Staff photo by Ethan Hyman
On the scoreboard, things couldn’t have looked much better the last two weeks for N.C. State.
Quarterback Russell Wilson extended his remarkable streak of passes without an interception to 329, breaking a national record in a 45-14 defeat of Gardner-Webb on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Things in the training room don’t look quite as good for N.C. State, though, as its schedule is about to get more difficult.
At both cornerback and wide receiver, the Wolfpack returned a key player from injury and lost a player because of injury Saturday. Owen Spencer, above, who led N.C. State in receptions in 2008, suffered a concussion after coming down on his head trying to make an acrobatic catch at the goal line in the second quarter.
Freshman Rashard Smith, who’s started the last two games at cornerback, left with a sprained ankle in the first half and did not return. Their departures removed some of the luster from the returns in reserve roles of 2008 cornerback starter DeAndre Morgan and wideout Donald Bowens, who hasn’t played since leading N.C. State in receiving yards in 2007.
The status of Smith and Spencer for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh wasn’t immediately available after the game.
After crushing Murray State 65-7 on Sept. 12, N.C. State (2-1) cruised to its second consecutive blowout win over a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
Wilson threw for a career-high 345 yards, going 26-for-36 with four touchdown passes, breaking the Division I-A/Football Bowl Subdivision record of 325 straight passes without an interception previously set by Kentucky’s Andre Woodson in 2006-07.
The crowd cheered heartily in the third quarter as the Carter-Finley video boards announced that Wilson broke the record with a 13-yard pass to James Washington. Wilson hasn’t thrown an interception since a game at Clemson on Sept. 13 of last year.
Gardner-Webb (2-1) was more talented and less mistake prone than Murray State, which fumbled twice in the first five minutes, but still was overwhelmed by Wilson and the Wolfpack’s superior talent.
But the next game, against one of the favorites to win the Big East Conference, isn’t likely to be nearly as easy for the Wolfpack. Pittsburgh scored 38 and 54 points in its first two games, and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. – who coordinated North Carolina’s offense in 2006 – no doubt will be eager to test N.C. State’s inexperienced, banged-up secondary.
N.C. State started freshmen Smith and Brandan Bishop in the secondary Saturday, with Bishop replacing injured senior Clem Johnson. The other starting safety, Earl Wolff, is a redshirt freshman.
The secondary isn’t the only place N.C. State is hurting. Jamelle Eugene, who coach Tom O’Brien considers a co-starter at running back, has missed two straight games with a knee injury.
Starting left offensive tackle Jeff Vermiglio also has missed two straight games with a lower leg injury. And the H1N1 flu has made an impact on the Wolfpack, causing offensive lineman Julian Williams and wide receiver Jay Smith to miss the Gardner-Webb game.
The status of Rashard Smith, Spencer, Vermiglio, Johnson and Eugene for Pittsburgh might not be known until Thursday because O’Brien only lists players who need surgery or are out for the season in his Monday injury report.
O’Brien strictly follows the ACC policy that doesn’t require coaches to divulge players’ injury status until two days before a game. So while Wilson and the Wolfpack have given fans reason to celebrate with a national record and two blowout wins, the most important moment for fans this week might come Thursday night when the team announces its injuries.