TSX: Pack Has High Hopes

The Wolfpack's 4-0 start has gotten the team national recognition, summed up by its No. 23 ranking in this week's AP poll.

Not a bad start for a team that hasn't finished over .500 in Tom O'Brien's first three seasons.

That gave the coaching staff an unexpected challenge this week: making sure that all the attention didn't go to their players' heads.

Offensive coordinator Dana Bible has been telling his players not to drink the Kool-Aid, and to not put too much stock in all the hype the team is getting. Much of that would go away with a loss, and a desperate Virginia Tech team that comes to town this weekend is good enough to send the team back to Earth in a hurry.

Still, unlike a year ago, when O'Brien warned his team it wasn't very good after a victory over Pittsburgh and was later proven correct, the staff is embracing the attention. "Hopefully, being ranked gives (the team) a little confidence," he said.

It should certainly give them a sense of pride. This marks the first time State has been ranked since 2003, and it has been a long time since the Wolfpack have gotten this kind of positive attention.

Saturday's game will be a key test to see how long they keep it. This clearly isn't a great team by Virginia Tech standards, but it did nearly beat Boise State and is coming off a dominating performance over Boston College. But the Hokies have to come to Raleigh to play before a sellout crowd, which should be another confidence boost for a team that looks to be gaining more every week.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- One key factor in the Wolfpack's success this season has been the team's depth.

This is the first year where injuries haven't been a devastating problem for coach Tom O'Brien's squad. Whereas in the past three seasons he's had to insert players into the starting lineup before they were ready just to field a team, this season he can substitute more liberally. Ten offensive linemen played against Georgia Tech, while eight defensive linemen were on the field for at least 26 snaps.

- Russell Wilson has done a nice job of spreading the wealth around so far this season. He's thrown at least one touchdown pass to eight different players.

SERIES HISTORY: Virginia Tech leads, 25-18-4 (last meeting, 2009, 38-10 Virginia Tech).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Virginia Tech makes its living by punishing opponents for making mistakes, while Russell Wilson has made his reputation by not throwing interceptions. Something has to give. Watch for the Hokies to try and bottle up the Wolfpack running game, forcing Wilson into obvious passing situations and allowing Tech to bring the pressure.

That could leave the deep ball open, however, and between Owen Spencer, T.J. Graham and Jarvis Williams, Wilson has a lot of speedy targets who can get behind opposing defenders. One thing's for sure: Tech's defense is in top form, having allowed just three points over the last six quarters.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The key for the defense will be slowing down Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor and keeping the Hokies out of the end zone. Virginia Tech can move the ball, but settled for field goals most of the time against Boston College.

Audie Cole and Nate Irving have enjoyed the new aggressiveness of the Wolfpack defense so far in 2010, and this will be another test in how effective it can be.

QUOTE TO NOTE:"We had some people I know that told us that we were going to be the same as last year. We just proved them wrong the last four games, and we're not going to stop. We're going to keep doing that, hopefully." -- Defensive tackle Natanu Mageo to the Raleigh News and Observer.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
Virginia Tech at North Carolina State, Oct. 2 -- The Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0) look to continue their surprising start against one of the ACC's September disappointments. But don't be fooled by the Hokies record. Tech is coming off an impressive performance against Boston College and would resume its position as one of the favorites in the ACC with a victory here.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Score touchdowns and give up field goals. The Hokies don't make a ton of mistakes on defense, but the Wolfpack have the talent to make them pay whenever they do. Getting into the end zone is critical, as is keeping the Hokies out of paydirt. Tech had to settle for three points too often against Boston College, and doing that against a better offensive team like NCSU will probably mean a Wolfpack win.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Nate Irving --
Irving broke out in a big way against Georgia Tech, having a monster performance in the road victory. The All-ACC linebacker in 2008 will need a similar effort to stifle Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies.

QB Russell Wilson -- They don't make assistant coaches much better than Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He'll have a plan designed to confuse and frustrate Wilson, and force him into mistakes. But Wilson is very good and has a supporting cast more than capable of making the Hokies pay for any mistake.

RB Mustafa Greene -- Dean Haynes will likely start, but Greene will be the guy called upon to pick up the first downs in short-yardage situations. That will be one of the keys to victory for a Wolfpack team that will have to value every possession.

ROSTER REPORT:
--P Andy Leffler will once again get the call this week against Virginia Tech's ball-hawking special teams. Leffler averaged less than 38 yards a kick in his first start a week ago, but he gets rid of the ball quickly, an asset against the Hokies punt-block squad.

--OL R.J. Mattes continues to work his way into the offensive line rotation. The offensive tackle is coming back from knee surgery, and when healthy is one of the best blockers on the line.

--K Josh Czajkowski missed two field goal attempts against Georgia Tech, but coach Tom O'Brien said that he wasn't worried about it and that Czajkowski would handle those duties again this week.


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