tests] at the ball game. Then they test him and reevaluate him the next day. They deemed him healthy and ready to go."

A 2003 NCAA study of college football players shows that players may need at least seven days to recover from a concussion. The data show that 75 percent of repeat concussions occur within 10 days of the first. Davis said that to the best of his knowledge, Pianalto is 100 percent.

"We wouldn't play him if he wasn't," Davis said.

— Correspondent Brian Conlin

Q&A with Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson (right) and the N.C. State Wolfpack face Florida State on Saturday after last week's bye.

Excerpts from N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson's news conference Tuesday:

Q: What did you specifically work on during the open date?

A: Just running the offense, executing the offense and everything. Just continuing to try to make the right reads and keeping the offense going.

Q: I thought I heard Coach (Tom) O'Brien say on his coach's show that in the last two games you'd missed more throws than you usually do. Is that so, and if that's the case, do you have any idea how that happened?

A: You always miss one or two, here or there, that I wish I could have back. But I've just got to keep working hard, keep believing in my receivers and offensive line and running backs, and we'll make passes and completions, and then touchdowns.

Q: So was he right?

A: Yeah. Definitely. I missed a few throws that I definitely should complete in my opinion. I expect to make certain throws, and I just have to keep getting better.

Q: When you lose three games in a row, it's easy for guys to get disheartened. Was there some rallying that had to be done, or was everybody in pretty good spirits and confident going into the open week?

A: There was definitely a rallying, trying to get everybody back into the circle. Trying not to listen to the outside discussions or whatever it is. Just focus on our team and know what we have to do, and realize that we have to have a new beginning, a new start.

-- Ken Tysiac

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pack RB Washington out for season

N.C. State freshman running back James Washington is out for the season with a knee injury suffered Thursday in practice, coach Tom O'Brien announced Monday.

Washington was the third-team running back behind Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene. He also was serving as the backup kickoff returner.

O'Brien did not make any changes to the starting lineup on the depth chart after last week's open date. The only change came at boundary cornerback, where redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson replaced freshman Rashard Smith, who's out for the season with a knee injury.

- Ken Tysiac

Tar Heels' Yates feeling the pressure

North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yats has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions this season. (Scott Halleran -- Getty Images)

CHAPEL HILL — As if it wasn't enough last Thursday -- throwing for only 64 yards, tossing and interception and losing an 18-point lead in a loss to Florida State -- North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates actually had a fan throw something at him as he left the field. Either or pin or a coin pinged off his helmet, he said Monday. But he's trying not to let the criticism get to him, he said.

"Walking off the field, people are yelling at you and everything, so it's kind of hard not to hear it,'' he said. "It's hard not to hear about all that stuff; I try to do my best to just try to block it out because it doesn't really matter."

The junior is 108 for 183 with eight interceptions and seven touchdowns this season. The Tar Heels must win three of their last five games to qualify for a bowl; they play at Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

BRIEFLY: Tight end Zack Pianalto, who sustained a concussion against the Seminoles, practiced Sunday, coach Butch Davis said.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Whatever happened to Carolina blue?

I understand there are varying shades of 'Carolina blue' but none of them are navy blue.

However, the North Carolina Tar Heels went on national television Thursday night wearing dark blue uniforms that, besides being ugly, hid what is arguably the most recognizable color in college athletics.

There is a reason North Carolina merchandise is annually among the best-selling college apparel in the country and it's not because the football team wears navy. Most of it is because of the basketball team but it's also because Carolina blue is distinctive.

Admittedly, there's not a great football tradition at North Carolina unless you're measuring success by seven and eight-win seasons. But if you're trying to build something, be who you are. You're North Carolina. Wear Carolina blue.

I know wearing alternative uniforms boosts sales and it probably makes Nike happy. The players like it, I've been told. The head coach isn't fond of Carolina blue, either, I've heard.

If you want to wear dark blue, go to Virginia.

The Masters isn't going to award an orange jacket next year. The Kentucky Derby isn't going to lay a blanket of mums on the winner next spring. Duke isn't going to start wearing light blue.

But North Carolina now wears navy blue. That's for the blazers the frat boys wear to games.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Florida State rallies past UNC, 30-27

Quarterback Christian Ponder sparked an improbable comeback as Florida State rebounded from a 16-point, second-half deficit to edge North Carolina 30-27 in the first Thursday night game ever at Kenan Stadium.

Ponder completed 33 of 40 passes for 395 yards as the Seminoles (3-4, 1-3 ACC) won their first conference game of the season. North Carolina (4-3, 0-3) led 24-6 early in the second quarter, but a stunning two-play turnaround lifted Florida State.

With North Carolina in Florida State territory, Jamie Robinson intercepted T.J. Yates near the Seminole goal line. After a penalty backed the ball up to the Florida State 2-yard line, Christian Ponder completed the longest pass ever thrown againist the Tar Heels, a 98-yard throw to Rod Owens.

Florida State won despite committing 16 penalties and will play host to N.C. State on Oct. 31.


In a stunning comeback against a the ACC's best defense, Florida State has overcome a 16-point, second-half deficit to take a 30-27 lead over North Carolina with 6:20 remaining.

Christian Ponder passed 18 yards to a wide-open Beau Reliford for the go-ahead score.


Thanks to a suddenly potent rushing attack, North Carolina finally has interrupted Florida State's streak of 17 straight points and given itself some breathing room.

Casey Barth's 26-yard field goal with 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter increased the Tar Heels' advantage to 27-23. Despite taking possession on its own 8-yard line, North Carolina drove 83 yards entirely on the ground.

Shaun Draughn carried six times for 49 yards on the drive.


It's a one-point game.

A 40-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins extended Florida State's scoring streak to 17 straight points and cut North Carolina's lead to 24-23 with 12:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Hopkins is 3-for-3 on field goal attempts tonight.


Florida State seemed sunk after North Carolina stretched its lead to 18 points on its opening drive in the third quarter.

But the Seminoles struck back with a 6-yard scoring pass to Taiwan Easterling, an interception by Jamie Robinson and a 98-yard touchdown pass to Rod Owens to draw within 24-20.

As the third quarter ended, Florida State had the ball second-and-2 at the 31-yard line of a Tar Heel defense that suddenly, desperately needed a stop.

Earlier. . .

What a turnaround.

With North Carolina in Florida State territory, T.J. Yates threw his worst pass of the day.

Yates rolled left and threw the ball directly into the hands of Florida State safety Jamie Robinson.

One play later, Christian Ponder hit Rod Owens for the longest touchdown pass ever against the Tar Heels. Owens' 98-yard reception cut North Carolina's lead to 24-20 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

Earlier. . .

Florida State finally put one in the end zone.

Christian Ponder passed 6 yards to Taiwan Easterling with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter, narrowing the Tar Heels' advantage to 24-13.

After failing to convert its first six third-down opportunities, Florida State was 3-for-3 on third-down on the drive.

Tar Heel tight end Zack Pianalto, who returned after missing four games with a foot injury, lasted just two series before leaving the game with a head injury. He will not return. North Carolina cornerback Jordan Hemby also is unlikely to return because of injury.


On the final play of the first half, Dustin Hopkins kicked a 26-yard field goal for Florida State to narrow North Carolina's lead to 17-6.

