NC State junior kicker Niklas Sade has received much of the praise given to the Wolfpack special teams units, and deservedly so. He's one of 20 national semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award and currently leads the country with an average of 2.1 field goals per game.
The third-year starter also ranks second in the ACC with an average of 8.7 points per contest and is just one field goal shy of tying Josh Czajkowski and Marc Primanti, the 1996 Groza Award winner, for the school record with 20 successful tries on the year.
However, he has not been the only special teams standout for the Pack. Classmate Wil Baumann is also enjoying his finest campaign in Raleigh. On the year, he has punted 50 times with 16 dropped inside the 20 and an average of 41.2 yards per attempt. 15 of his kicks have been fair caught, while opponents have returned 19 punts for a total of just 105 yards, an average of 5.5 yards per runback.
The Wilmington native shined especially bright last weekend against Duke's Jamison Crowder, who even after getting bottled up by the Pack still ranks ninth nationally with an average of 14.4 yards per return. Crowder, who also has the fourth-most punt return yards in the land with 302, returned four kicks for a total of five yards against State.
"We challenged Wil last week because of how good their returner was and really made a focus on hangtime and the direction of where our coverage would be," head coach Dave Doeren said after practice Thursday. "He answered the call. He had one shank that hurt our field position, but other than that, he punted terrific in that game. He's got the ability, without a doubt, to be a top-notch punter. Now it's just putting together consistent performances, week-in and week-out, like he did last week."
The Pack has also gotten a boost from its punt return game this year. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Rashard Smith has become one of the most dangerous return men in school history, and now has three punt returns for scores after he returned one for 73 yards against Duke.
The former cornerback leads the ACC with an average of 17.3 yards per return, while his two punt return touchdowns are tied with seven other players for the most in the nation this year. The most impressive part has to be that Smith has recorded his 225 punt returns yards on just nine attempts this year.
"Sometimes it's hard back there because you don't get a chance, but he's made the most of his opportunities," Doeren noted. "It's a spark for us, obviously. Our guys that are on punt return are excited when the ball is punted because they know he's behind them."
- Injury report: NC State fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell and freshman wide receiver Bra'Lon Cherry are both questionable, and fifth-year senior defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson is out for Boston College game Saturday.
Mitchell suffered his undisclosed injury against Duke, and it hasn't responded as hoped this week. Redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas would get the start if Mitchell can't play.
- On fifth-year senior tight end Asa Watson: "[He gives] tremendous leadership; he's our spiritual leader, as well. He leads our bible study with Al Byrd, our FCA chaplin. He just has a voice of reason. I think he's mature beyond his years and I have a lot of respect for the way he handles himself.
"He's willing to help anybody. Last week, [redshirt sophomore defensive tackle] Carlos Gray - who is maybe as different a guy off-the-field from Asa as there could be - had a shooting in his family. Asa was the first player to go over and hug him, console him and tell him he's going to pray for him. I think he's an A-plus human being and if anybody on the team needs help, that's what he's going to do for him."
- Update on Gray's brother: "He's in intensive care. I know that he had internal bleeding and I think it's been stopped. Last I talked to Carlos, [his brother] was sleeping a lot and fighting, but it was a pretty severe injury."
Doeren noted on his Wednesday teleconference that Gray was back with the team after spending time with his brother, and he is expected to play this weekend. Fellow defensive lineman Forrest West is also expected back on Saturday after missing last week with an injury.
- On the Boston College defense: "They do a lot. They're a high-pressure defense. I guess if you look at some of the things we've seen throughout the year, they do a little bit of all of it. They have really tall, strong defensive ends. No. 24, their senior linebacker [Kevin Pierre-Louis], is active and he's a great pass rusher. They use him as a blitzer and a third-down rush guy. They're just where they are supposed to be, even when they're taking chances - their secondary understands the leverages of their coverages. Statistically, they don't impress you, but they do with how hard they play. They play extremely hard on defense."
- On BC star receiver Alex Amidon: "When you can run the football, you usually have single coverage outside...that's how we were at Wisconsin - we could run and nobody could play double-team coverage or over-under coverage, they always had to play one-on-one with our guys. It makes even not a great player look great because he's always one-on-one; a lot of times it's like cover zero out there. [Amidon] has done a tremendous job of taking the opportunities, he runs good routes and plays hard; the quarterback looks for him on third down because he's a focal point of their offense."
- On what he expects from the atmosphere at BC: "It's senior day there and with them playing for a bowl game, I would expect they have some pretty good juice. It's my first game there, so I don't really know what to compare it to. I've talked to several people that have been there before and I know that they'll have good energy and their players will be ready with their families there watching them."