Very happy the way our team perform against Maryland. Maryland had a very good ballclub, was doing a very good job on offense, and I thought our defense played a very good game, gap sound against a lot of the quarterback run things which they did and which they presented a lot of problems. And when O'Brien came into the game we adjusted, made a pass and made a few plays.
On offense, I thought we were pretty sharp, moved the ball pretty well, took advantage of some opportunities. Special teams were very solid in the game, and we have to continue to grow and get better. And we took another step. Was very happy, I thought we ran the ball much better in the second half, ran the ball with pretty good effectiveness and we have to continue on both ends to get better. But we are making progress and I'm very pleased with the direction we are going.
Off topic of this week's game but Christian Ponder created a stir with his first start in Minnesota, but can you talk about his mental makeup and did you notice a fearlessness?
No doubt. The injuries he played with -- a couple years ago he played with two broken ribs. Matter of fact, NC State game, two years ago down here, broken them about second drive, played with no pain in the first half, we won a 45-42 game and won the game. He played tremendous, played the whole year like that. Played with the elbow that was last year; the competitiveness, the toughness, the things it takes to win and gained the respect of your teammates. He's an ultimate competitor, extremely intelligent, prepares very well. He has all of the intangibles to be a very good player, and hopefully he'll continue to play well.
There seemed to be some questions about whether or not he deserved to be drafted as highly as he was. What did you tell teams, the NFL folks?
I thought he deserved to be that high, I really did. His arm strength is much better than people give credit for, great balance body control, can make decisions, process the information, lead, be tough. That's everything you want. The guy can do everything, he really can.
And like I said before, and I don't mean it as a knock, one thing you have to remember with him at Florida State, the only drafted player he had ever played with on offense was Rodney Hudson there was never a skill guy around him that was drafted. That's not a knock. You put some first, second round guys around him as a quarterback and the numbers, and the pace he was going on before he got hurt in the eighth or ninth game of his junior year when he got hurt at Clemson, he was on pace for 4,000 yards and that's without a drafted guy around him.
So I mean, we had a couple free agents make it, but the guy, he's going to be a very good player hopefully if he continues. He has all of the ability, there's no doubt.
NC State has the nation's leader in interception in there in the secondary, David Amerson, when there's a guy back there like that, does that affect the way you game plan on offense?
Oh, yes, always have to know who the great players are, whether he's a pass rusher or cover guy or whatever, and when the ball is around him, he has great ball skills, he adjusts, his instinct, he breaks on the ball. He does a very good job. There's no doubt you definitely have to be aware of where he's at and what he's doing at all times.
You talked just a little there, but watching on film, what stands out about him?
Playing with his eyes very well. They are a very zone-oriented team with a lot of fire zones but he understands where the ball is going to go, understands down and distance. He's long, he's big. He can play man when he has to and he uses that size advantage and his leverage and gets his body in position and breaks on that football extremely well.
You have the same issue I would suspect with your defense and special teams with T.J. Graham, who is probably as explosive as him, can you comment on that along the same lines?
Yeah, you have to know where he's at, you get him in one-on-one situations, he can definitely burn you, run by you. He catches the ball underneath.
Great thing about him is he is a great return guy and he has running skills once he gets the ball in his hand on short routes. And they have done a bunch of that, hit eight-, ten-, 12-yard routes, and they did that last week at Virginia, they got a ten-yard out on third down and broke it for a long run. There are different guys even besides him.
And his return skills, you have to know where he's at and you have to hem him up and we have to be very disciplined in our special teams and our lane coverages and how we kick it and make sure we get great height on the ball and all those types of things and whether you kick it way from him or don't.
On offense, you have to know where he's at, because he can create the big play. I mean, there's no doubt, he's a heck of a football player. I think he's averaging, what, 21.8 yards a catch.
Does he remind you of anybody?
I haven't really thought of it that way, there's so many guys. And I always say this, I don't like comparing guys because guys are all different, you know what I'm saying. And I don't know him, I never been around that, so to say that is unfair, but he's very impressive on film.
I think I read that you had tried to recruit Mike Glennon out of high school; is that right?
Yeah, we went up and looked at him and talked to him and he came down and visited us, yes.
What did you like about him? What does he have that fit what you look for quarterback?
One thing that jumped out at you when you saw the arm count. The ball jumps out of his hand, he can drive it, he's accurate. And you met him and very intelligent, sharp, good leader. Make a very -- just a great overall person you would like to have in your organization.
We were just very impressed when I saw him in the camps and the things he did. I saw him in a Nike camp one time. Very complete football player.
Great size which I think is important, too, if you can have it. Big, physical, can take punches; in other words, with his body, is not a thin guy, strong guy, and has good instincts for the game. Moves in the pocket well. He's a good quarterback.
Winning two in a row now, are you doing certain things better than you were in your losing streak?
We have been taking care of the football all year except for the one game against Wake we didn't take care of it very well. We eliminated some penalties, playing a little smarter and we are getting out and getting good starts and playing from ahead and we are able to keep balance.
We are still able to run the football and mix the run and the pass and keep balance so you don't get one-dimensional, which can make you get penalties when you play from behind because you are having to throw it from behind and all those things. I think defensively we are playing much sounder.
And in our gap control, we were not playing, before, we would play five games a game that would slip up and somebody would miss a gap and they would hit a big play. We are doing a much better job that have and continue to go put good pressure on the passer in things that we do and special teams are playing solidly. Some of the self-inflicted wounds I think we are eliminating.
Your rush defense, is that a function of a strong defensive line, good linebackers or --
I think it's a combination of both and a priority. I'm a believer in this as the head coach: You have to be able to run the football, which was what was frustrating me earlier in the year and now we are getting better at and I think you have to be able to stop the one run. Those are two things we put high priorities on.
I think we are very physical up front. I think we have good size and not only our ends, they can rush but they can play the bigger guys, they can play the run. I think we have big inside guys, our linebackers that are solid, and our safeties are doing a great job of fitting and filling in when we have to. It's a priority for us. I'm a firm believer that you have to be able to stop the run.