Amato and John Bunting, both proud alums of their current employers, are 2-2 in head to head meetings, with each winning both home and away.
State enters the contest looking for its 150th all-time victory in Carter-Finley Stadium. Ironically, one of the Pack’s first wins in it’s current home – a 13-7 win in the 1967 season opener over UNC – was with Amato, a senior, avenging two earlier losses to Carolina.
Since then, State is 7-11 versus the Tar Heels in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack has struggled at home of late in conference, dropping four of its last home games against ACC opponents.
QUOTABLE – Chuck Amato
“It should be an important game because it’s a rivalry game. It’s important to everybody involved with both schools. The mere fact that it’s 20 miles a part, and we’ve got three in this area that far apart or less. The only rivalry that might be closer is Southern Cal and UCLA, and there might be twenty miles between those two places. It’s huge. It’s what everybody looks for. It means so much to everybody and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger as the universities have got bigger and bigger.”
Jay Davis (#10, 6-2, 220, Sr.) has certainly taken control of the Wolfpack offense, ranking second in the league in total offense (265 yards per game), second in passing yards per game (272.5) and third in passing efficiency (147.8). He has completed 65 percent of his passes. Against Virginia Tech on Sept. 4, he hooked up with receivers 27 times for 311 yards – both career highs. In the win over Eastern Kentucky, he completed his longest pass at the collegiate level – a 70-yard touchdown strike to Darrell Blackman. Backup Marcus Stone (#9, 6-4, 230, So.), saw his first action of the season in last week’s lopsided victory, going 6-for-11 passing for 52 yards and a touchdown.
What the Tar Heels apparently lack in running back talent and depth the Wolfpack has in spades. State’s stable of tailbacks have tallied 333 cumulative rushing yards and scored five touchdowns (three rushing and two receiving). Toney Baker (#22, 5-10, 228, Fr.), who earned the start in just his second career game, was the team’s leading rusher last week with 85 yards on six carries and three touchdowns. Baker has an impressive 10.0 yards per carry average. Bobby Washington (#26, 6-1, 215, So.) set up Baker’s second score with a 20-yard rush against Eastern Kentucky. Darrell Blackman (#2, 5-10, 209, So.) had just 17 yards rushing at halftime and had not caught a pass, but caught the TD pass from Jay Davis on the third play of the third quarter. Reggie Davis (#20, 6-0, 236, Jr.) has 52 yards on 17 attempts, just 2.9 yards per carry.
“We all know the type of talent they have over in Raleigh, and they’ve got more speed on the field than we faced in the first two weeks,” Bunting said.
Slotback Tramain Hall (#21, 5-10, 194, Sr.), a receiver-running back hybrid, has done it all for the Wolfpack during his four years, tallying 2,022 all-purpose yards. Hall has yet to run the ball this season, but he already has 141 yards receiving and a touchdown.
“The whole point is not to get me the ball; it's just the way the offense works,” Hall said. “Jay’s going through his reads and sometimes I’m the first primary guy or I may be the second or third guy.”
Sterling Hicks #5, 6-2, 195, Sr.) is averaging 21.7 yards per reception, while Lamart Barett (#13, 6-1, 190, Jr.) and Brian Clark (#87, 6-2, 211, Sr.) each have three receptions apiece.
One of the most dangerous Wolfpack receivers is Mackey Award candidate T.J. Williams (#80, 6-3, 253, Sr.), who seems to always step it up against the Tar Heels. Williams has eight catches so far this year for 101 yards. Backups Anthony Hill (#83, 6-6, 270, So.) and John Ritcher (#15, 6-3, 255, Sr.) have combined on seven receptions for 67 yards.
