The Pack put up three scores in regulation and one more in OT to beat the ECU Pirates 30-24 in front of a full house in Carter-Finley Stadium.
What a game. It was everything you'd hope a rivalry game would be...there was an ebb and flow of momentum between the two teams all game long. ECU kept trying to deliver a knockout punch, but behind the I-can't-believe-how-much-better-he's-gotten-in-one-game play of Russell Wilson and two key goal line stands, State notched a big win in TOB's belt, perhaps bigger than the Carolina or ECU wins last season.
Wilson showed all us fans what he put on display for the coaching staff over the spring, keeping plays alive with his feet and continuing to make wise decisions with the football. He ended the game 21-of-31 passing with three scoring passes, including a beauty of a strike to Andre Brown in what looked like a sure blown play. In a battle of mobile quarterbacks, Wilson's escapability bought him the time he needed to make the big plays necessary to win this game.
The State victory almost certainly puts an end to any "BCS Busting" discussion the Pirates may have been entertaining. The Pirates are no doubt a solid team, however, and should still be ranked in the top 25 next week, I believe.
I want to go back quickly and take a look at the four points I made in my Weekly Optimism post on Friday:
1. The weight of great expectations: Check. It looked like the Pirates were a bit tight at times, and Pinkney was merely average passing the ball (19-of-32, 1 TD, 1 INT).
2. Quentin Cotten's absence could hurt the Pirate defense: Check. The middle of the field was available to Wilson more than it probably should've been. Freshman tight end George Bryan had a nice catch over the middle at one point to keep a drive alive. The Pirate defense also seemed to have difficulty getting to Wilson; part of that is Wilson's playmaking ability, but they didn't seem to get much push against State's still-gelling offensive line.
3. The return of Jamelle Eugene to the lineup would be key: Check+. Eugene only had 29 yards on the ground but was the leading receiver for the Pack, catching seven passes for 50 yards. Operating as Wilson's safety valve, Eugene hurt the Pirates over the middle, catching key drive-extending passes that kept State in the game throughout the day.
4. The offense would mature in front of its home fans: Check. Big ol' hairy Check. I don't think I've seen a quarterback progress as much over the course of three games than Wilson. He went from dazed and confused (prior to the concussion, mind you) in the South Carolina game, to more composed but perhaps overly cautious against Clemson, to bona fide playmaker. The return of Eugene added an element we were missing (a true receiving threat), and the true freshman Bryan stepped up and made some huge plays at tight end when we needed them the most.
Now we must wait to see what the status is of Nate Irving, who left the game with a turned ankle and did not return. There are reports that folks spotted him wearing a boot after getting checked out and worked on by team doctors; we can only hope that's a precautionary measure to minimize the swelling from a basic ankle sprain and not the dreaded high ankle sprain that can severely hinder you. As soon as I know more I'll try to update the page.
All in all, a great win by the Pack. Perhaps our midseason turnaround will come a few games early this year.