Georgia Tech is coached by Paul Johnson, who brought his modified triple option to a major college conference and has shown that it is equally effective here. Stopping it will take a disciplined effort by the Wolfpack defenders, since the Yellow Jackets rely on misdirection to encourage overpursuit and missed assignments, which in turn leads to big gains. If a defender gets tired, if he tries to do too much, or if he makes a mistake, this becomes a pitiless attack to try and stop.
Making it more difficult is that O'Brien doesn't have an option quarterback on his roster to emulate Georgia Tech signal-caller Josh Nesbitt in practice. The most athletic quarterback on the squad is Russell Wilson, who is otherwise occupied trying to figure out the weaknesses in Tech's 3-4 defense that does a great job in disguising who is rushing the passer and who is dropping back into coverage.
State is getting around that by having Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood play Nesbitt's role in practice. That emulates the speed the defense that the Pack will be facing, though not the passing ability or the fluidity of the offense.
Tech is unlike anyone else in the ACC as far as its playing style, which makes it extra-tough to prepare for. Come Saturday, those extra two days of work could be the difference for North Carolina State.
-- Through three games, the Wolfpack have completely reversed one of its weak points in 2009: Turnovers.
North Carolina State has forced seven turnovers and lost the ball just twice, both on Dean Haynes fumbles against Cincinnati. It's plus-five in turnover margin in 2010, after finishing at minus-11 a year ago, In fact, it is already halfway to last season's total of 14 takeaways.
--Josh Czajkowski missed the extra point after the third Wolfpack touchdown against Cincinnati. That broke his streak of 83 PATs in a row, and he's now 88-90 for his Wolfpack career.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia Tech leads North Carolina State 17-9 (last meeting, 2006, 23-21 Georgia Tech).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This game will be a test of Russell Wilson's decision-making. Georgia Tech will eat up a lot of clock on offense if it is able to move the ball on the ground as it usually does, so every possession will count for the Wolfpack. He'll need to be able to read the disguised look of the Tech 3-4 and gauge which of the defenders will be dropping back into coverage, and test the secondary by hitting on some deep passes. It's also going to be important for the Pack to get some sustained drives and give its defense a rest.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE:
North Carolina State's defense has starred on its way to a 3-0 record by being aggressive. Georgia Tech tends to prey on aggressive defenses, because any over-pursuit leads to wide lanes and big gains.
The defense can't afford to sit back and be too passive, since that approach worked very poorly a year ago, but there will be a lot more emphasis this week on sticking to assignments and making sure all areas of the field are covered.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Definitely, there's a little more confidence on this football team, but when you look at the challenge staring us in the face, we're not going to wear our arms out patting ourselves on the back." -- Coach Tom O'Brien on his team's confidence after its 3-0 start, to the Raleigh News & Observer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina State at Georgia Tech, Sept. 25 -- The Wolfpack (3-0, 0-0) enter the game as one of the early surprises in the ACC, but now face the defending conference champion with its unique offensive and defensive schemes that challenge any coaching staff.
Moreover, this is the first time coach Tom O'Brien has faced Georgia Tech since coming to Raleigh. O'Brien did go 2-0 against Tech coach Paul Johnson when he was at Boston College and Johnson coached in a similar system at Navy.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Discipline, both during the week and on Saturday. A lot of what happens Saturday will be determined by the work in the film room and on the practice field this week. If the Wolfpack can't recognize what the Yellow Jackets are likely to do by looking at their offensive and defensive sets, the team will have a tough time maintaining its perfect record, especially on the road.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Audie Cole -- Cole has become the leader of the defense, and he will have a central role in stopping the Yellow Jackets' modified triple-option. This will be a new challenge, as the aggressive defense will likely be doing less blitzing and more disciplined sticking to assigned lanes, and Cole will be one of the keys that determines whether this approach succeeds or fails.
RBs Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene -- Haynes is listed as the starting tailback, while Greene got most of the work a week ago. But however the carries break down this Saturday, the running game will be critical in sustaining drives and allowing the Wolfpack defense some rest on the sidelines.
OT Jake Vermiglio -- Vermiglio is the veteran on what is otherwise a very inexperienced offensive line. Georgia Tech's defense is the trickiest the Pack have seen this season, so he'll be counted on to help make the right calls, open up lanes for the running backs, and keep the Yellow Jacket pass rushers away from Russell Wilson.
--LB William Beasley is no longer on the Wolfpack roster, because of what the coaching staff termed not meeting team standards in the classroom and the community. He played four snaps this season, all in the opener against Western Carolina.
--OL R.J. Mattes played about 30 snaps against Cincinnati at right tackle, his first game of the season as he recovers from a knee injury. Look for him to get an increased workload this Saturday, but the coaching staff is closely monitoring his health and doesn't want to risk him re-aggravating the knee.
--In a bit of a surprise, running back Dean Haynes still tops the depth chart this week. He was benched after fumbling twice in the opening half of the victory over Cincinnati.