Rivalry game means more than ever

Heels seek end to streak, Pack wants redemption

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2011 

Virginia's Rodney McLeod (4) intercepts a ball intended for N.C. State's T.J. Graham (6) during the second half of N.C. State's 28-14 victory over Virginia Saturday, October 22, 2011, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— T.J. Graham joked Wednesday that N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon is not ignoring him. He's just gotten more attention from opposing defenses recently.

N.C. State's top receiver, Graham caught seven passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns against Cincinnati on Sept. 22, his third straight 100-yard receiving game.

In the four games since then, however, Graham has a combined nine catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns. He also was suspended for the first half of the Virginia game two weeks ago for missing class.

"He's not mad at me. He's got to spread it out," Graham said of Glennon.

But Glennon's production is tied to Graham, a senior and the only veteran on the roster to enter the season with meaningful experience at receiver.

To beat North Carolina on Saturday, Graham knows he has to be more productive than he was in October, especially against a Tar Heels defense that ranks 98th in the country against the pass.

"As a senior and leader on the team, I have to have a good game," Graham said. "I can't let my teammates down."

Graham had a pivotal 87-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of last year's 29-25 Wolfpack win at UNC. The Raleigh native, who smiled while recalling that play on Wednesday, said he was disappointed in how he played against the Tar Heels last year.

"That one return, you guys remember that," Graham said. "I remember how many drops I had and missed assignments. I just did what I supposed to do (on the punt return)."

UNC aware of Amerson

Count North Carolina wide receivers Dwight Jones and Jheranie Boyd among those amazed by N.C. State cornerback David Amerson's eight interceptions.

"It's kind of hard to believe one guy can get that many, so fast," Boyd said. "I think a few of them have been off tipped balls, but that goes to show you he's always around the ball."

Jones called Amerson "a playmaker."

"I'm looking forward to playing against him, but I know he's going to be tough. Their whole defense will be," Jones said.

The Tar Heels (6-3, 2-3 ACC) are a three-point favorite in Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game at N.C. State (4-4, 1-3).

Jones, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior from Burlington Cummings, leads the team in receptions with 54 catches for 841 yards and eight touchdowns.

Boyd (6-2, 190, Jr., Gastonia Ashbrook) has missed some time as a result of injuries but still has 11 catches for 197 yards and four scores.

Amerson (6-3, 194, So., Greensboro Dudley) has two more interceptions than any other player at the FBS level.

"In my eyes, he might be the No. 1 corner in the nation," Boyd said. "We have to take a challenge this week and just go at him ... but there's no corner who should be able to defend Dwight."

Frustrated Bryan making progress

Little of George Bryan's senior season has gone as expected.

N.C. State's tight end and offensive captain has seen his production drop with a flurry of dropped passes in the first eight games of this season.

He has also seen the Wolfpack, 9-4 and ranked a year ago, struggle and remain in need of three wins in its final four games to get back to a bowl.

Bryan did make some progress in last week's 34-0 loss at Florida State, though. He was more involved in the passing game, catching three passes for 17 yards. For the season, he has 13 catches for 130 yards with two touchdowns.

Bryan said he took "baby steps" against FSU and is looking to continue his progress Saturday against North Carolina.

"I definitely feel like there has to be more for me this game," Bryan said. "This is game that I have to step up."

A two-time All-ACC tight end, Bryan caught 35 passes for 369 yards last season and 40 for 422 in 2009. He is N.C. State's career leader in receptions for a tight end (106), but his senior season has been plagued by drops, with at least six in the first seven games.

"I'm frustrated with myself," Bryan said. "I've had some balls that I definitely should have caught."

The other rivalry game

Win or lose, plenty of N.C. State and UNC players will spend Saturday night watching the showdown between LSU and Alabama.

"I think everybody's going to watch that game," Jones said. "If you're a college football fan like I am, you can't miss that one."

Cooper eager to break N.C. State streak

UNC offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper was offered a scholarship to N.C. State, but he had the Wolfpack fairly far down his list.

N.C. State's four-game win streak against the Tar Heels has been on his mind all week.

"I'm super excited. I'm just ready to finally beat 'em," Cooper said. "But I told somebody the other day that it doesn't matter what their record is or what kind of season they're having, they'll be like the Green Bay Packers against us. We've got to match that."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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