Florida State had first-and-goal at the Tar Heels' 3-yard line and seemed to have a golden opportunity to make a dent in North Carolina's advantage because the Seminoles will get the ball first in the second half.

But coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher inexplicably called a quarterback bootleg against North Carolina's speedy defense on the goal line. The Tar Heels thumped Christian Ponder for a 6-yard loss, and Florida State had to settle for the field goal.

Florida State has itself to blame for most of its first-half woes. The Seminoles have nine penalties for 70 yards, plus a fumble that led to North Carolina's second touchdown.


With the help of three Florida State penalties, North Carolina has extended its lead.

Casey Barth kicked a 34-yard field goal with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter to make the score 17-3 in the Tar Heels' favor. The drive was 13 plays for 52 yards. The three penalties accounted for 30 of those yards.


North Carolina has equaled its largest first-quarter scoring output of the season and leads Florida State 14-3 after one quarter.

The Tar Heels' offense was ranked last in the ACC in yards and points entering the game, but managed 101 yards on 18 plays.

Earlier. . .

Shortly after one turnover was overturned, North Carolina caused another one.

E.J. Wilson sacked Christian Ponder, Marvin Austin recovered and North Carolina converted with a 13-yard pass from T.J. Yates to tight end Ed Barham. The Tar Heels lead 14-3 with 2:21 remaining in the first quarter.


An officials' replay review overturned a big play by the Tar Heels after a big hit by UNC cornerback Kendric Burney appeared to produce the first turnover of the day with Florida State in Tar Heel territory.

Burney dislodged the ball from Bert Reed as he caught a pass, and Da'Norris Searcy recovered for the Tar Heels. But after a review, the pass was ruled incomplete.

Florida State couldn't move the ball after that, though, and settled for a 48-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins to trail 7-3 with 5:09 remaining in the first quarter.


Greg Little and North Carolina are off to a fast start against Florida State.

On the opening drive, Little caught three passes for 53 yards, including a 31-yard reception on a fullback pass from Bobby Rome.

Then Little followed a block from tight end Zack Pianalto - who's back from a dislocated foot - for a 5 yard scoring run and a 7-0 Tar Heel lead with 3:30 expired.


Florida State has just kicked off at North Carolina.

Lawrence Taylor has returned for a football game for the first time since his career ended following the 1980 season. Stay tuned here for more live updates.

-- Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pre-register for 2010 ACC championship tickets

If you want to buy tickets to the 2010 ACC football championship game at Bank of America Stadium, you can now pre-register for ticket orders.

Ticket packages will go on sale Feb. 1, 2010 and individual tickets will be available Feb. 15, 2010 but fans can pre-register for tickets at

The championship game will be played in Tampa this year then move to Charlotte where it will be played for two years, starting with the Dec. 4, 2010 game.

In announcing retired bank executive Hugh McColl and former mayor Harvey Gantt as honorary co-chairmen for the game, local officials made it clear they're intent on making the ACC championship game a fixture in Charlotte.

"We want to make this the permanent home," Gantt said.

ACC commissioner John Swofford endorsed the idea.

"We're here for two years," Swofford said. "We would like nothing better than to be here for a lot longer."

-- Ron Green Jr.

Pack CB Smith's injury similar to Wilson's

N.C. State freshman cornerback Rashard Smith's knee injury is similar to the one quarterback Russell Wilson suffered in the Bowl last season, coach Tom O'Brien said today.

Smith, a starter who's out for the season, won't require surgery and has an estimated recovery period of 12 weeks that should have him ready for the start of spring practice, O'Brien said.
The injury leaves N.C. State scrambling again in the secondary during its open date.

"Certainly it's a setback for us," O'Brien said during Wednesday's ACC coaches' teleconference. "We finally, after starting six different secondary groups in seven games, thought we would be locked in here. That's part of the thing, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, that we have to work through now, is find out where we're going to go and what we're going to do in the secondary."

O'Brien said mental preparation this week will be important with the Wolfpack mired in a three-game losing streak.

"The mental part is big right now for this football team," O'Brien said. "We haven't had the same type of play for the last two weeks that we did the first five weeks. So that's something we have to get back as coaches and I have to get back, get them back flying around and doing things. We've had effort, but there doesn't seem to be a spark."

N.C. State's coaching staff is taking advantage of the open week with some extra work in recruiting. Assistant coaches spent a lot of time Monday and Tuesday recruiting and will work on recruiting Friday as well.

O'Brien said the staff is focused on current high school seniors.

"We're really excited about the direction of the recruiting and where it's going right now, but there's still some other guys, holes that we have to fill on this football team," he said. "A lot of times in this off week it becomes apparent, and you spend time on that aspect of it."

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pack defense loses frosh CB Smith

N.C. State’s struggling defense suffered a significant blow Tuesday with the announcement that freshman cornerback Rashard Smith is out for the season with a knee injury.

Smith had just bounced back from an ankle injury to return to the starting lineup on Saturday at Boston College. Coach Tom O’Brien had considered Smith to be part of the solution to N.C. State’s defensive problems.

But Smith injured his knee in the second quarter against the Eagles. He returned to the game and even spoke to reporters after the game, but tests done later revealed that his knee needs rest and rehabilitation.

The school also announced that defensive end Jeff Rieskamp will miss the remainder of the season. He underwent surgery for a sports hernia on Friday and has not played in a game this season because of the injury.

Rieskamp started two games last season as a redshirt freshman.

The injuries present an additional challenge to N.C. State as it attempts to correct problems on a defense that has given up a total of 131 points in the last three games – which all were losses to ACC opponents.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pack counting on freshman DB

It's too much to expect Rashard Smith to fix N.C. State's struggling secondary all by himself.

He's just a freshman, and he's the only new starter this week in a defensive backfield that gave up 459 passing yards to Duke's Thaddeus Lewis last week. But N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said this week that Smith is part of the long-range solution for the team's defense.

Smith caught the Wolfpack coaches' eyes immediately during preseason camp. In N.C. State's first scrimmage he returned an interception for a touchdown.

"A maturity level is what struck us coming into camp," O'Brien said. ". . .He has good skills, but he has great awareness out there. That's something that we've been lacking."

At Boston College on Saturday, Smith will move into the starting lineup at boundary cornerback. He had played as a reserve last week behind Justin Byers after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury.

Before the injury, Smith made a big impact. He had a big fourth-quarter punt return against South Carolina and started two games before getting hurt.

Now the Wolfpack is counting on him to slow the bleeding in a secondary that has given up a total of 820 passing yards in the last two games.

"There are kids that have vision and understand the game, and he's just one of them," O'Brien said. "He has confidence in himself to play the position. I don't think he's intimidated by anything, and that's one of the conversations we had after the South Carolina game. When the lights came on, he wasn't intimidated by anything."

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meineke Bowl extends deal with Big East

The Big East Conference will send a representative to Charlotte’s Meineke Car Care Bowl each season through 2013.

Bowl officials announced Wednesday morning the extension of their previous agreement with the Big East. Under terms of the agreement, the bowl will select third from among the bowl-eligible teams from the Big East.

Meineke Bowl officials also are negotiating with the ACC to continue their relationship with that conference, and an announcement regarding that arrangement is expected soon.

This year’s Meineke Bowl will match teams from the Big East and ACC at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 26 at Bank of America Stadium. The bowl’s formula has brought an average of 62,000 fans to Charlotte with three sellouts in seven years.

