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October 18, 2010

Midseason report: Offense

There's not a lot to dislike about the offense. It has been prolific as expected entering the season. Through Oct. 18 State ties Virginia Tech for the lead in the ACC in scoring offense with 36.0 points per game and leads the conference in total offense with 448.9 yards per game and passing offense with 312.6 per game.

The offense will always start with redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson. Through seven games he has completed 170 of 294 passes for 2,124 yards and leads the conference in passing yards per game (303.4) and throwing touchdowns (18). His interceptions though have been more frequent, and his nine picks are tied for the second most in the ACC.

Wilson has used a deep set of receiving options. Ten different players have caught a touchdown pass this year. Six different wide receivers have caught at least five passes, while redshirt junior tight end George Byran has added 20 receptions for 240 yards and two scores. The Pack has also been able to effectively use the running backs in the passing attack. Four different backs have caught at least five passes.

While NC State has thrown the ball prolifically, they have also been able to showcase a competent rushing attack. The running backs were a significant question mark in the preseason after the lost of top rushers Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene from the 2009 season. Conventional wisdom was that redshirt junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington would carry the load as their replacements.

Washington though was slowed by a preseason hamstring injury and missed the first five games of the season, and Underwood was passed by a pair of freshmen on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Dean Haynes started preseason camp as a starter at cornerback. He ended it as a starter at tailback. Haynes has rushed 72 times for 290 yards and three scores, but while he starts, the standout has been true freshman Mustafa Greene.

Greene was a well-regarded four-star recruit from Irmo (S.C.) High. He leads NC State with rushing 419 yards on 85 carries and was named rookie of the week in the ACC after rushing 16 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and catching five passes for 54 yards in a 30-19 win over Cincinnati Sept. 16.

"I could have said whatever I wanted to say before the first game but I had no idea how they were going to play one way or the other," O'Brien said about Haynes and Greene.

While NC State has dodged the injury bug that plagued the squad during O'Brien's first three years at NC State, the offensive line is the one unit that has struggled with continuity. Redshirt sophomore R.J. Mattes missed the first two games before he was cleared to return from his torn ACL that he suffered against Florida State on Oct. 31, 2009. He returned just after redshirt junior Mikel Overgaard, the starter at right tackle in the first two games, hurt his elbow during the Pack's 28-21 win at Central Florida Sept. 11. Mattes has replaced Overgaard in the starting lineup.

Overgaard's return for State's 44-17 rout of Boston College Oct. 9 after missing three games coincided with State losing top reserve lineman Duran Christophe, a redshirt freshman, with an ankle injury. Christophe had been a surprising contributor after he missed most of preseason camp with a bout of mononucleosis.

NC State has started three different line combinations in seven games, and the young line that has started three redshirt sophomores and a true sophomore the last three contests has taken its lumps. State has given up 17 sacks through Oct. 18, tied for second most in the ACC. However, O'Brien is pleased with what he has seen up front.

"We thought up front the line would get better as time went on, but certainly I think their performance on offense has been a pleasant surprise," O'Brien said.

Grading the offense: It's hard to argue with the numbers. The offense has not always been pretty. Wilson has thrown a few more interceptions than State fans are accustomed to, and the offensive line will need to continue to grow and develop, but overall State's offense ranks among if not the best in the ACC, a disappointing effort against East Carolina notwithstanding. Grade: A-


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