NC State will offer a crucial challenge for Derek Dooley in the Vols’ 2012 season opener

NC State are one of those teams that better programs fear. Their turnover margin during the regular season was +1.17, which is more than enough to carry a mediocre program to the post season. It is a remarkable statistic made even more remarkable because the Wolfpack lost 11 fumbles and 11 interceptions. That’s 22 times this season that State turned the ball over, yet they still maintained better than a plus-one per game margin.

But when you are the recipient of 36 turnovers — 12 fumbles gained and a nation-leading 24 interceptions — big things can happen. The star of those big things has been sophomore cornerback David Amerson who led the nation with 11 interceptions. On Tuesday evening against Louisville in the Belk Bowl, Amerson made a stunning interception of a Teddy Bridgewater pass and returned it 65 yards for the score that created the cushion needed for the NC State victory. The seven-point win was sealed in the dying seconds by Amerson’s second interception of the evening

It was turnovers that also fueled NC State’s two remarkable late-season wins.

One of the most stunning comebacks in recent college football history was engineered this season by the Wolfpack. In the regular season finale, Maryland led State 41-14 with little more than six minutes left in the third quarter. Fueled by a recovered Terps fumble and two interceptions, State scored six unanswered touchdowns, five in the fourth quarter. The previous game saw the ‘Pack defeat seventh-ranked Clemson, relying in large part on four Clemson turnovers vs none by State.

With the Vols’ 2012 season opener being a neutral-field matchup against virtually this same Wolfpack squad — they are not losing many key players to graduation — Derek Dooley is looking at a formidable opponent to begin his most important season. The outcome may set the tone for the remainder of the season, as well as the temperature of Dooley’s hotseat.

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