Johnson: Positive Thinking

Tom O'Brien's first year at NC State has been dictated by Murphy's Law. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

With the season halfway over the Pack sits at 1-5 overall, winless in the conference and with a injury report that reads like their preseason All-ACC nominations list. It's not hard to imagine Tom O'Brien rolling out of bed on Sunday morning after the loss to Florida State, looking in the mirror and pulling out his best Stuart Smiley.

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, gosh darn it, NC State fans like me!"

So, with the bye week giving everyone a chance to take a deep breath, let's try to look at some of the positives about the 2007 season.

Brian Brohm and Matt Ryan can both attest to how stingy the Wolfpack defense has been against the pass so far this year. Two Heisman hopefuls (though Brohm's hopes are sliding fast), they combined to go 35-of-67 for 393 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Pack. For both players, it was their worst statistical game to date. Overall, State has the 25th best pass defense in the nation and second best in the conference. No team has thrown for 300 yards or thrown for more than two touchdowns against the Pack. It's been the most consistent and most outstanding part of the team through the first six games.

On offense, well, remember that slant Daniel Evans threw to John Dunlap in the end zone against Florida State? That was a really good drive - definitely positive. Let's move on.

For the years prior to O'Brien's hiring, the Pack was one of the most penalized teams in the nation. Last year, for example, the Pack committed more penalties per game than 105 other teams in the nation. O'Brien has already moved them into the middle of the Pack in that category, as they moved from the 106th to 64th in nation in fewest penalties per game. Sure its just gone from one of the worst to middle of the pack, but a 50-spot jump is still an astonishing improvement in just a single season.

One bright spot for the Pack has been the quick development of some of the freshmen on the team. True freshman Markus Kuhn and Thomas Barnes have both put in big minutes on the defensive side of the ball. As two of the more unheralded recruits in the 2007 class, both are proving they belong. Another true freshman who came in without much buzz, tailback Curtis Underwood, will get a chance to show what he can do as he is now the Wolfpack's backup tailback. Redshirt freshman DeAndre Morgan has played so well he's earned a starting spot, while Audi Augustin, Javon Walker, Darrell Davis, Jarvis Williams, Cedric Hickman, Nate Irving, Ray Michel, and John Ware have all contributed for the Pack this season.

Then there are the injuries. Injuries are never a positive. But, all of the Pack's injuries this season can be put into the category of traumatic. In other words, a better strength and condition program isn't going to keep Andre Brown's foot from breaking, Anthony Hill's knee from snapping or Harrison Beck's shoulder from getting driven into the ground like a jackhammer.

The Wolfpack's onslaught of injuries isn't a failure on anyone's part, but just back luck stacked on top of worse luck. Luck can change in a heartbeat, and you have to think the Pack is due for some of the good variety before the end of this season.

Finally, the schedule gets a little easier as the Pack heads down the home stretch. Road games against East Carolina and Wake Forest mean State doesn't have far to travel and should get some decent support on road. Even a usually foreboding trip to Miami doesn't seem like a sure loss, as the Canes have been incredibly beatable all season. The home games against Virginia, Maryland and SOMEBODY are all winnable.

Sure the Pack might not be favored in another game all season, but games aren't decided in Vegas. They have a decent chance to grab a few more W's and show some real signs of improvement. Not only that, but O'Brien has never lost to Virginia, Maryland or East Carolina as a head coach. Ok, so he's never actually faced East Carolina and only played the other two schools a total of three times, but he's still undefeated.

So don't worry Tom, it will get better. You deserve good things. And, gosh darn it, Pack fans like you.


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