ACC Football: N.C. State 38, Miami 28
By Bret Strelow
RALEIGH ó Tom O’Brien labeled his football program as the state’s best following a rout of rival North Carolina.
He offered another superlative once N.C. State secured bowl eligibility with a 38-28 victory against Miami at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday.
The Wolfpack (6-6, 4-4) became the first team to lose its first four ACC contests and win its last four since the league went to an eight-game schedule in 1992.
“To be in the situation we were in and to overcome everything that this team has had to overcome, it’s almost mind-boggling to think that we’re at this point right now,” O’Brien said.
“We’re playing the best of any team in this conference.”
Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson, who celebrated his 20th birthday by continuing his error-free run, threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
Wilson used his legs to help the Wolfpack rush for a season-high 219 yards, and it forced four turnovers one week after UNC committed six in a 41-10 home loss.
N.C. State hadn’t recorded 10 takeaways in a two-game span since 1991.
“Just check out any team that you’ve seen, especially in our league, that’s playing right now,” said running back Jamelle Eugene, who had 66 yards on 14 carries. “Is there really many teams that are hotter than us?
“There’s a lot of teams playing great ball, but no teams are getting as healthy as we are and playing as good as we are at this point in the season. We’re a dangerous team to watch.”
The return of linebacker Nate Irving (11 tackles and one interception against Miami) has boosted N.C. State’s banged-up defense.
Wilson, who was injured in a season-opening loss to South Carolina, didn’t take any snaps at quarterback against William & Mary or South Florida. He has 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last eight starts.
Wilson’s mark of 226 consecutive pass attempts without a pick is the NCAA’s leading active streak, and it ranks second in the nation this season behind Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy’s run of 284.
“I always expect to excel, and I’m never afraid to excel,” Wilson said. “At the same time, I knew I had to work at it. First I had to work hard to get the starting job and keep pushing. The season didn’t look right, and I had to keep my faith, keep going and rely on my teammates to work hard.”
Andre Brown, who had one touchdown reception and one rushing touchdown, led the Wolfpack with 93 yards on 12 carries. Wilson finished with 58 yards, but 10 of his 16 rushes netted 113 yards. Five sacks and a mishandled shotgun snap dropped him below the century mark.
The fumbled snap pushed N.C. State back to Miami’s 29-yard line in the second quarter. Wilson looked to throw on the next play, rolled toward the right sideline to avoid pressure from Marcus Forston, cut toward the middle of the field at the 30 and jogged into the left side of the end zone thanks to a seal block from receiver Owen Spencer.
Miami (7-5, 4-4) pulled ahead 21-20 midway through the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Javarris James, and the Wolfpack reclaimed the lead for good three plays later. Wilson completed a 42-yard pass to T.J. Graham and connected with Spencer for a 32-yard score.
N.C. State, the only ACC school to go 4-0 in the second half of the conference season, tied five other teams for the fifth-best league record.
“We’re playing good football right now,” Spencer said. “We’re rallying and making strides. When you do things like that, other people start to see that, and it boosts your morale. Basically, we’re playing the best ball around here, and we’re pretty happy about that.”
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