RALEIGH — Saturdays 38-24 win over Central Michigan doesnt mean N.C. States so-so football season to date suddenly has taken flight.
Definitive information on that front probably wont be known until Nov. 5, when Wolfpack coach Tom OBrien and his players attempt to push their win streak in the rivalry against UNC to five.
But while the big picture hasnt come into focus just yet, certain aspects of the Wolfpack season did change some Saturday and not just by the introduction of black uniforms.
For one thing, a 34-27 loss at Wake Forest on Sept. 10 no longer looks so unsightly.
After the Deacons stopped Florida State by a similar score and at the same Groves Stadium setting Saturday, the early-season Wolfpack performance at Winston-Salem indirectly gained a degree of respect.
The same cant be said for a 44-14 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22 and a 45-35 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 1 in Carter-Finley Stadium.
But at 3-3 overall (0-2 ACC), the Pack will go into its much-needed open week with a defensive unit thats healing fast enough to give the team a fighting chance at Virginia on Oct. 22.
Almost immediately against the Mid-American Conference Chippewas (2-4), the Wolfpack got linebacker Terrell Manning back in the lineup after sitting out the past two games with a knee injury.
Manning made a difference simply by being on the field, OBrien quickly pointed out.
The junior from Laurinburg Scotland had an interception and figured in seven tackles. He returned well ahead of expectations.
They [medical staff] said three to five weeks, but I said right off I was coming back after two, Manning said.
Such enthusiasm and leadership will be important to a defense that was still sloppy early against Central Michigan and gave up a 77-yard touchdown run late.
If Manning and unit captain J.R. Sweezy can keep their health, the Wolfpack could still be a post-season participant simply because the offense is beginning to show punch.
Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for four touchdowns, no interceptions and was sacked only once by a decent Central Michigan defensive front.
Running backs James Washington and Tony Creecy dont have much explosion but are good enough to keep linebackers honest.
After many preseason question marks at wide receiver, the group has a chance to wind up among the ACCs best by late season.
One cupcake doesnt make for a party, of course. The final six games could yet overwhelm the Wolfpack unless the defense tightens up.
Manning understands that situation.
The defense got to use this extra time to get better in all areas, he said. Theres not any one area where I would say weve turned the corner. Weve got to get better at everything timing, execution, making stops on big plays.
But the Pack has survived a barrage of injuries and inexperience to reach the turn in a position to move up.
A loss to Central Michigan likely would have completely broken the Wolfpack spirit. In that regard, it was a must-win game. Several more lie just ahead.