ACC Football: Injuries threatening to derail Wolfpack’s season
RALEIGH ó Itís almost October, and North Carolina State still hasnít beaten a team from the Bowl Subdivision.
The Wolfpack (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are in danger of being eliminated from bowl consideration well before Halloween. Theyíve taken a clear step backwards following their breakthrough 2010 in which they won nine games and claimed a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl.
ěWeíre not where we thought we would be or could be,î coach Tom OíBrien said Monday, four days after his team was embarrassed in a 44-14 loss at Cincinnati.
The prime culprit for those struggles has been an ever-growing list of injuries, particularly on the defensive line. N.C. State will start its third different group of defensive linemen this week against No. 21 Georgia Tech and is down to two healthy defensive tackles.
ěI thought weíd be a winning football program and a bowl teamî in his fifth year, OíBrien said. ěGenerally, it takes five years to install your program, to get it going up and running. The injury thing … every time we take a step forward, weíre taking two steps backwards. Itís like Year 3 again.î
The Wolfpackís ground game ranks 109th nationally, rushing for just 85 yards per game, and a big reason for that is that they havenít had running back Mustafa Greene, who continues to recover from a foot injury he suffered during spring practice. OíBrien said the coaches will have to decide by the teamís mid-October week off whether Greene will even come back this season or be redshirted.
On the other side of the ball, N.C. Stateís front four has been a revolving door due to a rash of injuries that has wiped out any chance of continuity among that group. Thatís a big reason why the Wolfpack allowed averages of 39 points and 470 yards against the two FBS teams theyíve played, Wake Forest and Cincinnati.
Tackle J.R. Sweezy broke his foot in the preseason, tackle Thomas Teal broke his foot in the opener, defensive end Jeff Rieskamp injured a shoulder before the Wake Forest game, and tackles Brian Slay (ankle) and A.J. Ferguson (knee) were hurt in the Cincinnati game.
The only constant among the starters has been tackle Markus Kuhn, and end Darryl Cato-Bishop has been moved from end to tackle to help fill out the depth chart.
ěPersonally, playing defensive tackle, to me, is more of like a manís position,î Cato-Bishop said. ěDefensive end, youíre still a man, but (at tackle) youíre playing inside, youíve got 300-pounders on you, double teams and everything, so itís more of being more physical and being quicker off the ball and using your hands and footwork.î
Two-way walk-on Jacob Kahut, a transfer from Campbell of the FCS, is listed as the backup to Kuhn. He played a handful of snaps on each side of the ball in the Cincinnati loss and OíBrien said heíll spend all his time this week on defense.
ěHeís the end of the line right now,î OíBrien said.
If things donít turn around in a hurry for N.C. State, the same could be said of the season.
They need seven wins to qualify for a bowl because teams may count only one win over an FBS team toward their totals for postseason eligibility, and the Wolfpackís only wins so far have come against Liberty and South Alabama.
ěItís hard to do some of the things that we have to get doneî because of the injuries, OíBrien said. ěBut nobodyís feeling sorry for us, so weíve got to get it done.î
The Associated Press