Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
In three games, NC State has had three different combinations of starters on its offensive line, and three different starting lineups in the secondary. When the Wolfpack hosts Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will make the fourth different look for both units.
It’s the third season under coach Tom O’Brien, and once again, the Wolfpack has been in the all-too familiar situation of juggling the lineup to adjust to injuries. Not even O’Brien, though, has had to shuffle a lineup like this before.
“I don’t remember any injuries since I’ve been here like this,” he said.
Heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, the status of left tackle Jake Vermiglio (lower leg), safety Clem Johnson (thigh) and corner Rashard Smith, who was on crutches last Saturday with an ankle injury, are still uncertain and expect to be updated in Thursday’s injury report.
“We really haven’t gotten the continuity at the two most important positions on our team, especially the last two weeks,” said O’Brien. “The only thing we have gained is we’ve gotten some young guys in the football game, which is down the road stuff, but for immediately getting better as a football team, with your fourth different offensive line, and your fourth different secondary, that’s not a good situation to be in.”
The left side of the offensive line is where the problems have been. Vermiglio injured his calf in the season opener against South Carolina, and that forced Julian Williams to slide over from guard. Williams, who had the flu last week, is back and is listed as the starter at left guard on the depth chart for Pitt. When Williams caught the flu last week, Andrew Wallace became the third player this season to start at left tackle.
That doesn’t bode well against a Big East defense that just limited Navy’s option attack to 2.8 yards per carry and 129 total yards in a 27-14 win last weekend.
“They’re at the top of their league in rush defense,” O’Brien said of Pitt. “Especially when you shut out a team like Navy, you ought to be the best there is. We have to work hard to run the football. They lead in sacks, so we’re going to have to work hard to throw the football, too.”
The secondary has been an even bigger carousel.
Starting corner DeAndre Morgan was hurt and missed the first two games. He returned last week against Gardner Webb, is back at 100 percent, and is expected to start against Pitt. Safety Clem Johnson, who was a returning starter, hurt his hip and missed the last game. Justin Byers, who graded out as the best safety in the season opener against South Carolina, was also injured and missed a game. Rashard Smith, who started the second game because he played so well against South Carolina, was hurt last weekend.
"People have gotten on the field," O'Brien said, "but certainly the areas that can cause you the biggest damage the quickest, we're still unsettled in."