“The Big East has proven to be a great partner for the Meineke Car Care Bowl and we have enjoyed tremendous success together,” Meineke Bowl executive director Will Webb said in a statement.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Tar Heels having surgery today

UNC running backs A.J. Blue (North Gaston) and Jamal Womble are both scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday after suffering injuries in the Tar Heels' 42-12 win over Georgia Southern.

Blue, who has been used mainly as a "Wildcat" quarterback, injured his left knee in the fourth quarter. Womble, a reserve running back, fractured his right wrist covering the opening kickoff.

The status of each player will be updated after the surgery, according to a UNC release.

The Heels (4-2) have a bye week and don't play again until Thursday, Oct. 22.

-- J.P. Giglio

Monday, October 12, 2009

O'Brien discusses defense, penalties and more

In addition to addressing the Wolfpack's defensive woes, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien talked about special teams, Toney Baker, Nate Irving and penalties during his news conference Monday.

Here are excerpts:

On N.C. State's defense: "The problem we’ve had from the start is not being able to get people on the ground, poor tackling. That’s repetition that we continue to do at practice and then on the field, they have to get the guy down on the ground."

On the Wolfpack's special teams play against Duke: "We kickoff covered better. I think we punted the ball well. Obviously kickoff return got us a big one. We’ve still got to keep working on the punt return game because every time T.J. (Graham) gets the ball in his hands he’s a threat to go. We’ve got to keep working hard in those areas, but we made progress in those areas. That ball that hit (Justin) Byers, it’s a right-footed kicker that the ball went left and he’s running away and the ball went left and hits him right in the square of the back. That’s one where you think, ‘It’s not our night.’ But we were still fighting. We couldn’t get back in it at that point."

On running back Toney Baker: "He’s getting more and more confidence, and I think that’s a product of, he is having success. He’s worked extremely hard to get to where he is. He looks almost now like he’s the back he was in August 2007, running the football and powering through cuts and running away from people. Hopefully, knock on wood, he’s totally back to where he was."

On whether the defense is missing injured linebacker Nate Irving: "Missing Nate always was a major difficulty, but we knew from the start and we had to adjust and try to make plans to play without him. You can say what you want. We don’t have him, so we can’t worry about it. But it’s certainly a big loss."

On N.C. State's penalty-free performance: "I don’t know if I’ve ever had a game without a penalty. I’m taking it as a positive that we’re paying attention and getting things done. But then, nothing was called on Saturday night, so I don’t know if that was any good, one way or another."

O'Brien has faith in defensive plan, Archer

N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said Monday that he has “complete faith” in the Wolfpack’s defensive plan and defensive coordinator Mike Archer.

"He’s got the experience,” O’Brien said. “He’s been through situations like this before. The worst thing you can do is panic and the old, ‘Woe is me,’ and make wholesale changes. We have a plan. We’re confident in our plan. We have to recruit to the plan and get people to do things we want them to do.”

On Saturday, N.C. State’s defense was shredded by quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who went 40-for-50 for 459 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-28 win by Duke at Carter-Finley Stadium. The previous week, the Wolfpack gave up 361 passing yards to Riley Skinner in a 30-24 loss at Wake Forest.

O’Brien complimented both Skinner and Lewis on Monday, raving about their experience and poise as seniors who have been starting since they were freshmen. He said Lewis particularly deserves a lot of credit after what O’Brien said was the best performance he has ever seen by a quarterback.

But O’Brien said N.C. State’s players also aren’t making stops they need to make. On at least a few third-down plays, N.C. State was in position to force a punt or field goal attempt but failed.

The Blue Devils converted 13 of 19 third downs, and O’Brien cited the defense’s failure on the very first third down of the game as an example. On third-and-7, Lewis dumped a short pass to Austin Kelly, who eluded the defense and broke free for a 15-yard gain.

"Kids have got to make plays,” O’Brien said. “It’s not the scheme and it’s not the coaches. Right now we’ve got to make plays. No more great example than the first two third downs in the game where we’re in perfect position to make plays and don’t get the guy on the ground.”

N.C. State (3-3, 0-2 ACC) will try to end a two-game losing skid when it visits Boston College (4-2, 2-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Boston College’s quarterback, David Shinskie, is a 25-year-old freshman who joined the Eagles after spending seven years playing professional baseball.

In the third season since O’Brien left Boston College for N.C. State, the Eagles remain a power running team with a strong offensive line and have a talented sophomore running back in Montel Harris. O’Brien said Shinskie probably will be eager to take his shots against the N.C. State secondary.

Wolfpack free safety Clem Johnson is counting on it.

"We can expect them to attack where we’ve been struggling at the last couple weeks, and that’s been the secondary,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re going to focus on this week, getting better.”

N.C. State did make one personnel change in the secondary, reinstating freshman Rashard Smith as the starting boundary cornerback. Smith, who also started against Murray State and Gardner-Webb, missed two games because of injury before returning against Duke in a reserve role.

O’Brien said that leaves the secondary aligned the way he wants it, with Smith and junior DeAndre Morgan starting at cornerback while senior Johnson and Bobby Floyd play safety.

The Wolfpack lost one possible solution with Monday’s announcement that junior safety Javon Walker needs a third knee surgery and is giving up football. Walker made four productive starts in 2007 before suffering the injury that ended his career.

"He could have helped us a lot,” O’Brien said. “It’s tough for him, but he made the right choice.”

So if the current group can’t get the job done in the secondary, O’Brien said the Wolfpack’s problems will have to be addressed through recruiting and the young players in the program. N.C. State has three scholarship defensive backs – Jarvis Byrd, Dean Haynes and Donald Coleman – in line to redshirt as freshmen this fall.

"We’ve got some guys redshirted,” O’Brien said. “I’d rather not take them up this year. There’s eight freshmen, whether redshirt or true freshmen, in the secondary on this roster right now. So I think the future is bright. But the future is in Boston on Saturday.”

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Deacons' win puts them atop Atlantic Division

Wake Forest's 42-32 victory over Maryland Saturday night did more than allow quarterback Riley Skinner to become the school's all-time passing yardage leader.

It made the Deacons a serious factor in the Atlantic Division race.

At 4-2, 2-1, the Deacons now lead the Atlantic Division but, as Skinner said, "It's early. There's a lot of football to be played."

Still, the Deacons are an overtime fumble at Boston College away from being 3-0 and they're playing with obvious confidence.

Skinner has been outstanding since a tough start against Baylor. The defense is improving though it struggled to close out the game against Maryland with a big lead. There are no glaring weaknesses.

Now the Deacons face a trip to Clemson, where the Tigers will have had two weeks to prepare for the game. Clemson has been underwhelming this season but Skinner immediately recalled the 44-10 loss the Deacons suffered in their last visit to Death Valley.

If the Deacons beat Clemson, there's a non-conference game at Navy followed by Miami at home, at Georgia Tech, home to Florida State and at Duke.

It's about to get very interesting.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Deacons pound Maryland in first half

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner equalled his career high with three touchdown passes in the first half as the Deacons rolled to a 35-10 halftime lead against Maryland at BB&T Field.

The Deacons, who will move into first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division with a victory, have dominated the Terps, eating up yards in big chunks as they've moved up and down the field.

