CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH N.C. State enters a new phase in its football program tonight, as it plays its first game without quarterback Russell Wilson in quite a while.

N.C. State wide receiver T.J. Graham

Wilson, who disagreed with Coach Tom O’Brien on whether he should come to spring practice or continue his pro baseball career before they mutually agreed that he should go play somewhere else, is already making a big splash at Wisconsin.

The new Wolfpack QB is not a compact, cat-quick guy but instead a 6-6 Mike Glennon who was a top prospect coming out of high school and can see the whole field without running around.

With an easy early schedule and an experienced defense returning, the Wolfpack should be able to accomplish a lot this season if Glennon pans out, an inexperienced set of skilled players can get the job done and the true freshman trio of PK Niklas Sade, P Wil Baumann and LS Scott Thompson doesn’t implode.

Tonight’s assignment is Division I-FCS power Liberty, which has won four straight Big South titles and has its sights set on a spot in the NCAA Playoffs. Liberty has an offensive handful for the Wolfpack in Wilson-like signal-caller Mike
Brown, who had nearly 4,000 yards total offense last season and will be a candidate for the Walter Payton Award — effectively the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

State struggles early and leads by only nine points early in the fourth quarter, but breaks away with two touchdowns in the last five minutes to win 43-21.

State has trouble getting things going. Sade is true on a 33-yard field goal with :52 left in the first quarter, but the offense is sputtering.

Liberty gets a big break when Francis Bah recovers a Glennon fumble and returns it 32 yards for a score with 13:30 left in the half.

But the Wolfpack gets three straight scores to take control.

T.J. Graham returns a punt 82 yards for a score with 3:38 left in the first half, followed by James Washington’s one-yard TD run with 32 seconds left to help make it 16-7 at the break.

Brian Slay returns a Brown fumble 52 yards for a score with 8:51 left in the third, but Brown finds favorite target
Chris Summers on a 27-yard TD pass just 33 seconds later.

Curtis Underwood then scores on a 33-yard run for State and it’s 30-15.

Liberty comes back with field goals of 50 and 38 from Matt Bevins, but Glennon hits Mario Carter on a three-yard scoring pass with 4:20 to go, and Washington’s 19-yard run with 3:29 left and Niklas Sade’s boot complete the scoring.

They said it …
State coach Tom O’Brien: “We were kind of floundering around, but we found a way to win on defense — it’s about time we did something like that on defense here. We have to run the football better, and we have to protect the quarterback. I think we can play good defense. Getting seven turnovers is more than we created in (four) scrimmages. They came out throwing some dinks and dunks. … They hurried up on us, but we only gave up one touchdown.”

Graham: “(I thought) ‘You shouldn’t have kicked it to me the first time (before his punt return). And I thought, ‘They’ve got to be tired. They came down the first time pretty hard.’ That’s when you have to dig deep. I could tell they were gassed.”

Slay: “. “I never thought I would score a college touchdown. My dream has been catching an interception, but I’ll take the fumble recovery for a touchdown … It was a good effort out there. Any defense would love to force turnovers, and to force seven of them to give the offense the ball was great. It’s always tough to control a quarterback who can scramble and get outside the pocket. You’ve just got to stay with your assignments.”.”

What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack’s second-half effort helped dodge a bullet, but that the schedule will get tougher.

Stars of the game
1. Graham.
2. Slay.
3. Underwood.

Play of the game
Slay’s fumble return for the TD.

Series record
State leads 1-0.

State: Won 2.
Liberty: Lost 1.

Up next

State at Wake Forest, Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m.
Liberty vs. Robert Morris, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.