NC State is halfway through their season. Last year at this point, the Pack was 1-5. This year they are one game better at 2-4. However, in 2007 they ended strong by going on a four-game winning streak and finishing 5-7. Only time will tell if they can replicate that success in 2008, but here are a few of the things NC State fans learned in the first half of the year.
Most Important Offensive Player
That would be a healthy Russell Wilson. After getting a full game under his belt against Clemson, where he was clearly getting more comfortable as the game unfolded, Wilson has been providing the type of play that NC State has not seen much of from the quarterback position in the post-Philip Rivers era. He has completed 40 of 64 passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns without an interception and also ran for a pair of scores in his last two starts. Unfortunately for NC State, Wilson has only played 13 full quarters this year.
Take out the Boston College game where he was not a part of the game plan, senior running back Andre Brown stepped up during the first half of the year. He is arguably NC State's only playmaker to have stayed healthy in a season marred by injuries. Although his overall numbers are a modest 76 carries for 325 yards and three scores and 13 catches for 177 yards and another touchdown, he has stayed healthy and played his role well in the offense.
Future Offensive Star
Redshirt freshman tight end George Bryan was not even on the two-deep depth chart when the season started. However injuries to fifth-year senior Anthony Hill and redshirt junior Matt Kushner forced Bryan into the lineup, and he responded in a big way. He caught 15 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first six contests, and is State's second-leading receiver. At the rate he is going he could contend for freshman All-American honors.
Most Important Defensive Player
All you have to do is look at the two games that NC State played without redshirt sophomore linebacker Nate Irving. NC State gave up a total of 79 points against South Florida and Boston College and nearly 1,100 yards of total offense. Clearly the defense suffered without its best player.
Honorable mention goes to redshirt junior defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash, whose absence since the Clemson game has also been noticeable.
Irving was playing as well as any linebacker in the ACC before he suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the East Carolina game. In 3.5 contests, Irving had 33 tackles, including five for losses of 14 yards, three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, broke up a pair of passes and recovered a fumble. His disruption in the passing game has really been missed by NC State in the last two games.
Future Defensive Star
Before the season, defensive line coach Keith Willis told The Wolfpacker how excited he was about redshirt freshman defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. During the first half of the season, Rieskamp showed flashes that justified Willis' high expectations. He played as a reserve in five of the first six contests, missing one game with a shoulder injury, and had eight tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and a quarterback hurry.
Special Teams Analysis
All said special teams has developed solidly for NC State. Freshman receiver T.J. Graham is quickly developing into one of the top kickoff returners in the conference, busting one against Boston College 100 yards for a touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Josh Czajkowski has settled in nicely in the place kicking duties after a shaky performance at Clemson, and so far this year has made 6 of 8 attempts with a long of 41.
Senior Bradley Pierson has also improved from last season with punting, averaging a respectable 40.8 yards per punt with a net of 37.4.
Three Keys To A Successful Second Half
1. Get Irving and Cash back and stay healthy as a team
2. Dominate the turnover margin
3. Dominate on special teams