Rivers impressed with what Ball's accomplished

Updated: October 2, 2003, 5:59 PM ET

ATLANTA -- Philip Rivers got a quick start on his career at North Carolina State, joining the Wolfpack for spring practice a few weeks after he graduated from high school.

Armed with the extra preparation, Rivers started from the beginning, and now, as a senior, he's wrapping up an impressive four years with some eye-popping passing totals -- 1,748 yards, 12 touchdowns, a completion rate of 77 percent.

"I've said all along that if I didn't come in the spring, I couldn't have played the first game," Rivers said.

Reggie Ball didn't have that luxury at Georgia Tech, but he still became the first true freshman in school history to start an opener at quarterback. Ball and Rivers meet for the first time Saturday, when N.C. State (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) travels to Atlanta to play the Yellow Jackets (2-3, 0-2).

So far, Ball hasn't put up Rivers-type numbers, completing 49 percent of his passes for 768 yards. But his composure and play-making ability, along with their similar histories, lead to the obvious comparison.

"How quickly he picked things up, that's a tribute to him," Rivers said. "I don't see how anyone cannot come to spring and start that first game."

Ball beat out a returning starter in A.J. Suggs, and although he's struggled at times, Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey has stuck with him.

"It's never easy," Gailey said. "Everybody would like to go into every season with an experienced quarterback. But at some point you walk in there with somebody that doesn't have any experience.

"I tend to be the one who gets excited about the potential."

Rivers and Ball certainly play differently. At 6-foot-5, Rivers is closer to the standard drop-back passer, although a quirky throwing motion and other nuances make him much more than that.

Ball doesn't fit that mold at all. He's generously listed at 5-11, and he's just as dangerous outside the pocket. Against Vanderbilt last week, he set up the tying score with a 45-yard scramble, then scampered in from 25 yards in overtime to win the game.

"I try not to compare myself to anybody," Ball said. "We're two totally different quarterbacks. The only thing I can say about us is that we both started as freshman, but nothing other than that."

Both could have big games Saturday, since neither team has been able to stop the passing game. In a 39-3 loss to Clemson, Georgia Tech allowed Charlie Whitehurst to complete 23-of-38 for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

There was a 33-yard scoring play, plus two completions longer than 40 yards to set up TDs.

"There's always things that you learn from film that help you the next week," Gailey said. "We won't use the same things that we used against Clemson. What we did learn from Clemson we'll be able to incorporate into this ballgame.

"It helped us a great deal to learn positives and negatives from that game."

N.C. State has been worse. In two straight victories, the defense allowed 681 yards and 550 yards, most through the air. Gailey downplayed those statistics, though, pointing out that the Wolfpack have been so far ahead in both games that their opponents threw the ball nearly every play.

But N.C. State coach Chuck Amato hopes for a better performance.

"They've got an 18-year-old freshman playing so we can't use that excuse this week," he said. "We're going to have to get ourselves in a frenzy."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index