Wolfpack dealt 'bad hand' ... again

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

NC State coach Tom O’Brien has had it with the injuries.

“We thought it was bad last year,” O’Brien said. “It's three times as bad this year as it was last year. It's got to end sometime before I die here. I don't know, one or the other. I hope I'm the next one hurt the way we're going. I'll take a hit for the team if it'll keep somebody else healthy.”

He’s about the only one on the Pack’s roster who hasn’t taken a hit this year.

For the third straight season, NC State (3-5, 0-4 ACC) can point to injuries as a legitimate excuse for a lack of production on the field. No coach will ever call it an “excuse,” but it’s impossible to deny it’s been a factor, just like it was at North Carolina earlier this season.

The latest player to be added to the list of season-ending injuries was wide receiver T.J. Graham, who was added to Thursday's injury report with a stress fracture in his leg. That knews came on the heels of a season-ending injury to freshman offensive guard R.J Mattes, who had started all eight games before he suffered a torn ACL and MCL just five plays into the Florida State game. Andy Barbee will start in his place at guard in Saturday’s game against Maryland.

“Yeah, he was our best first-year guy, a guy we were really excited about,” O’Brien said of Mattes. “He's a natural tackle which is where he'll go back next year, but he helped at guard and he stepped in there, accepted the challenge and kept getting better and better every game. That's another one of those tough losses for us.”

Another one? How about another dozen?

Over O’Brien’s first three seasons, a total of 38 starters have missed a total of 151 games:

  • In 2007, 13 starters missed 44 total games.

  • During the 2008 regular season, 13 starters missed a total of 75 games.

  • This season, 12 (current, projected or past) starters have missed a total of 32 games due to injuries. That number will go up after this weekend without Mattes and Graham.

The defense has been hit the hardest, with six starters missing a total of 23 games and three now out for the season. Most notable is linebacker Nate Irving, who has missed the entire season with injuries he suffered in a horrific automobile accident this summer.

Jeff Rieskamp, who started two games at defensive end a year ago and was expected to battle for a spot this season, has missed every game this year. Ray Michel, who had started 21 straight games at middle linebacker, missed last week’s game with an ankle injury. Cornerback Rashard Smith, a rookie who had moved into the starting lineup, is out of the season with a knee injury. The other starting corner, DeAndre Morgan, missed the first two games of 2009, while safety Clem Johnson also missed a game.

Those numbers don’t even include safety Javon Walker, who sat out last season with a knee injury and has also missed the entire season.

“You can't work around it,” O’Brien said. “You have to understand what's going on. The kids are fine. I think they are excited about the opportunity to come back home and play a football game. That's who you worry about the most. I think they've kind of accepted the fact they've been dealt a bad hand. There's nothing they can do but fight their way out of it, so we are going to continue to fight and play hard and be the best team we can.”