Skinner completed 14 of 17 first-half passes for 243 yards. His three incompletions included two intentionally incomplete passes and one dropped by a receiver.

Skinner became Wake Forest's all-time leader in passing yards, moving ahead of Brian Kuklick in the first quarter.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Duke cruising late

RALEIGH -- Duke hasn't won at N.C. State since 1984. The Blue Devils just needed to get Thad Lewis to Carter-Finley Stadium.

Lewis has accounted for six touchdowns and has the Blue Devils in front of N.C. State 42-28 with 7:17 left in the fourth quarter.

– J.P. Giglio, News & Observer

Where do Heels go from here?

CHAPEL HILL — Tailback Ryan Houston rumbled for three touchdowns. The defense snagged six turnovers. And North Carolina easily dispatched FCS foe Georgia Southern 42-12 at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

But the question now is: can the Tar Heels (4-2) build off that momentum – in the upcoming games that actually matter?

– Robbi Pickeral, News & Observer

Pulling away, Heels go with Hanson

CHAPEL HILL — Georgia Southern kicker Adrian Mora booted a 25-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut North Carolina's lead to 42-10. But with the game in hand, Tar Heels starting quarterback T.J. Yates has been replaced by back-up Braden Hanson.


North Carolina’s defense has been itching to force more turnovers. Already, it has four against Georgia Southern -- and a 42-7 lead at halftime. With 8:29 left in the first half, UNC linebacker Quan Sturdivant stripped Georgia Southern tailback Adam Urbano after a 1-yard run; Sturdivant returned it 49 yards for a touchdown to give the Tar Heels a 21-7 lead. It marked UNC’s first defensive touchdown of the season.

Less than a minute later, UNC linebacker Zach Brown snagged an interception, and Ryan Houston scored his second touchdown of the game, a 7-yarder (the longest of his career) to make it 28-7.

Then with 4:52 left in the half, linebacker Bruce Carter snagged and interception and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.

Houston scored his third touchdown with six seconds left, on a 1-yard run.
It marked the first time UNC has scored four touchdowns in a quarter since 2000.
– Robbi Pickeral, News & Observer

Heels take early lead

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina, which had managed only 56 rushing yards total its last two games, already has 51 – on its first drive alone. Tailback Ryan Houston rumbled in from 1 yard out to give the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead over Georgia Southern with 6:59 left in the first quarter.

It marks the first time this year UNC has scored on its opening possession.

Jonathan Cooper, who had played only one series since injuring his right ankle during Week 1, returned to the starting lineup at left guard.

– Robbi Pickeral

On to Alabama

Well, it wasn’t pretty, and it did look a lot like a trap game for awhile. But South Carolina held on for a 28-26 win over Kentucky.

USC should’ve had a more decisive win here. And I don’t mean by the statsheet, which was fairly even. Given Kentucky’s injury situation, and it’s struggles, it could’ve been worse.

But for whatever reason, the Gamecocks looked a step or two off today. They can’t play like that and stay on the field with Alabama, that’s for sure.

That said, they still reach the halfway point of their season 5-1.

Kenny MIles finished the day with 100 yards on 17 carries, including the decisive third-down run.
But the star was obviously Alshon Jeffery. That gave Nick Saban something extra to think about.

– Seth Emerson, The State

Kentucky keeps the pressure up

And then it was a two-point game.
Kentucky’s Randall Cobb runs his way downfield out of the Wildcat formation, finishing up with a 3-yard touchdown run on third down.

Then, needing the two-point conversion to tie the game, and with Cobb so successful on the drive,
Kentucky then put Will Fiddler, the backup quarterback, back into the game to attempt a throw.

Shock of shocks, it was unsuccessful. Cliff Matthews batted the pass away after getting into the backfield. USC now clings to a 28-26 lead with 4:34 left.

Cobb did most of the damage on the drive, mostly up the middle, the key play being a run down inside the 5. Cobb broke through the line of scrimmage with several Gamecocks failing to wrap him up.

On the scoring play, Kentucky Fiddler, the backup quarterback who played the previous play, to the left side to line up at receiver. While no one in the building believed Fiddler was going to get a pass, USC still had to line up a defender on him - one less guy to stack the box and spy Cobb.

The Gamecocks need at least a couple first downs here to feel safe. Kentucky has two timeouts left, and only needs a field goal to win.

– Seth Emerson, The State

USC gets some room

It feels like South Carolina is pulling away, but it’s still a one-score game. Well, a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

Stephen Garcia scores on a 1-yard keeper, a play after Kenny Miles ran up the gut for 21 yards. Those big rushing plays have finally been happening for the Gamecocks, which they didn’t in the first half.

There’s still 8:22 left, so plenty of time for Kentucky to make this interesting. But you get the sense that USC’s defense has corrected itself, and won’t let that happen.

By the way, they just announced the Tennessee-Georgia score, and after an initial show of surprise, they made clear they were pleased that Georgia was being whallopped.

And someone needs to let Lane Kiffin know that Alshon Jeffery has three touchdown catches.

– Seth Emerson, The State

Defense holds, barely

Well, South Carolina’s defense hasn’t folded up as much as it did at Georgia, which is why the Gamecocks still have the lead.

Kentucky is forced to punt, after initially calling timeout to go for it - then appearing to get it on a rush up the middle, only to have a false start called.

The subsequent punt went for … Oh my … five yards. Some of it was bad luck, as it bounced back about 10 yards, but it was pretty bad to begin with. USC takes over at its own 39.

Now South Carolina needs a drive to run some clock, and maybe just get back in control of the game.

The Kentucky offense has been playing solid, and has to be kicking itself for its blown chances - two red zone chances it had to settle for field goals, another fake field goal that was stopped.

Combine the fact that USC has two turnovers, and Kentucky has none, and the Gamecocks are probably lucky to be ahead by one. Now they have a chance to put the outcome less in doubt.

– Seth Emerson, The State

Down to one

Kentucky can’t capitalize fully on getting the ball at the South Carolina 15, and settles for Lones Seiber’s second field goal of the game.

So we’re back to where we should’ve been a few minutes ago: South Carolina leading 21-20 after a short Kentucky field goal.

The Wildcats actually went backward after recovering the Stephen Garcia fumble. They nearly had a touchdown on third down, but T.C. Drake, on a slant route down the middle, couldn’t quite haul in the pass from backup quarterback Will Fiddler.

Injury news for USC: Left tackle Jarriel King has a shoulder contussion and his status is, well, his status has been announced as “currently out of the game.” I guess we’ll have to find out later whether the injury was the reason he was pulled in the first place.

– Seth Emerson, The State


Stephen Garcia, and his team, now have their first multiple-turnover game of the season.

Garcia fumbled the ball away on a scramble to the sideline, with Kentucky stripping then recovering the ball just before it went out of bounds. The play was briefly reviewed.

The way Garcia reacted, he seemed to know the play would stand. He was clearly disgusted with himself. The Gamecocks had committed a maximum of one turnover in their previous five games.

Today, Garcia also threw a first-half interception.

The fumble was forced by … drum roll … Taylor Wyndham, the Swansea native whose claim to fame is giving Tim Tebow a concussion.

And the fumble was then recovered by … drum roll again … Calvin Harrison from Columbia,

Richland Northeast High School to be exact.

