When Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor missed some open receivers early in last week's game, North Carolina safety Deunta Williams had a warning for his teammates.
"You know," Williams said he told his teammates. "Russell would have found those receivers."
Williams was referring to Russell Wilson, the N.C. State junior who has turned in two outstanding performances against North Carolina in wins the past two seasons.
North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC) plays host to N.C. State (7-3, 4-2) at noon Saturday. One key for the Tar Heels will be containing Wilson, which is something they haven't been able to do in his previous two games against them.
In 2008, Wilson passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 50 yards in a 41-10 defeat of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Last season, Wilson threw for 259 yards and four touchdowns as N.C. State edged North Carolina 28-27 in Raleigh.
He hasn't thrown an interception in 55 passes against a Tar Heels defense that intercepted 39 passes - third best in the ACC - over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Last season, Wilson's big game against North Carolina came in difficult circumstances.
Head coach Tom O'Brien had taken over the play calling because offensive coordinator Dana Bible had learned he had cancer the previous week. Wilson threw two touchdown passes each to Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer.
"I made some bonehead calls against Carolina," O'Brien said in July, "but then Russell made some good plays and made me look good. Which happens."
Wilson, a junior, leads the ACC with 2,814 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes, but has been far from perfect this season. In each of N.C. State's three losses, he has thrown an interception in the end zone.
On Saturday, he will face a talented Tar Heels defense that leads the ACC with five red-zone interceptions.
North Carolina linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, safety Williams and cornerback Kendric Burney all are projected to be selected in the top four rounds of the NFL draft by cbssports.com.
Wilson recalled rolling to his left on one play against the UNC and being surprised at how quickly Carter pursued him from the opposite end of the field.
"They have great players," Wilson said. "They know what they're doing and have done a great job with that program and getting guys in there and playing hard."
Wilson's speed also creates problems for opponents. He needs 37 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for his career and has run for seven TDs this season.
North Carolina coach Butch Davis commended Wilson's ability to extend plays and his accuracy as a passer.
"He has the ability to hold the ball, move around the pocket, slide out to the outside and throw the ball on the run,"Davis said.
Wilson doesn't show any bitterness that North Carolina didn't try to sign him as a quarterback. It's often been told that the Tar Heels' staff under former coach John Bunting received a quarterback commitment from highly recruited Mike Paulus and was interested in playing Wilson at a different position.
Paulus has since transferred from North Carolina to William & Mary.
"N.C. State is the place I decided on, and it is a great situation for me," Wilson said.
Now he has N.C. State in position for an important accomplishment. The stakes are higher this time for Wilson than they have been in either of his two previous meetings with North Carolina.
If N.C. State can win its final two games, it will guarantee itself an appearance in the ACC championship game Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
Wilson said this is just another game that's important because N.C. State is pursuing that goal. He also acknowledged that it's special because he is playing the Tar Heels.
"You can't diminish the fact that it's the rivalry game and in-state, all that kind of stuff," Wilson said. "That's obviously there, and if I said it wasn't there, I'd be lying."
email@example.com or 919-829-8942