By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Tom O'Brien's third season at the helm in Raleigh was certainly one to forget, as the Wolfpack struggled to a 5-7 overall mark, including a 2-6 record in ACC play, good for just fifth place in the Atlantic Division.
The Wolfpack were hampered by injuries before the season and during the
campaign that handcuffed this team in terms of star power and depth. That
resulted in several narrow losses, including three by six points or less.
The 2009 season began with a defensive struggle with SEC foe South Carolina,
but the 7-3 loss was the only setback in the month of September for NC State.
Victories over Murray State (65-7), Gardner-Webb (45-14) and Pittsburgh
(38-31) would close out a highly successful non-conference schedule and
provide the team with a bit of hope. However, ACC play would present a new set
of challenges, as the Wolfpack found themselves buried in the standings losing
all four of their October games, including a humbling 49-28 blasting at the
hands of Duke. Conference wins over the likes of Maryland (38-31) and North
Carolina (28-27) were sandwiched around lopsided losses to Clemson (43-23) and
Virginia Tech (38-10) and provided little consolation on an otherwise dreadful
OFFENSE: The Wolfpack had some offensive struggles at times in 2009, but
overall were productive on that side of the football, averaging just over 30
points per game, with an emphasis on the pass (272.9 ypg). Similar results
are likely in 2010, thanks to the return of standout signal-caller Russell
Wilson, who despite flirting with a professional baseball career, has decided
to stick it out as the Wolfpack's top gunslinger. Wilson completed nearly 60
percent of his passes a year ago, for 3,027 yards and 31 TDs, so there is
plenty of optimism surrounding the passing game this season. He will have the
luxury of a trio of outstanding pass catchers in big targets Jarvis Williams
(45 receptions, 547 yards, 11 TDs) and Owen Spencer (30 receptions, for 765
yards, six TDs) at wide receiver and All-American candidate George Bryan (40
receptions, for 422 yards, six TDs) at tight end.
Unfortunately, the same depth cannot be found in the backfield, as O'Brien
must find someone to assuage the loss of tailbacks Toney Baker and Jamelle
Eugene. Junior Curtis Underwood (5-11, 220) could be just the answer. The
talented rusher was redshirted a year ago.
The offensive line will need to gel in a hurry to keep Wilson standing, as the
unit returns just two starters in senior tackle Jake Vermiglio (6-5, 325) and
sophomore guard R.J. Mattes (6-6, 303). However, Mattes is still recovering
from a knee injury and may not be 100-percent to start the year. After
allowing 32 sacks a year ago, fresh faces may be just what is needed up front.
The team is extremely high on freshman Rob Crisp (6-8, 300), but it remains to
be seen just how much action the talented youngster will get in 2010.
DEFENSE: The defense took a huge hit last year prior to the season with the
loss of standout LB Nate Irving to a car accident. Missing players and
inconsistent play overall resulted in NC State allowing a generous 31.2 ppg,
despite holding foes to a decent 361.2 yards of total offense. The defense
returns five starters, with one of them being Irving, who tallied 80 tackles
and four INTs in 2008. Joining Irving in the middle are fellow LBs Audie Cole
(team-high 85 tackles, four TFLs, four sacks in 2009) and Dwayne Maddox (54
tackles, three TFLs). Two of the four starters return to the secondary in
sophomores C.J. Wilson (21 tackles) and Brandan Bishop (41 tackles). The
defensive line will be revamped in 2010, with likely leaders being DE Jeff
Rieskamp and DT Markus Kuhn, both of which missed last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The placekicking duties will once again fall to a steady
performer in senior Josh Czajkowski, who has converted almost 84 percent of
his career attempts, including 10-of-12 last season, with a long of 48 yards.
Jeff Ruiz has graduated, but was asked to return this season as the punter, as
the player scheduled to take over the duties was suspended in the spring and
could miss the 2010 campaign. Ruiz averaged 38 yards on 46 punts last year.
The return game is in fine shape with T.J. Graham, who is as explosive a
return man as there is in the ACC.
OUTLOOK: Avoiding a rash of injuries is a must if O'Brien is to finally turn
this thing around in Raleigh.
"We have had more than our share of injuries the last couple of years. This is
the healthiest our team has been since I have been here. We will have more
depth this year than we have ever had. So the players are anxious to get
started and prove they are capable of competing at the highest levels."
The non-conference slate is inviting with Western Carolina, UCF, Cincinnati
and East Carolina, thanks in part to new head coaches with the Bearcats and
Pirates. Taking three of those four games could propel NC State to a winning
season, if the team can find consistency in-conference. That is easier said
than done however. The home slate in ACC play is brutal, with Virginia Tech,
Boston College, Florida State and Wake Forest all coming to Raleigh. The road
will tell the tale for the Wolfpack, as trips to Georgia Tech, Clemson, North
Carolina and Maryland are must wins.
Wilson will once again be a factor week-in and week-out for NC State. Just how
well those around him play will be the difference in a winning or losing
"We have to win," O'Brien said. "Winning shows progress. That's what we
haven't been able to do so far. We have to have a winning season and go to a
bowl game. We have to be able to get over that hump."