Kentucky starts out with prime field position at the Gamecock 15, and get their mulligan after the unsuccessful fake field goal.

– Seth Emerson, The State

USC snuffs it out

I thought it was a bit strange when Kentucky handed the ball off on third-and-long, already in field goal position. Well it turns out the Wildcats were just setting up a fake field goal attempt.

But when Randall Cobb, your best athlete, is your holder, the other team will ALWAYS be watching for the fake.

Sure enough Cobb took the snap and ran. Kentucky kicker Lones Seiber tried to sell the fake by kicking into the air, but the Gamecocks were already trained on Cobb.

C.C. Whitlock was there. So was Darian Stewart (his shoulder apparently healed after the stinger he suffered in the first half.) And Damario Jeffery was also around the play. Cobb got nowhere near the marker.

You can be sure that Shane Beamer and the staff had USC’s field goal defense unit ready for that all week.

– Seth Emerson, The State

Alshon, welcome to your close-up

So this Alshon Jeffery kid? Yeah, he’s good.

That’s three, count ‘em, THREE touchdowns for the freshman receiver. The last Gamecock to have three or more TDs in a game was … wait for it … Sidney Rice, in 2006, when he had five against Florida Atlantic.

Think we’ll hear more Jeffery-Rice comparisons after today?

Jeffery’s latest was a 22-yarder from Stephen Garcia, and allowed USC to pull back ahead, 21-17.

Garcia threw the ball while being rushed from the left side, a lob that stayed in the air forever. Jeffery was single-covered, and for awhile it looked like he wouldn’t be able to get to the ball. But the cornerback looked lost while the ball was in the air, while Jeffery had a bead on it, came back and grabbed it.

It wasn’t Jeffery’s first catch of the drive.

USC had an unusual formation on consecutive plays there. Four receivers on top of each other. The first time, Garcia hit Moe Brown out of the group and the result was a 3-yard gain.

Then the Gamecocks loaded the four on the other side, lining up Jeffery alone on the left – and Garcia hit Jeffery, who had another big gain.

That smelled like a setup, the first play almost a throwaway to lull the defense into not being ready for the throw to Jeffery. It’s almost a high school maneuver, but it worked.

– Sett Emerson, The State

Halftime thoughts

Well, at least the weather’s cooperating. The rain only fell a few minutes, and now it’s sunny on the north horizon.

Those of us who wrote “possible trap game” on Monday and by the end of the week were convinced it wouldn’t be are now wishing we’d stuck to our original theory.

What’s missing for USC? Well, the defense isn’t getting much pressure - no sacks, and Kentucky QB Mike Hartline is 9-for-13 for 139 yards.

Does the secondary miss Akeem Auguste? Kentucky is 6-for-11 on third downs.

Eric Norwood has a team-high seven tackles, but his name hasn’t been called for any extras - sacks, picks, big hits, etc. And we haven’t called Cliff Matthews’ number at all.

Offensively, USC’s running game isn’t a factor. The three-headed tailback combo has just 24 yards on eight carries, with the long being a 7-yard dash by Kenny Miles. Contrast that with previous weeks when Miles and Jarvis Giles were uncorking all those long runs.

The offensive line hasn’t been great, with Eric Wolford already making some in-game changes - and that was before starting left guard Heath Batchelor was beat for a sack late in the half.

Finally, Stephen Garcia hasn’t been at his best. There was the interception, but also a silly underhanded throw on the run to Brian Maddox that had Steve Spurrier livid.

If it weren’t for Alshon Jeffery and Chris Culliver, Kentucky would be running away with this right now.

Luckily for USC, it’s only a three-point game, and it’s still anybody’s to grab.

Seth Emerson, The State

Attendance announced

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

… at 68, 278.
That’s the lowest announced figure in 11 years, the final season of the Brad Scott era. The previous low came during the 1998 season, when 67,930 attended USC’s game against No. 17 Arkansas.
USC went 1-10 that year. This time around the Gamecocks are 4-1 and ranked No. 25.

O-line changes

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

Kyle Nunn has replaced Jarriel King at left tackle, and Quintin Richardson is in at right tackle for Hutch Eckerson.
The Richardson substitution may have to do with injury, as Eckerson was hurt on the previous drive. But King is healthy, holding his helmet on the sideline next to Eckerson.
Garrett Anderson is also in at center, but that’s part of an expected rotation with Lemuel Jeanpierre.
And don’t be surprised if there’s also a change at left guard: Heath Batchelor was just beat badly for a sack by Kentucky’s Corey Peters, ending USC’s chances for getting a late score before halftime.
Meanwhile, Brian Maddox and Kenny Miles are getting most of the tailback snaps, with Jarvis Giles taking a backseat for now.

Garcia's perfect streak ends

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

October 10th, 2009

Stephen Garcia should probably stick to throwing to Alshon Jeffery.
Garcia’s streak of passes without an interception ends at 124. He’s picked off by big Kentucky linebacker Sam Maxwell, when Garcia tried a pass up the middle … to someone other than Jeffery.
Garcia’s previous two passes were to the stud freshman, the first to convert a third-and-long, the next a 31-yarder to get into Kentucky territory.
We could start writing odes to Alshon Jeffery based on the first half alone. It’d be hard to do that in a loss, though, and while it’s still quite early, USC can’t be happy with the way things are going.
Right tackle Hutch Eckerson was hurt after the interception. He came off on his own power, but got help on the sideline.

USC's defense struggles

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

Apparently, USC’s defense is really great - which it’s been most of the time - or pretty bad - which it’s been so far today.

Kentucky takes the lead again, with Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb hooking up on a couple big passes.

The big play was a  55-yard catch and run by Cobb, who caught the pass in the flat, then cut through a hole and was off.

A few plays later, after a timeout, Hartline hit Cobb on an underneath route, a 10-yard touchdown play.

Give Kentucky this: They’re getting the ball to their best athlete, Cobb, precisely what Ole Miss did
NOT do two weeks ago with Dexter McCluster. Cobb has caught a couple passes, and has rushed the ball four times, twice on end-arounds.

Combine that with what’s been a steady, if not effective, running game, and USC’s defense has been on its heels. The Gamecocks had better be careful here. The offense could stand to have a long drive to give Ellis Johnson and co. a chance to regroup.

By the way, Chris Culliver isn’t even out there for the ensuing kickoff, despite his last two long returns. Bryce Sherman is the deep man.

Maybe USC figured that Kentucky wouldn’t even bother kicking to him, so they elected to keep Culliver with the defensive players as the coaches scream at them.

Alshon Jeffery … Wow

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

Well, ya think Alshon Jeffery is a big part of the offense now?

The freshman stud receiver caught his first career touchdown last week against S.C. State. It was a long time coming, and took a late throw from backup Reid McCollum to do so. It was remarked that it was a sign of the future.

Yeah, all the way into today, except now it’s starter Stephen Garcia doing the throwing - and Jeffery doing some stupendous catching.

Jeffery just made a highlight-reel, one-handed touchdown catch from 28 yards out. Jeffery never even got his left hand on it. He didn’t need to.

There was a reason Southern California, Tennessee and other national programs wanted this guy. (And I’m not sure I see pumping gas in Jeffery’s future if he has more games like this.)

It was Jeffery’s second touchdown of the game. And USC is now back ahead 14-10.

