RALEIGH — After N.C. State's 38-24 win over Central Michigan on Saturday, an official from the Belk Bowl congratulated Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien at the Murphy Center after O'Brien's post-game news conference.
"I hope you guys get on a streak here," the Charlotte bowl official said.
O'Brien, whose team improved to 3-3 with the win, didn't hesitate in his response.
"We will," the coach said.
That's what the Wolfpack needs after an injury-plagued start: a second-half surge. With a week off, the Wolfpack gets some time to heal before a trip to Virginia on Oct. 22.
N.C. State got two defensive starters back from the injured list for the win over the Chippewas, but it was still missing three defensive linemen and running back Mustafa Greene.
The Wolfpack needs to get healthy to get back to a bowl, and in the final six games - all against ACC teams - N.C. State needs four wins to return to a bowl game.
"The week off is going to be huge for us," said defensive tackle Brian Slay, who missed last week's loss to Georgia Tech. "When we get people back, we're going to be a dangerous team."
Slay and his teammates are confident that they will finish the season better than they started it, and the Wolfpack defense showed signs of finding its 2010 form in the second half against CMU. N.C State forced four turnovers and gave up only seven points after getting torched in the first half.
Linebacker Terrell Manning, playing for the first time in three games because of a knee injury, had a sack, an interception and nine tackles.
Manning was part of a defensive effort that generated pressure in the second half on CMU quarterback Ryan Radcliff, who was 1-for-10 to start the third quarter with three interceptions.
"Our line had a great second half," Manning said.
Manning said it was difficult to watch State's defense get gouged by Georgia Tech and Cincinnati in consecutive losses. He underwent surgery after hurting his left knee in the first quarter of the win over South Alabama on Sept. 17. Manning was scheduled to miss three weeks but came back early.
"I knew I was coming back early," Manning said. "I didn't care what anybody said. I couldn't sit in the stands and watch us get beat like that."
O'Brien, whose first N.C. State team started 1-5, then won four games after the open date, said the defense got a boost from Manning's return.
"Terrell helped us a lot by just being out there," O'Brien said. "He does it right. That's the best thing that I can say about him."
O'Brien thinks State's defense can continue to improve if defensive end Jeff Rieskamp (shoulder), tackle A.J. Ferguson (knee) and tackle Thomas Teal (foot) can get healthy.
State lost to Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech with a depleted lineup. O'Brien said the next stretch of games, which starts with a trip to Virginia and then a trip to Florida State will be "a lot closer than we've been the last five weeks. If they can get healthy, it will help a lot."
Continued production from quarterback Mike Glennon, who threw for four touchdowns on Saturday to boost his season total to 16, and running back James Washington, who has back-to-back 100-yard games, would help N.C. State, too.
Manning, whose interception on the first possession of the second half turned the tide of the Central Michigan game, had a more stern warning for State's final six opponents.
"I advise every team that we play to be prepared," Manning said.