North Carolina State's Wilson plays it safe


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North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson became the first quarterback in Atlantic Coast Conference history last season to earn first-team all-conference honors as a freshman. Last week, in the third game of his sophomore season, Wilson earned a place in the NCAA record books.

Those are impressive accomplishments for someone who is not a household name in college football -- at least not yet.

A 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from Richmond, Va., Wilson set the NCAA Division I-A record for pass attempts without an interception in the Wolfpack's 45-14 victory against Gardner Webb. He broke the record that was previously held by Andre Woodson of Kentucky and has gone 329 attempts without throwing a pick.

The only time Wilson threw an interception was in Week 3 last year against Clemson. After he threw that interception, he made a vow never to throw another one. And it wasn't just lip service.

"To me, it's realistic," Wilson said. "I know it's a long shot. But, as a competitor, that's what I want to do."

Wilson will take his streak into the game Saturday against Pitt at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

But his ability to take care of the ball is only one of his assets as a quarterback.

After a shaky performance in a season-opening, 7-3 loss against South Carolina, Wilson has been impressive and is coming off one of his finest performances when he completed 26 of 36 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Gardner Webb.

He has completed 66.2 percent of his passes this season for 647 yards and eight touchdowns. He is the ninth-rated quarterback in Division I-A with a passer-efficiency rating of 167.1.

For his career, Wilson has thrown 25 touchdowns and one interception.

"It's pretty amazing," North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien said of Wilson's interception-less streak.

"He has a really good understanding of what we want him to do now. That wasn't the case last year when he would pull down the ball and run more than we wanted. [The streak] hasn't been because he's afraid to throw.

"There have been multiple occasions when defenders have had their hands on the ball, but haven't been able to come up with the interception. His decision-making has improved, and he's done a nice job of dumping the ball off."

Wilson said he does not dwell on the streak nor worry about maintaining it.

"The only significance is it gives my team a chance every game," he said. "I want to keep winning. That's what I really care about."

In addition to his passing skills, the athletic Wilson can make things happen by scrambling and making plays outside of the pocket. A two-sport athlete, he also plays baseball for North Carolina State and is a highly ranked middle-infield prospect, which partly explains why he has such a quick release with the football.

"On film, I haven't seen that many quarterbacks with that quick of a release," Pitt linebacker Max Gruder said.

"It's really quick. He's a great quarterback. They do a lot of things to spread you out. There will be a lot of tough matchups. We're looking forward to the challenge."

Playing against a quarterback who takes such good care of the ball is a challenge to the Pitt defense, which has created six turnovers in the first three games but also has been vulnerable to the passing game.

"I'm sure they'll watch the Buffalo game when we let up a lot of yardage on defense with a couple mistakes there, so I feel like they're going to come out and throw on us," Pitt defensive lineman Gus Mustakas said.

"So, as a D-line, I feel like we're really going to have to get to the ball and pressure the quarterback. We can't let him sit in the pocket at all, and, hopefully, we'll get that record stopped."

The new kid

Sophomore Russell Wilson's 2009 numbers in North Carolina State's 2-1 start:

Category No.

Pass attempts 80

Completions 53

Yards passing 647

Completion percentage 66.3

Touchdown passes 8

Rating 167.19


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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