Long kick returns by Chris Culliver. Great catches from Alshon Jeffery. I’d say that’s a decent formula for South Carolina so far.

Back comes Kentucky (and Culliver)

Seth Emerson, Gamecocks live blogs 

The USC defense had an awful start to the second quarter. The end of the first quarter wasn’t so great, but the first 26 seconds of the second were disastrous.

First C.C. Whitlock was beaten badly, and Kentucky completed a 31-yard pass down to the USC 11.

Whitlock actually forced receiver Gene McCaskill out of bounds, but then stopped on the play - and McCaskill didn’t. He hardly broke stride, despite spending enough time on the sideline to shake hands with Steve Spurrier.

McCaskill made a diving catch at the 11. A play later, Derrick Locke scooted into the end zone to give Kentucky back the lead. USC star Eric Norwood was completely blocked out of the play.

Luckily for the Gamecocks, they still have Chris Culliver, and Kentucky still can’t tackle him on kickoffs. We count four missed tackles as Culliver returns the ball 49 yards to the Kentucky 39.

That gives Culliver 130 yards on three returns today, including 110 on the past two alone.

Friday, October 9, 2009

O'Brien needs a win more than Cutcliffe

Coaches Tom O'Brien of N.C. State and David Cutcliffe of Duke go back a long way.

On Jan. 1, 1991, Virginia met Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Virginia is struggling so badly that it seems incredible that the Cavaliers ever played in the Sugar Bowl, but it happened that day in New Orleans, with Tennessee winning, 23-22.

George Welsh was coaching Virginia, and his friend Johnny Majors was coaching Tennessee. Before the bowl game, they and their staffs spent some time together discussing strategies and sharing ideas.

Two young assistants got to know each other during that trip. O'Brien was coaching guards and centers for Virginia, and Cutcliffe was in charge of the quarterbacks for Tennessee.

When Cutcliffe was asked recently about some of O'Brien's philosophies on building an offensive line, he praised O'Brien's aptitude in that area. On Thursday night, O'Brien said he still didn't understand why Mississippi fired Cutcliffe after his sixth season there in 2004.

"I don't know how you get rid of a guy who's the SEC coach of the year one year. . .and then he's gone (after the next season)," O'Brien said. "He's sound. He does a great job, and he's got Duke headed in the right direction.

As former assistants on the offensive side of the ball, O'Brien and Cutcliffe operate their schemes quite differently. Cutcliffe goes no huddle and often calls plays after the team gets to the line of scrimmage.

O'Brien is more conventional and uses the tight end position a lot more. It's clear that the coaches respect each other, but O'Brien has more on the line this week.

Rival North Carolina's collapse over the last two weeks has spared O'Brien some fan angst over the Wolfpack's third straight slow start. N.C. State fans are so happy to see North Carolina struggling that it's eased their frustration over seeing the Wolfpack lose two of the first three games they've played against FBS opponents.

Losing at home to Duke - even an improved Duke team with a highly respected coach - would considerably increase fan dissatisfaction with O'Brien. If Cutcliffe can engineer a win Saturday, it will be a hard jab to the gut of the tough Marine veteran who's coaching the Wolfpack.

Ken Tysiac

Carter-Finley 'looks great' after U2 concert

At 7:30 this morning, N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler was eagerly inspecting the turf at Carter-Finley Stadium.

After last week's U2 show, concert promoter Live Nation paid for new sod to be laid Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's 4 p.m. Wolfpack game against Duke. Fowler was nervous about the procedure last week, but liked what he saw this morning.

"It's a rather amazing process, and nobody's happier than I am that it looks great," Fowler said. "So it will be fine after they cut it and paint it. I think it will be hard to tell that there's anything different from two weeks ago (before the concert)."

The grass was scheduled to be cut and painted this morning. Fowler said turf specialists used a special machine to pull the sections of sod together to eliminate the seams.

He said he can see the spots where the sections meet, but said they're pulled together firmly.

"It's going to be a fast track," Fowler said.

-- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pack CB Smith questionable for Duke

N.C. State freshman cornerback Rashard Smith has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday's game with Duke, according to the team injury report released Thursday evening.

Smith has missed the Wolfpack's last two games with an ankle injury. He had started the previous two games, against Murray State and Gardner-Webb, before injuring the ankle.

Ken Tysiac

Fowler encouraged by post-U2 turf at N.C. State

At 7:30 this morning, N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler was eagerly inspecting the turf at Carter-Finley Stadium.

After last week's U2 show, concert promoter Live Nation paid for new sod to be laid Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's 4 p.m. Wolfpack game against Duke. Fowler was nervous about the procedure last week, but liked what he saw this morning.

"It's a rather amazing process, and nobody's happier than I am that it looks great," Fowler said. "So it will be fine after they cut it and paint it. I think it will be hard to tell that there's anything different from two weeks ago (before the concert)."

The grass was scheduled to be cut and painted this morning. Fowler said turf specialists used a special machine to pull the sections of sod together to eliminate the seams.

He said he can see the spots where the sections meet, but said they're pulled together firmly.

"It's going to be a fast track," Fowler said.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ACC elevates Champs; may cut Gator Bowl tie

The Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando has been elevated to the number three spot in the ACC's contracted bowl selection order for 2010 through 2013, conference officials announced Wednesday.

That position behind the BCS/Orange Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl previously had been occupied by the Gator Bowl, whose longstanding relationship with the ACC is in jeopardy.

ACC associate commissioner for football operations Michael Kelly said it appears now that the Gator Bowl won't have a contracted tie with the ACC. Kelly said ACC officials had rejected a proposal by Gator Bowl officials to eliminate the "one-win rule" from the conference's bowl selection process.

That rule states that when a bowl selects its ACC representative, it must choose a team with a conference record that's within one win of the team with the best available ACC record.

In other words, if a team with a 5-3 conference record was available to a bowl, it can select a team with a 4-4 record, but not a team that's 3-5 in the ACC. Kelly said Gator Bowl officials wanted to the freedom to select any bowl-eligible ACC team.

"That requirement was something we weren't prepared to live with," Kelly said.

Efforts to reach Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett for comment were unsuccessful. The bowl has had an agreement to take a team from the ACC since 1995.

Bowl executives in general like to have flexibility to select teams that might sell more tickets instead of teams with stronger won-loss records but fewer or less passionate fans.

Kelly said that with the third slot resolved, the ACC will begin working on the rest of the bowl selection order for 2010 to 2013. That is expected to include Charlotte's Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Meineke Bowl executive director Will Webb said the bowl is in talks with the ACC and looks forward to getting those negotiations finished.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

O'Brien still drilling Wilson on pocket passing

During his weekly coach’s television show, N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien saw Russell Wilson step forward in the pocket, find a running lane and sprint forward for a 9-yard gain to Wake Forest’s 4-yard line.

On the show, O’Brien said Wilson needs to do that more often. He didn’t mean necessarily running the ball – N.C. State’s staff has been pleased with the way Wilson has looked to get the ball to his receivers this season.

Wilson’s tendency when he feels pressure is to retreat back from the pocket, sprint to the side away from the pressure and throw on the run or scramble for yards.

