RALEIGH — He didn't knock on wood or cross his fingers, but N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said Monday that he hopes to have a complete lineup for his team's next ACC game.
The problem is, the Wolfpack has to play before then, playing host to Central Michigan (2-3) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and the football season is starting to slip away.
N.C. State (2-3) is winless in three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents -- against three teams it beat last year.
Fullback Taylor Gentry, halfback Curtis Underwood and punter Wil Baumann have a chance to play against the Chippewas, O'Brien said, but the status of the rest of the players on the injured list -- which still includes four defensive linemen, linebacker Terrell Manning and running back Mustafa Greene -- remains unchanged.
"I think, realistically, we're hoping we get everybody back for the second half of the year and make a run for that," O'Brien said, pointing toward his team's Oct. 22 trip to Virginia.
The Wolfpack closes its nonconference schedule this week and then heads into an open weekend. O'Brien's first N.C. State team, in 2007, started 1-5 but rallied after its bye week to win four straight.
N.C. State did get defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy back on the field for Saturday's 45-35 loss to Georgia Tech. Sweezy, who missed the first four games with a foot injury, believes the Wolfpack can still save its season.
"We're starting over now," said Sweezy, who had a sack and two tackles in 27 snaps against Georgia Tech. "What's happened, has happened. We can't fix that. All we can do is build and strive to be great from this point on."
O'Brien said injuries are the main reason N.C. State's in the situation it is now, where it needs to win five of its final seven games to qualify for a bowl. For bowl purposes, it can count only one of its two wins over Football Championship Subdivision teams (Liberty, South Alabama).
"We haven't lined up one game yet with the defense that we had in preseason camp," O'Brien said.
Defensive end A.J. Ferguson (knee), defensive tackle Brian Slay (ankle), defensive tackle Thomas Teal (foot) and defensive end Jeff Rieskamp (shoulder) all missed the Georgia Tech game and are not expected back before the Virginia game.
Greene, the team's leading rusher a year ago, has not played this season after suffering a foot injury in spring practice that required offseason surgery. O'Brien has said they won't make a decision about whether to redshirt Greene until after the open week.
Underwood missed the Georgia Tech game with a knee injury but is listed as James Washington's backup at running back for this week's game. O'Brien did not release an updated injury report on Monday because the ACC policy requires updates only for conference games.
Gentry, who played both defensive tackle and fullback against Georgia Tech, injured his ankle and missed the second half. O'Brien expects him to return for Central Michigan.
In perhaps the perfect microcosm of the season, Baumann missed Saturday's game after injuring himself in warmups.
Injuries have depleted the Wolfpack's lineup, especially a defense that has given up a combined 89 points in the last two games. But slow starts offensively have also been an issue. N.C. State has scored only one first-quarter touchdown so far this season (against South Alabama), and in three games against FBS opponents, has been outscored 65-20 in the first half.
After falling behind 21-0 to Georgia Tech, the Wolfpack cut it to 21-14 by the start of the fourth quarter. Then the Yellow Jackets reeled off 21 points in less than two-and-a-half minutes.
O'Brien said N.C. State didn't have the personnel to complete the comeback against Georgia Tech.
"Here we're in a situation to come back, and we're playing with guys, who should still be on the scout team, playing for us," O'Brien said.
After the game, O'Brien said he was encouraged by the team's resilience. Sweezy, the vocal leader of the defense, said there were some good things to take from the loss.
"I think we played with a lot more enthusiasm and excitement on the field," Sweezy said. "I think it really showed. We're trying to build on that for next week."