RALEIGH — Wide receiver Jarvis Williams tried to split the safeties in the middle of the field on what had been a rough day at times for the secondary Saturday afternoon during N.C. State's Kay Yow Spring Football Game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
This time, though, the first-team defense was ready. Safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop converged on Mike Glennon's pass, with Bishop knocking the ball to the ground late in the fourth quarter.
That helped preserve a three-point lead for the Red team (first-team defense paired with second-team offense). After the White team turned it over on downs, T.J. Graham caught a 21-yard pass from Daniel Imhoff with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining to clinch a 31-21 win for the Red in front of an announced crowd of 25,372.
The bottom line for the day was that N.C. State's receivers, who are supposed to be the strength of the team, had a huge day against a defensive backfield that's still maturing after struggling throughout the 2009 season.
Reserve wide receiver Jay Smith caught touchdown passes of 49 and 27 yards early in the game for the Red team against the second-team defense. Owen Spencer added touchdown catches of 44 and 93 yards against the first-team defense for the White, slipping past Wolff and C.J. Wilson on the longest play of the day.
"All spring, we didn't have a lot of dropped balls," said Spencer, who caught four passes for 165 yards. "That was the most important thing. All through spring ball that's what we focused on, grab the ball. It showed out here today."
But after a 48-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski with 1:55 remaining put the Red ahead 24-21, the first-team defense shut the door on Glennon (21-for-38, 423 yards) to close out the win.
Bishop's breakup helped force the White team (first-team offense paired with second-team defense) to turn it over on downs. Then Bishop ended the White's last-gasp drive with an interception - one of three by the secondary over the course of the day.
After N.C. State gave up 31.2 points per game last season, improvement in the secondary was one of the objectives of the spring.
"I saw them pick off some passes, which I thought was good," coach Tom O'Brien said. "We've got to continue to do that and work hard. I think we tackled better. ... I don't know if I'm happy with them, but I'm not dissatisfied with them. I think they played hard."
Smith created some momentum for himself heading into the fall with four catches for 96 yards after a disappointing 2009. In last season's opener against South Carolina, Smith dropped a pass in the end zone that would have put the Wolfpack ahead in the fourth quarter of a 7-3 loss.
Glennon said Smith has raised his game significantly this spring. Smith said his coaches have told him the drop against South Carolina could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
"Even though it hurt a lot, and it hurt my confidence in myself, I used that in order to better myself on the football field and make plays," Smith said. "In football, you forget about the last play, and the next play, it will be better off."
Walk-on running back Travis Leggett also made a big impression for the Red team with a game-high 129 rushing yards. With Curtis Underwood (who's expected back for the fall) injured, James Washington of the White team was the only scholarship halfback in the game.
"I let them know that I'm not just a walk-on back, that I can come out and perform just as well as the scholarship players," Leggett said.
As for the secondary, well, it had some difficult moments. Smith scored his 49-yard reception on a trick-play "double pass" from fellow wide receiver Graham.
Smith's second score came when he got open behind the defense on a fourth-and-long, and tight end Asa Watson caught an 86-yard pass on an out and up for a touchdown. But the defensive backs came up with some big plays at the end, giving them something positive to take into the fall.
"There in the end we focused and concentrated, and we know it's going to come down to us to win games," said Wilson, a rising sophomore cornerback. "We always know that. That's why we just try to settle down. We just need to focus throughout the game, and we'll have a great secondary."
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