Certainly this is a special game for NC State. We've been working hard this week trying to put ourselves in the best possible position so we can go over to Chapel Hill and win a football game. They're undefeated at home. They do a great job, 4-0, when they're playing in Chapel Hill.
Big challenge for us, but our kids are excited about the opportunity to go see how we match up with them.
Coach, last weekend you got not only your weekly touchdown for Bryan Underwood, but he had a really good game overall. What are his best attributes as a wideout?
I think he has excellent speed. I think he's learning each and every week. He's really committed on the practice field to getting better. He has a good skill set, good hands.
With Troy Walters coming in as his position coach, I think he kind of identifies with Troy a little bit. Troy won the Biletnikoff award and has a tremendous work ethic as a player himself. I think he's helped our wideouts and specifically Bryan to help make him a better football player.
Bryan told me when he came in, took that redshirt season, he could tell right away he was not ready to play. How have you seen him improve since that redshirt year?
Well, as we said, last year he had a couple flashes, had a good game against Virginia when the two guys in front of him went down and didn't play. So I think he got a little bit of confidence there.
But I think as the season has progressed here, his role has been expanded a little bit more, he's gained confidence each and every week. More importantly, I think Michael Glennon has a lot of confidence in him.
Tom, obviously your defense played well the last couple weeks. What is the reason for that? Doing anything better in recent weeks than against Miami? What has been the key to that?
Well, I think it still comes down to we've won five football games, we've turned the ball over four times in offense that way, have not given up half as many big plays as we did in our two losses. The two losses we had, we turned the ball over 10 times and a lot of times put our defense in a bad position. We gave up a lot of big plays in those two games.
We've been much better on offense, which in turn helps the defense.
Do you look at the film of Carolina against Miami or Duke and say, Here is how we have to slow down this offense?
Certainly we go back and look at everybody, how they play, what their schemes are. It still has to fit what our personnel do, what we've taught our kids, how Coach Tenuta, Coach Archer, Willis and Reed believe in how we have to play.
Carolina, they have a good scheme. Larry has done a great job. He believes in the system, makes the system work. That's what all good coaches do.
I wanted to ask you about your other receiver, Quintin Payton. Seems they're developing a nice chemistry with Mike. What have you seen from him as your leading receiver this year?
That's absolutely right. He was the most experienced guy we had coming back from last year. From the start, he was the guy Mike felt most comfortable with. He continues to make big plays. Certainly none bigger than the fourth-down catch before the touchdown at Florida State.
There's a little bit of chemistry. As we talked about at the start of the year with all the new wide receivers, it was going to take some time. Everybody had to get on the same page. I go back to Coach Walters coming in. I think that was a good part on our part, to hire a wide receiver coach to help these young guys progress at the rate they're progressing, because certainly we have a guy that can throw the football to them.
Coach, the linebackers coming in this year were kind of an unproven group. I was curious how you think they've performed so far.
Haven't been as consistent as we would have liked. I think that's part of the inexperience factor. Some pressed into action probably a little bit before we really wanted to play them.
I think with Coach Tenuta, working with them each and every week, they seem to be getting better and better. In fact I heard him say some good things in practice today to one of the linebackers, so hopefully we're getting better.
Rickey Dowdy, seems like he gets at least a tackle for loss every game.
I think the way the scheme is set up, between Coach Archer and Coach Tenuta, the scheme is set up that linebackers have to be successful in this scheme to have success on defense.
He stepped into the spot that Terrell Manning has played the last couple years, been a leader. It's a position we have to get production out of. Rickey has gotten better each and every week.
I wanted to ask you about the difficulty in containing Bernard, the problems he presents to the defense. He catches passes, returns kicks. How big a part of your game plan is containing him?
Well, I think if you're going to have any chance against North Carolina, he's the number one guy. As you said, the thing where they use him, and he's really explosive, is in the return game. That's been a concern, certainly been a concern for us the last three weeks, playing Miami, Florida State, then playing Diggs up at Maryland. So we've gotten a lot of good practice. Hopefully it will pay dividends for us.
They've moved him around. They can hand him the ball, they can throw him the ball. Anytime you're multi-dimensional, that causes problems for the defense. The defense wants you to be one-dimensional, the best should force you to be that way. Any time you have someone as talented as him, it puts great stress on the defense.
Up-tempo spread. How difficult is that?
It's difficult because the pace of the play. You have to get used to it. You practice the best you can. It's almost playing the wishbone. You can't simulate exactly the speed or the precision with which it comes at you. So that's always a concern.
It's one of those things, the initial shock of it, especially in the first quarter, takes hold, and you just hope you can withstand and catch up to it as the game goes on.