"He’s got to step up in the pocket a little more,” O’Brien said during his weekly news conference Monday. “There’s been holes up inside, and he’s been going out, back and around. Now he was able to do it with Pittsburgh and he was able to do it at Wake Forest. He wasn’t able to do it with South Carolina. So you have to do it right all the time."

Wilson said stepping up into the pocket might help him see downfield better.

"I’ve just got to keep getting better at it and focusing on it,” Wilson said. “I feel like I hang in there as long as I can for the most part. I feel like there are definitely times I can hang in there a little bit longer."

This work on a basic fundamental of quarterbacking gives a glimpse of the disconnection between how coaches and fans can view a player. After Wilson passed for 322 yards and ran for 91 against Pittsburgh, one fan sent an e-mail to a Charlotte Observer reporter saying Wilson had played a nearly perfect game.

Although the performance was good enough to earn Wilson ACC offensive back of the week honors, N.C. State’s coaches didn’t grade him above 90 percent.

Even though Wilson was voted first-team All-ACC last season as a redshirt freshman, O’Brien had a lot of things he needed Wilson to work on. Although Wilson’s numbers sometimes make him seem like Superman, O’Brien sees that he can get better.

O’Brien admired the way Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner stepped up in the pocket last week. He was sacked six times, but he found enough throwing lanes to pass for 361 yards.

"Those are some of the things that we have to work with him on, and he’s still a young kid,” O’Brien said. “You look at 40-plus starts for Riley Skinner compared to what, 12 or 15 (actually 16) for Russell, there’s a big disparity in maturity level there."

・Wilson, who usually is guarded and unfailingly positive during interviews, appeared to slip up for just a moment Tuesday during his weekly news conference.

He was talking about how Duke was the only ACC school other than N.C. State that offered him a scholarship. He said Duke is “a great school.”

He said he thought when he was in high school that he could change the atmosphere at Duke if he accepted that scholarship.

"It’s a basketball school, to be honest with you,” Wilson said.

Could it be that Wilson was providing bulletin board material to this week’s opponent?


But they’ve got a great football program, now,” he continued. “. . .I liked their academics and stuff, their beautiful campus and everything like that, and the future I would have if I went there. But at the same time, there’s something about N.C. State. I just loved the atmosphere here."

Ken Tysiac

Monday, October 5, 2009

N.C. State shuffles secondary

N.C. State has made major changes to its starting lineup in the secondary after giving up 361 passing yards to Wake Forest and quarterback Riley Skinner in a 30-24 loss Saturday.

The Wolfpack is turning to experience in an attempt to eliminate mistakes at the safety positions. Senior Clem Johnson is replacing freshman Brandan Bishop at free safety. Senior Bobby Floyd is taking over for redshirt freshman Earl Wolff at boundary safety as N.C. State prepares to play host to Duke at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"The freshmen, they were overwhelmed a little bit by the scope of the game come Saturday," coach Tom O'Brien said. "Even though they are very athletic and probably good prospects down the road, I figure we'd better settle down and go with a little more experience this week."

O'Brien also made a change at boundary cornerback, where sophomore Justin Byers is scheduled to start ahead of senior Koyal George. Byers was recruited as a cornerback out of Vance High and is more suited to that position, but started eight games at safety last season because N.C. State was thin at that position.

Field cornerback is the only position in the secondary where a starter from last week is listed atop N.C. State's depth chart. But junior DeAndre Morgan has company at that position, where he's listed as a possible starter along with redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson.

N.C. State also moved redshirt freshman Terrell Manning ahead of Dwayne Maddox at boundary linebacker.

"He has natural recognition skills in there," O'Brien said. "I think he's starting to play a lot faster because he's starting to feel a little more comfortable. In our terminology, he plays downhill. He attacks the line of scrimmage well."

Ken Tysiac

N.C. State at BC gets 3:30 kickoff

N.C. State's Oct. 17 football game at Boston College will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ABC, the ACC announced Monday.

Wake Forest at Clemson will begin at noon in a Raycom Sports broadcast.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Adams, Wake Forest hurdle N.C. State

WINSTON-SALEM – With one final chance to get the ball back, N.C. State couldn’t stop the guy who grew up near its campus.

Four tacklers had a shot at stopping Wake Forest running back Josh Adams of Cary before he plowed forward for the first down that clinched a 30-24 win for the Deacons on Saturday at BB&T Field.

After Adams caught a flare pass, cornerback DeAndre Morgan hit him square and hard, about 7 yards short of the first-down marker. Adams shook his way free of Morgan, then Alan-Michael Cash and two other would-be N.C. State tacklers.

Adams’ 10-yard gain for a first down allowed the Deacons (3-2, 1-1 ACC) to run out the clock.

"Once I got stopped, I was like, I can’t afford to be stopped by this one man,” Adams said. “I just kept my head down and kept my feet moving.”

The missed tackles were the final, decisive error in a mistake-filled game for the Wolfpack. N.C. State (3-2, 0-1) committed three turnovers.

Seven first-half penalties on N.C. State gave Wake Forest 80 yards. Russell Wilson’s Football Bowl Subdivision-record streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended at 379 as Josh Bush and Kenny Okoro intercepted him.

Still, the Wolfpack had a chance to get the ball back and win until Adams refused to be tackled.

"We’ve just got to make a tackle there at the end of the game,” said N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien. “Call a timeout, you get the ball back and take four more shots at it every time. We didn’t make the tackle. That kid wanted it more than we did.”

N.C. State would have liked to get the ball back for Wilson, who passed for 275 yards and two scores, and rushed for 41 yards and another touchdown. But Wilson had his chance.

He’d picked on redshirt freshman cornerback Okoro for most of the game and had Donald Bowens open on a post route on first-and-10 from the Wake Forest 29-yard line. But Wilson’s throw sailed over Bowens, allowing Okoro to hustle back and pluck the ball out of the air in the end zone.

"I don’t really know (what happened), to be honest with you,” Wilson said. “I got hit. I tried to give him a chance, and we didn’t come up with it. So it’s all right.”

Wake Forest senior quarterback Riley Skinner outdueled Wilson, throwing for 361 yards and three touchdowns despite intense pressure from the Wolfpack’s overwhelming defensive front. Willie Young sacked Skinner three times, causing a fumble on the second play from scrimmage that led to the game’s first touchdown.

Cash added two of N.C. State’s six sacks. But on third-and-23 from the Wolfpack 25 in the fourth quarter, Skinner zinged a scoring pass to Chris Givens on a post route to extend the Wake Forest lead to 27-17.

After Wilson couldn’t match Skinner late, the Wolfpack lost in Winston-Salem for the fourth straight time. Senior running back Toney Baker – who lost a fumble in the second quarter - called the loss “devastating” because of N.C. State’s mistakes.

O’Brien, who’d called the Wolfpack a “bad” football team the week before because of mistakes in a come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh, was disappointed again.

"We continue to self destruct,” O’Brien said. “We have to (correct) that on the practice field. We’ve got to do that with coaching. And some guys have to grow up, too. Some of it’s youth, and that’s no excuse. But they’d better grow up. Fast. Or we’ll have a long season.”

Wake Forest, which was coming off a devastating loss of its own, was facing a long season until Adams caught the ball and made sure he reached the first down marker. The Deacons had lost in overtime at Boston College the previous week.

Winning helped them avoid an 0-2 ACC start and gave Adams a reason to stand tall when he returns to his hometown.

