N.C. State quarterback Jamie Barnette has done everything so far except take a solid hit to his knee, and given the state of his offensive line, that could happen tonight.
The Wolfpack will open its season against Ohio tonight without two offensive linemen - starting right tackle Todd Boyle and backup guard Ryan Knudtson. Boyle has what is believed to be a pinched nerve in his neck and is out indefinitely, and Knudtson is day-to-day with a knee injury.The situation means All-ACC tackle candidate Ian Rafferty is also listed as a backup at guard, and it thrusts redshirt sophomore Jarvis Borum, the tallest and heaviest State player at 6-feet-8, 332-pounds, into Boyle's starting position.
What it means to Barnette won't be clear until the Bobcats, 7-4 last season and picked to finish third in their division of the Mid-American Conference, set their sights on Barnette. The record-setting quarterback hurt his knee in a June pickup football game and had a light preseason.
But coach Mike O'Cain said Wednesday his junior QB has experienced no swelling and will be near 100 percent tonight.
``He's a little slower than I would like, but I don't think anybody will be able to detect that difference,' O'Cain said. ``The biggest thing is if he can take a lick. We don't know that yet.'
Knudtson has been hurt for a couple of weeks, but Boyle was hit in a one-on-one drill Friday. Doctors believe two vertebrae may be pinching a nerve and causing the numbness Boyle has felt in his hands for the last week.
Of perhaps greater interest is the young defense. Sophomore Tramayne Simmons and junior Derek Roberts came out of preseason contending for a starting job, but both were moved to new positions. Simmons is a backup tight end, and Roberts could earn time at fullback.
Corey Lyons, who O'Cain said had no other Division I-A scholarship offers, and more heavily recruited Edrick Smith of Tuscaloosa, Ala., will play tonight and perhaps for three more years.
``They're as talented a group of linebackers as we've had here at N.C. State,' the coach said. ``They look like they have a knack for the game, and that's why they're able to play now.'
The first- and second-team defensive units have played better than many expected in preseason, and the sight of occasional offensive trouble brought a smile to the coaches' faces because they know Barnette, wide receiver Torry Holt and the line, when healthy, will score points.
``I always like to see competition,' O'Cain said. ``I went into the '96 season scared to death because the defense hadn't stopped the offense one time. This year, I've seen competition.'
The 1998 opener is not expected to be as dramatic as the '97 version, when State went to Syracuse and beat the Orangemen in overtime, but O'Cain said he's still stressing its importance. The Wolfpack hosts Florida State on Sept. 12 and doesn't want to go into that game feeling anything less than confident.
``It's like the economy,' he said. ``When people say good things about the economy, it takes off.'
NOTES: O'Cain said he will probably play three tailbacks tonight - starter Rahshon Spikes and the two candidates, Jawan Clark and true freshman Ray Robinson, who have sought the backup job in preseason. ... Southwest Guilford's Brian Williams will play free safety in combinations with the Wolfpack's more seasoned players. ... Scott Earwood will be the first State player to do all the kicking - punting, field goals, extra points and kickoffs - in the same season since 1947. ... In future years, State is scheduled to play Navy, Illinois and Ohio State. The Pack is also expected to sign a two-year contract with Notre Dame, but that deal wouldn't start until 2005 or 2006.