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September 3, 2009Thursday night's home opener was a sobering experience for Wolfpack fans with high expectations for the team this year.
The offense could never get a rhythm going from the opening play, resulting in Toney Baker fumbling the ball, which South Carolina strong safety Darian Stewart recovered on the NC State 14-yard line. The Gamecocks wasted no time converting on their golden opportunity and scored after four Brian Maddox runs.
NC State would have no answer for the Gamecock's lone touchdown, and could only muster 133 yards of offense behind quarterback Russell Wilson. The offensive yardage was the lowest total for the Pack since their 2004 contest again Florida State (123 yards).
"We lacked the ability to sustain on offense," NCSU coach Tom O'Brien said. "We couldn't get anything going, and with our pass protection, we had Russell Wilson running around too much. He couldn't get his feet set. We must be better up front."
Part of the reason for the Pack's struggles on the offensive line was the absence of junior left tackle Jake Vermiglio, who left the game with a calf injury in the first quarter and could not return. South Carolina collected six sacks against Wilson, and the redshirt sophomore faced heavy pressure all game from the Gamecocks.
"South Carolina controlled the line of scrimmage," O'Brien said. "That alone is the difference in the ballgame right there."
Disaster nearly struck again when junior Jeff Ruiz's punt was blocked after the NC State offense stalled again, picking up only 25 yards. On the first play after the blocked punt, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia hooked up with Tori Gurley for a touchdown, but the play was negated due to an offensive pass interference call. After the Gamecocks reset at their own 47-yard line, the Pack forced a punt after three plays.
South Carolina also missed on another scoring opportunity in the second quarter on a field goal attempt. Holder Stephen Flint mishandled the snap for the 31-yard attempt and was dropped for a loss afterwards.
After taking over on their own 19-yard line, redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Glennon made his much awaited debut for the Pack, although the switch resulted in no offensive production. With Glennon under center, the Pack gained only two yards and went three-and-out. The redshirt freshman connected on one of his two pass attempts for no yards and the Pack entered halftime down 7-0.
After the Pack's drive to open the second half gained only 14 yards, the Gamecocks took over at their own 34-yard line and Garcia immediately connected on a 30-yard pass to tight end Weslye Saunders. The South Carolina offense drove deep into NC State territory and had a first down on the 10-yard line before the Pack defense stopped the Gamecocks. South Carolina was forced to try a field goal after not picking up any yards in three tries, and Spencer Lanning's 27-yard attempt sailed wide left.
The Wolfpack were in need of a big play to get some momentum back. Garcia was picked off by junior defensive end Michael Lemon, who was dropping back into coverage in the flat. Lemon's athletic interception gave the Pack the ball at their own 40-yard line and some much-needed emotion.
The Pack finally turned that momentum into some points, thanks to a pass interference call on second down and a 15-yard completion to Owen Spencer. Kicker Josh Czajkowski converted on a 43-yard field goal to put up the Pack's lone points. The field goal ended a streak of nearly eight quarters (dating back to 1999) without scoring against South Carolina for the Pack.
South Carolina could not answer the Pack's field goal and punted. The Pack stormed down the field, reaching the Gamecock's 38-yard line after a 12-yard run by freshman running back James Washington. South Carolina then called a timeout and bottled up the NC State attack for the rest of the drive, forcing another Ruiz punt.
The Pack's defense held strong, forcing a punt that freshman Rashard Smith fielded at the 20-yard line and returned 31 yards to midfield. The NCSU offense could not capitalize on the field position with 4:15 remaining in the game. Twice, it looked like the Pack might have pulled the magic off and a receiver got his hands on a ball in the end zone, but it would not be. Instead, the offense posted three incompletions and a sack on the Pack's final drive.
South Carolina started its final drive with 3:03 left on the clock and it looked as if the Pack would get one final chance but they could not stop a 33-yard pass from Garcia on third down and the Gamecocks simply had to run out the clock after that.
"We do have to be able to run effectively and get things going, but now it's back to the drawing board," O'Brien said. "Only giving up seven points is a good night for the defense, though."