Center Leroy Harris (#64, 6-3, 295, Jr.), a Rimington Trophy candidate, is the leader of this group. He leads the team in knockdown blocks with a dozen this year, after missing the last four games of last season with a shoulder injury. Guard Kalani Heppe (#69, 6-3, 295, So.) earned his first career start last week after winning the strength and conditioning staff’s ‘Gym Rat’ award for heavyweights. The other starting guard Dwayne Herndon (#62, 6-3, 296, Jr.) left the Eastern Kentucky game early with a shoulder injury. He played on the defensive line for the last three season, but moved to offense last spring. Left tackle James Newby (#78, 6-5, 295, Jr.) is a versatile lineman who started at both guard and tackle last season. On the other side is jumbo tackle Derek Morris (#71, 6-6, 327, Jr.), who has dropped 30 pounds over the last two seasons. He tied the top bench press mark on the team (525 pounds).
“Morris practiced all week... Herndon took [some] snaps, his is a day-by-day thing,” Amato said. “I think that's something that that we'll have to wait and see on Saturday. I'd have to think that Morris will be okay and we'll have to wait and see on Herndon.”
What more can be said about one of the most intimidating front lines in the country? The ’05 defensive line was picked as the nation’s best by a couple of preseason college football publications. That unit, which returns eight of its 10 lettermen from last season, tallied 50 tackles for loss and 16 sacks a year ago en route to leading State to the national total defense title. When most programs are happy with just one impact player at the end position, the Wolfpack has a pair in All-ACC duo Mario Williams (#9, 6-7, 290 Jr.) and Manny Lawson (#91, 6-6, 245, Sr.). Both made the preseason watch lists for the both the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards. John McCargo (#90, 6-2, 295, Jr.) and DeMarcus “Tank” Tyler (#72, 6-2, 294, Jr.) started at the tackle positions last year, with McCargo becoming the unsung hero of the unit. Demario Pressley (#92, 6-4, 288, So.), the only true freshman to start a game on defense last year, has started the first two this year at tackle. In the first two games of the season, the defensive line has tallied 55 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.
MLB Oliver Hoyte (#22, 6-3, 247, Sr.) racked up the tackles last season, leading the team in stops three times. His 93 tackles were 10 better than any other teammate’s. Hoyte ranks second among current ACC players in career tackles with 250 entering the season. His 26.5 career tackles for loss ranks fifth among the league’s current defenders. Manning the weak side is Stephen Tulloch (#50, 5-11, 230, Jr.), the team’s leading tackler this so far this season with 10.5 per game. He currently ranks second in the ACC in total stops. Strong side backer Larue Rumph (#29, 6-2, 225, So.), who added 14 pounds of muscle during the off-season, earned his first career start in the opener versus the Hokies. Rover Garland Heath (#19, 6-2, 225, Jr.) is another new starter this year.
While the linemen from State’s top-ranked ’04 defense remained in tact, the secondary looks completely different this year, with three of the four departed starters now playing in the NFL – Andre Maddox, Lamont Reid and Dovonte Edwards. However, those who have moved up on the depth chart this year had combined to start 24 games and play 2,818 snaps. Cornerback Marcus Hudson (#1, 6-2, 200, Sr.), who started six games at free safety last season, seeing most of the action. The other corner A.J. Davis (#3, 5-10, 190, Jr.) a once-UNC verbal commitment, recorded a career-high six tackles last year in Chapel Hill. Miguel Scott (#25, 6-0, 203, So.) beat out J.J. Jones (#4, 6-0, 189, Sr.) for the starting nod at free safety at the beginning of the year, but both will see considerable action.
Kicker-Punter John Deraney (#12, 6-4, 215, Jr.) is one of just 10
Division I specialists who handled all of the kicking duties for their respective teams. Deraney kicked the ball 163 times last year – 60 punts, 52 kickoffs, 29 PATs and 22 field goal attempts. Also, State coverage units have blocked a nation’s best 36 kicks during the Amato era. Blackman is the most reliable returning kicks (25.0 yards per return) and punts (9.0). There have been no special teams’ touchdowns so far this season for these dangerous groups.