RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -North Carolina State entered its week off after its most encouraging loss of the season - not because of the score, but because no starters were hurt.
For the injury-riddled Wolfpack, that's saying something: It's the first time all season they've finished a game without any injuries to the first-stringers.
Now, coach Tom O'Brien hopes his team can keep healing enough to generate another strong second-half push.
``We're making progress in some areas,'' O'Brien said. ``Our growth has been retarded by some lineup changes we've had to make. Hopefully, we'll settle down now.''
Injuries have been the story of O'Brien's second season in Raleigh. The list of banged-up players who missed varying amounts of playing time so far includes starting quarterback Russell Wilson, running backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown, top receiver Donald Bowens, tight ends Matt Kushner and Anthony Hill, linebacker Nate Irving and defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash.
ertime upset of then-No. 15 East Carolina three weeks ago, and Hill and Wilson returned for last week's 38-31 loss to Boston College.
But the remaining holes on defense left the weary Wolfpack unable to pressure quarterbacks - N.C. State has one sack in its last two games, after racking up nine in the first four weeks.
``You had a lot of those young guys in there playing, and it shows up in our pass rush,'' O'Brien said. ``We haven't gotten to the quarterback for two weeks in a row. ... We had shown the ability to do (that) in the first four games. We have to get our legs back, and we have to help some of the young guys that are starting for us now.''
Still, with some time off before a visit from Florida State on Oct. 16, N.C. State is looking for another late-season rally. Last year's team started 1-5 before regrouping during an idle week to win four straight from mid-October to mid-November and briefly flirt with bowl eligibility.
``I think we are steadily improving (but) it hasn't shown up in wins and losses right now,'' O'Brien said.
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PUNT BLOCKER: Bruce Carter knows he and his North Carolina teammates are supposed to move on quickly after wins and losses. Still, the linebacker couldn't help but think back about his three blocked punts last week against previously unbeaten Connecticut.
The three blocks were an ACC single-game record, and the third was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. It was a performance Carter claimed he had only watched once on film - and that came when the team did its usual film work.
In the days after the game, Carter also got used to seeing his feat mentioned repeatedly in newspapers and on television.
Will he go back and enjoy his personal block party?
``We're not really supposed to,'' Carter said. ``We're supposed to move on and stuff, but now I'll go back and see what I did.''
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SPILLER'S SPEEDY AGAIN: C.J. Spiller says Clemson's long week off gave the Tigers a chance to unwind and move past its disheartening loss to Maryland. It also gave Spiller's injured right foot the chance to heal.
Outside the locker room after that loss two weeks ago, Spiller admitted he had been bothered by a painful foot problem suffered against North Carolina State that had him feeling like he had lost his explosiveness.
That was hard to believe for anyone who had watched Spiller's performances in the two games since the 27-9 win over the Wolfpack on Sept. 13. Spiller ran for 63 and 98 yards in those contests, including a 35-yard TD romp in the Maryland loss.
Spiller also broke free around the left end for what looked like a 59-yard touchdown run in the second half that could've kept Clemson in front. However, the play was called back because of a holding penalty.
Still, Spiller said it was difficult to cut and maneuver with the injury. The pain was wearing on Spiller's psyche. ``Everytime my foot bothered me, I really didn't want to go in the game because I knew I wasn't'' healthy, he said.
But now Spiller feels like his elusive, uncatchable self.
``I think the bye couldn't have come at a better time,'' Spiller said. ``I feel 100 percent. Hopefully, it'll hold up Thursday'' against No. 21 Wake Forest.
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QBS ON THE RUN: Christian Ponder's 144 rushing yards against Miami was the most for a Florida State quarterback in 60 years and the first time a Seminole quarterback hit triple digits since Charlie Ward in 1992.
Ken MacLean ran for 146 yards against in Florida State's 1948 season opening 30-0 win over Cumberland. Ward, the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner, ran for 111 yards in a 69-21 wipeout of Maryland on a day the Seminoles amassed 858 yards offense and 40 first downs.
Ponder is Florida State's second leading rusher with 262 yards on 39 carries. Reserve quarterback D'Vontrey Richardson has run for 152 yards on 17 attempts giving the Seminoles' two sophomore quarterbacks 414 rushing yards rushing - a gaudy 7.4-yard-per-carry average.
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ts Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., and Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.
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