O'Brien: 'Each Week is a Challenge'

N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien discussed this week's game against Virginia Tech in his weekly teleconference. O'Brien talked about several players, including Russell Wilson and Nate Irving.

Opening Statement:
Well, we're certainly hard at work preparing for a very talented Virginia Tech team. Looking at tape, there's not much difference year in, year out, all the years that I've played them from previous teams to this one.

In our opinion, they're about a handful of plays away from being a top 10, top 5 team in the country. Very talented football team. Our guys are excited about the opportunity to play against them here on Saturday.

NC State fans are fired up, 4-0, first ranking in more than eight seasons. You're not focusing on that with your team. You treat every game the same. But are you concerned at all about your players interacting with fans with how excited they are? Have you talked to your players about that?
Certainly we spend a lot of time talking about them. I was reading one of the statements from R.J. Mattes. Coach said to him, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid."

I think the coaches, position coaches, hopefully we're mature enough to understand that. I go back to Coach Welsh, who always had the great quote: "It's like poison, it will kill you if you drink it." We might be smart enough, but we may not know that answer until Saturday afternoon.

Virginia Tech in the last quarters has played like a top-15 team. What about them makes them so fundamentally sound?
Well, they've been in the same system, same coaching staff. The continuity of the staff helps a lot. Success breeds success. They have their way they're going to play offense, defense, they have their way they're going to approach special teams. Where the names and faces change, the players always look the same in the execution of what they try to do.

If we could rewind to last week, can you tell me what y'all were seeing from Georgia Tech's defense that allowed Wilson to throw for career yards?
I don't know if there's anything we hadn't seen. I think we did a good job, Coach Bible did a good job of anticipating some of the things. Made a couple adjustments here and there.

We're very confident with our wide receivers. That's the strength of our football team, the guys on the perimeter, big, strong guys. Tight ends, good pass catchers. Our backs can catch the ball in the backfield.

If we're able to protect him, he's going to find enough guys to throw to. For the second week in a row, he threw to 11 different guys. We're playing a lot of people. But certainly, it's Russell figuring out who is in his progression, saving some hits on himself by dumping the ball off.

Would it be safe to say Russell has shaken off all the baseball rush?
I would say he's back to where he was. Certainly, he started to show at the Cincinnati game and carried it into last week. Once again, each week there's a challenge.

Certainly this defense is as fast as any defense we've played. They play a lot of man coverage. They're going to get after the quarterback. We'll see if we progress to be able to play a defense like this week.

He played at a really high level during his career. These last two games, has he played better than he has the last two games?
I think the last game of last year he was awful good, too. That was against an NFL defense. So certainly he's been the reason for a lot of our success.

We still have a lot of young kids playing, especially on offense. You know the thing about the offensive line, the running backs, your good guys have to play really good. Saturday we got great effort out of Nate Irving on defense and out of Russell on offense.

Tom, not pertaining to this week's game, but this week Virginia is going to take on Florida State on the 15-year anniversary of Virginia beating Florida State. I know you were offensive coordinator at Virginia at that time.

Could you take me back to any specific recollections you have of that game, what stood out to you. I know there was a lot of offense in that game. What did that win mean for Virginia and the ACC as a whole?
I can still remember Tiki Barber going down the sideline on an option pitch. Florida State played a lot of man coverage. We got them in man-to-man and out flanked them. We threw the ball deep. Had a lot of big plays on offense. We needed every point we had. They were still prolific on offense.

I think Rick Lantz did a great job with the defense. First time a lot of people ever saw three-man rush, six underneath and two deep. Then Warrick Dunn did our first game here this year. Saw him after the game. I remember Skeet Jones was our linebacker, and Anthony Poindexter, who is on the staff now. I said: "You were looking at the center. It was a trap play. They saw your eyes looking at the center and guessed it was the play."

He still almost got it in, the great player that he was. Those are the things I remember that night. Then the student body rushing the field; I think it was the first time they rushed the field. My kids were young then. They rushed the field. What they did, every game after, they went to the game ready to rush the field if Virginia won.

Going back to this week's game, Russell has always been a fairly accurate quarterback and a real threat to run with the ball. What do you see as the difference between this year and, say, last year when he came to play Virginia Tech? Is it the supporting cast, not having as many injuries as you have in years past? What do you see as the difference?
The supporting cast is definitely part of it. We weren't devastated. We had 16 guys out last year. A lot of them were starting players, good players.

That was the day, Friday before the game, Dana Bible found out he had leukemia and didn't make the trip with us. By the time we got to Blacksburg, he was already in the cancer hospital in Chapel Hill.

We were discombobulated going into that game last year. There was the sense of loss without Dana being there, and certainly some of our shortcomings because of our depth problems. Hopefully that will be resolved this year and we can play them much better this year than certainly we did last year.

What have you noticed about their defense, which has played well the last six quarters especially? What have you seen in their turnaround from the first couple games of the year?
As I said, the names and faces change, but the way they play defense is the same. With their system, with their success, they continue to recruit really good players - great players in some instances. There's a lot of new guys there. You don't become a great defense until you experience some things and you play football games.

Now that they've got some games under their belt, they never back down from a challenge. Playing the Boise State game was a huge challenge, especially going in with a young defense. As I said before, you take half a dozen plays out of that game and they're probably a top-five team in the country right now.

Tom, curious as to whether Russell is reminiscent of any quarterbacks you coached previously. The one that pops into my mind is Shawn [Moore].
No. I think he's really unique. Sean was a bigger and I don't want to say more powerful. Russell is more shifty. He's got enough quickness to get away and enough speed to do it.

The way he plays and approaches the game is different than I think a lot of people do. Part of it is his baseball. I've never been around such a positive person. He thinks he can do anything. Certainly he's proven that he can do a heck of a lot.

I don't want to trash Sean (laughter).

Nate's numbers from Georgia Tech would indicate that he is not only back to 2008 form but probably better. Is that what it looks like on tape to the coaches?
Well, I think what you have to do when you play Georgia Tech or the Navy offense, your middle linebacker has to be able to make plays. Your linebackers have to be able to make plays.

He was put in position to make it. I think it was a huge game for him not only confidence-wise but the fact that to feel comfortable in the middle, to get involved as much as he was, hopefully it will be a huge boost for him going forward being more comfortable being at that spot and being able to go from sideline to sideline and make plays.

Tom, obviously you were a highly regarded offensive coordinator at Virginia. You had experience calling plays. Last year, how awkward was it to be calling plays in that game? How much of a difference has Dana Bible meant this season?
Well, I didn't call them. I wasn't ready to call them in Blacksburg. So we used Jason Swepson and Jim Bridge. Basically the two of them were upstairs and kind of collaborated to get it done.

I called them the next week at North Carolina where I had a week to prepare for it.

Dana has been part of this staff going on 10 years now. One thing that I did learn last year is we've relied so much on him to do all those things that coordinators do, and we weren't prepared. You prepare if one of your players go down, but I didn't properly prepare in case one of my coaches went down.

We have shared the load. Dana is not back to full strength. Don't expect him to be. Every test comes back that he's cancer-free. Every time that happens, it's a big relief for all of us.

Certainly his success through the years as an offensive coordinator and the success he's had with our players is a big contributing factor to any success we've had as a team.

You said baseball had something to do in terms of Russell with his approach. What do you mean by that?
By playing professional sports, and now that he's playing at the professional level, I think anytime you play and compete at a higher level, it makes you better at anything you do. One of the things he concentrated on this year was getting from home to first faster this year. He's come back faster than he's been.

I just think the competition level raises. When you play higher competition, you come back and you're able to increase the level at which you compete, the level which you compare to compete.

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