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    Tony Haynes: Staying with the Hot Hand


    RALEIGH, N.C. During Tom O’Brien’s weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, a few chuckles were heard when the NC State football coach was asked about his decision to stay with Daniel Evans as his starting quarterback for this weekend’s ACC clash with Virginia.


    Although former starter Harrison Beck’s ailing shoulder is getting better, this call was a no-brainer after Evans put together a career-best performance in the Wolfpack’s satisfying 34-20 victory over East Carolina on Saturday night.


    Playing with a steady hand, Evans completed 29-of-44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns. And although the stat sheet will show that the Raleigh junior also had one interception, the play in question probably should have been ruled a fumble instead.


    Late in the second quarter, Evans hit receiver Darrell Davis with a short pass over the middle. As Davis tucked the ball away, he lost control when an ECU linebacker came in from behind and poked the ball away and into the waiting arms of linebacker Jeremy Chambliss.


    Either way, Evans had a big night, in a big game and in hostile territory.


    “I don’t think there’s any decision to be made,” O’Brien said. “I think Harrison’s a little bit better at this point, but coming off the game that Daniel had he’s earned the right to be the starter. We’ll see how Harrison does this week but it’s been a long time since he’s been in a football game and played a lot, so right now Daniel is the quarterback.”


    After losing the job in preseason, Beck became the starter midway through the season opener against Central Florida. But Beck hasn’t played since separating his non-throwing shoulder early in the second half against Louisville back on the 29th of September.


    “He wasn’t ready to take a full hit last Saturday,” O’Brien said. “I think he should be better this week. We’ll see how he is as the week goes on.”


    With Evans pulling the trigger on offense, and the Wolfpack defense sacking ECU quarterback Rob Kass six times, NC State put together its best overall performance in quite some time on Saturday.


    Not since Philip Rivers’ final game in the 2003 Tangerine Bowl has an NC State quarterback completed as many passes for as many yards as Evans did in Greenville.


    Of course, it’s no coincidence that the people around him performed at a higher level as well.


    “The first thing that happened is we protected him better,” said O’Brien. “It’s always a lot easier when you’re standing up throwing the football than getting drilled. That gave him the opportunity to make some reads. The receivers made some catches and they got open. They made some catches that maybe we hadn’t made either. They’re all part of it; they have to be at the right spot to help this thing out. The passing game is still three pronged. The quarterback is part of it, but the line and the receivers are the other two parts that have to work."


    Sacked only once, Evans usually had time to pick out open receivers on short, intermediate and deep routs. Senior John Dunlap had eight catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Donald Bowens collected a career-best five grabs for 93 yards.


    Very few times during Saturday’s game did the Wolfpack resemble the mistake-prone, tentative team that had dropped five of its first six games. NC State did, in fact, appear to be a confident, focused, aggressive squad that is starting to believe in the schemes and strategies being employed by a new coaching staff.


    “We could be a little more confident, but I don’t think we ever lost confidence,” Bowens said. “We lost a few games, but I don’t think we were ever really down.”


    NC State has also lost a lot of players to injuries, which has, in all fairness, made it a little bit more difficult to function as a football team.


    An example is the defensive line. For much of the first half, the Wolfpack was constantly filling holes in its defensive line, especially at the tackle position. Now that the defensive front is completely healthy and has been practicing together, its production has improved. In its first six games, the Pack had recorded only eight sacks for the entire season. At ECU, however, NC State sacked the quarterback six times, while also holding the Pirates to just 72 yards rushing.


    And now with the tackle position stabilized, O’Brien and his staff have been given the luxury of moving talented freshman Marcus Kuhn from tackle to end. Now listed as Martrel Brown’s back-up at defensive end, Kuhn had three tackles and a sack at East Carolina.


    “Between the Louisville and Florida State games, we finally got guys back and healthy up front and became more of a unit up front,” O’Brien said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but they had three weeks of practice going into this game. They were much more efficient. We made the decision to play Kuhn as a back-up to Brown to get a little more size and power up front to help defend the run.”


    After allowing its first five opponents to rush for more than 200 yards, the Wolfpack has defended the run much better the last two games, yielding an average of just 2.8 yards per carry.


    When Virginia brings its seven-game winning streak to Carter-Finley Stadium for a 4:30 kick off this Saturday, the Wolfpack will be facing a big, strong physical team that isn’t shy about lining up with two tight ends and playing smash-mouth offensive football.


    “It almost looks like the offense we ran when we were there with Coach Welsh,” said O’Brien, who served as an assistant coach under George Welsh at Virginia from 1982-1996. “A lot of two tight ends, a lot of power football. A lot of those kids in the offensive line played against us at B.C. as freshmen and sophomores two years ago, so they’re three and four-year players up front and they’re big and they’re physical. It’s smash-mouth football. We better be ready to defend the run and defend the play-action pass.”


    Injury Report: NC State did not come out of the ECU game with any major injuries, although Dunlap and linebacker Lerue Rumph are listed as questionable for this weekend’s contest with ankle sprains. After twisting his ankle in the first half at ECU, Rumph returned in the third quarter. There will be no further penalties for Wolfpack offensive tackle Jake Vermiglio following his ejection in the fourth quarter on Saturday. The freshman was penalized 15 yards and ejected for unnecessary roughness.

    “He’s a freshman, he made a stupid mistake and he’s paid a price,” O’Brien said. “It won’t happen again.”


    Noon Kick at Miami: The ACC announced on Monday that NC State’s road game at Miami on Saturday, November 1 will begin at noon. ESPNU is slated to provide TV coverage.


    O’Brien Radio Show: A reminder, coach O’Brien’s radio show will air on Tuesday instead of Monday this week. Tuesday’s show will be broadcast from the Wolfpack Sports Network studios between 8-9 p.m.



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