"I think that’s self-explanatory,” Adams said. “I don’t have to talk too much about that, because I’m from that area. It means a lot to beat these guys, of course, for our team, overall.”

Ken Tysiac

Skinner leads Wake past Pack, 30-24

WINSTON-SALEM - Riley Skinner threw three touchdown passes – two to wideout Marshall Williams – as Wake Forest edged N.C. State 30-24 on Saturday at BB&T Field.

Wake Forest cornerback Kenny Okoro intercepted N.C. State’s Russell Wilson in the end zone with 2:02 remaining to preserve the lead.

N.C. State had a chance to get the ball back, but running back Josh Adams broke four tackle attempts on third down before to get the Deacons a new set of down and allow Wake Forest to run out the clock.

Skinner finished the day 31-for-45 for 361 yards and three touchdowns with a pair of interceptions.

The teams combined for five turnovers in a sloppy first half that ended with Wake Forest ahead 13-10. N.C. State committed seven penalties for 80 yards in the first half, including personal fouls on Natanu Mageo and J.R. Sweezy that led to a Deacons’ go-ahead field goal with 16 seconds remaining in the half.

Wake Forest stretched that lead to 20-10 on an 11-yard pass from Skinner to Williams.

Wilson’s Football Bowl Subdivision-record streak of passes without an interception ended at 379 in the second quarter. Cornerback Josh Bush intercepted Wilson when he threw deep into double coverage with the Wolfpack facing first-and-35.

Wilson hadn’t been intercepted since a game at Clemson on Sept. 13, 2008. He was 20-for-43 for 275 yards with two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown, but threw two interceptions.

With three touchdown passes, Skinner broke the Wake Forest school record of 45 career scoring passes.

The Deacons improved to 3-2, 1-1 in the ACC. N.C. State (3-2) lost its ACC opener.

-- Ken Tysiac

Wake picks off Pack with 2:02 left, up 6

Wake Forest cornerback Kenny Okoro intercepted Russell Wilson in the end zone with 2:02 remaining in the 4th quarter.

Wake leads 30-24.

N.C. State has three timeouts left.

Wake up 6 after Pack goal-line stand

A goal-line stand by NCSU has set up an interesting finish at Wake Forest.

After facing first-and-goal from its 1, the Pack held Wake Forest to a 20-yard field goal by Jimmy Newman with 4:44 left 4Q. Wake leads 30-24.

-- Ken Tysiac

Penalty leads to Pack TD

A personal foul on Wake's Boo Williams after a third-down incompletion gave NCSU new life.

On the next play, Russell Wilson passed 5 yards to Toney Baker for a TD. Wake 27, NCSU 24.

-- Ken Tysiac

Skinner strikes for Wake

Riley Skinner made the best of a bad situation with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chris Givens with 10:05 left 4Q to stretch Wake Forest's lead over NCSU to 27-17.

The scoring pass came on third-and-23. Skinner has 45 career touchdown passes, a school record.

-- Ken Tysiac

At end of 3, Wake leads N.C. State, 20-17

A pair of Riley Skinner touchdown passes to Marshall Williams have Wake Forest ahead of NCSU 20-17 at the end of the third quarter.

The Pack has sacked Skinner six times.

-- Ken Tysiac

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pack vs. Wake: In their own words

Tom O'Brien explains the direction of N.C. State's offense and Leroy Burgess talks about facing Wake Forest's defense in some of the best quotes from this week.

N.C. State visits Wake Forest at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and these quotes were worth sharing before deleting the files to clear memory space on the digital recorder:

"I just put the ball where I think guys can go get it. And I just hope they get it, pretty much." - Quarterback Russell Wilson on the catch Jamelle Eugene made to steal an interception away from a Pittsburgh defender last week.

"I think I got two (blindside hits) before it woke me up a little bit. . . .It was my first year coming in playing, and I was a little antsy, I guess you could say a little juiced up, not reading my keys and wanting to make a play." - Defensive tackle Leroy Burgess, on facing Wake Forest's complicated misdirection plays last year.

"I would consider it an advantage (having played the first four games at home). We know how we’re going to play at home. We’re 3-1 now. The crowd’s backing us up good. There’s a buzz about us. Us playing at home gave us, we kind of came together and there wasn’t as much pressure playing at home as playing on the road." - Tight end George Bryan

"We have to play the way we play. Right now we're a little more of a throwing football team than we've been in the past. We're more of a spread the field to get guys on the field. . . .One of the strengths of our offense is the quarterback and the wide receivers, so we have to keep them involved in the game. You look at coming in we weren't sure what we had in Toney Baker and (Jamelle) Eugene's missed a couple games cause of injury so we've been a little banged up there. The more the backs get healthy and the more we get a little better up front, we are improving a little bit on the offensive line, we finally got it back intact this game, maybe we'll be able to start running the ball a little more." - Coach Tom O'Brien on N.C. State's offense

"He’s a good guy first and foremost. But he’s a tough, hard-nosed football coach. He’s a guy that gets his kids to play every Saturday. It’s a no non-sense approach. They block and tackle. There’s not a lot of frills involved. He’s just a good fundamental football coach. His record proves he’s an awful good football coach. - Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe on Tom O'Brien

UNC begins sales phase for Kenan expansion

North Carolina football spokesman Kevin Best was in the Kenan Football Center suites last week beyond the west end zone at the stadium, explaining that players use them for study periods during the week because the school's student academic enrichment center is so cramped.

School officials are determined to solve that space problem, announcing Friday that the public sales phase for the planned Student-Athlete Center for Excellence - and more suites and club seats - will begin Saturday.

Located just beyond the east end zone at Kenan Stadium, the expansion is scheduled to include:

・The academic support center for athletes.

・The Carolina Leadership Academy.

・A strength and conditioning center for the school's Olympic sports program.

・Locker rooms for visiting teams.

・Club seats and individual suites for football games.

Though the premium seats are the last item listed in the school's news release, they are a vital part of the project. Plans call for sales of the club seats and suites to pay for most of the project even though they account for less than half its cost, according to the school.

The project is expected to cost $70 million to $85 million. The Board of Trustees and university administration must approve the project after the necessary private funding is secured.

"Kenan Stadium is a campus treasure, but it was built more than 80 years ago and we have been studying plans for the last decade to modernize the facility, improve the fan experience and provide better academic support for our student-athletes," North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said in a statement.

Baddour said the revenue from club seats and suites will help the school fund the athletic program over the next 30 years.

The academic center will measure 30,000 square feet and will triple the size of the one that opened 23 years ago.

"We are in need of a bigger facility to provide academic counseling, support and programming," said John Blanchard, senior associate director of athletics for student-athlete services.

Beyond the east end zone, the school plans to build 1,986 club seats a few feet from the field, 924 on the fourth floor and a total of 320 seats in 20 suites on the fifth floor.

The project will add 3,230 seats to the stadium's capacity.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pack's Spencer cleared for Wake Forest

N.C. State starting wide receiver Owen Spencer has been medically cleared for Saturday's game with Wake Forest, according to the injury report released Thursday evening by the school.

Spencer suffered a concussion on Sept. 19 against Gardner-Webb and missed last week's game against Pittsburgh as a result.

Ryan Cheek, a reserve offensive lineman, also has been cleared. He returns from a hip injury.

Ken Tysiac