O'Brien: Crowd Turnout Was "Great"

RALEIGH, N.C. -- At today's press conference, NC State head coach Tom O'Brien discussed the upcoming game against Clemson with the media. He talked about Clemson's personnel, updated the status of Nate Irving, discussed changes in the secondary, and much more.

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    Tom O'Brien Audio

    Thoughts on changes in the secondary:
    We are still trying to get our best people into the game. Two weeks ago, we said we were going to get Jarvis ready. The original plan was to redshirt him... I think he is the seventh freshman we've played this year, which breaks an all-time record for me, playing freshmen.

    He seemed to feel right at home, and wasn't in awe at all at Florida State. He got more playing time on Saturday... he did a very good job on Saturday.

    Wilson has played to the field. After evaluations Saturday, they were the two best corners we have.

    As it is, we are going into our tenth game with our ninth starting defensive unit. We have a lot of continuity and consistency on our football team this year... unlike Clemson, who has nine starters returning on defense.

    What about Jarvis [Byrd] has impressed you?
    His maturity. Early in the year, we knew we were going to have to play one of the freshmen corners. As we went through preseason, we felt that Rashard [Smith] was further along and more ready to play at that point in the year.

    Certainly, as we went along, Jarvis, a lot of people react different coming to school and going to college, I think he has grown up a lot. Certainly in the off week, he showed he was ready to handle the challenge and he did so at Florida State and against Maryland.

    Is Spiller having as good a year as anyone in the ACC?
    Absolutely... from what I've seen. I don't see anybody that has controlled a game as much as he has, especially in the last couple of weeks. During this four-game winning streak of theirs, they are averaging 40 points a game, and he has certainly taken it to a higher level in those games.

    Did you see much improvement on defense against Maryland?
    It is certainly the best we've played since Pittsburgh. To come right down to it, they gave up basically three points from two minutes to go in the second quarter-on. So, I think we finally got lined up better.

    As we said going in, there was a lot of things that Maryland would do, he is great at picking out what you don't do very well, and attacked us in a lot of those same ways. I think we defended them much better by the fact that we got lined up and knew where we were supposed to be. Now if we can just continue to improve a little bit, hopefully we can get better each and every week.

    What was the decision in starting Sterling Lucas this week after starting Dwayne Maddox against Florida State?
    It was a function of what we thought we had to do to win the Florida State game, and what we had to do to win the Maryland game. What we were playing against and who we were playing against, and who we wanted in the game. That's why we went the way we did at Florida State, and that's why we went the way we did at Maryland.

    Thoughts on Clemson's defense:
    This is probably the best defensive football team we've seen this year. They have great size in the middle. There are nine guys back that have started. Their secondary, I heard on TV, they have 34 interceptions among them. They are playing a graduate with a senior at the corners. They are lock down kind of corners.

    They are playing great in the pass defense. That allows those guys up front to get after the quarterback. We just faced one challenge of [blitzing packages], and now we have got to hold off two great rush ends that these guys have.

    Can you talk about Russell Wilson's ability to score touchdowns?
    He has really done a better job the last two weeks, not that he didn't before. We've had to change, and he has had to understand where the changes have had to come, because of what people have done to him.

    He has continued, week-in and week-out. Throwing two, three, four touchdowns a week. That speaks very well for your understanding of the offense, it speaks well for the offense getting guys into position that they can score touchdowns. It is always a lot easier to throw the ball in from the 25-yard line than to drive it in the way we are going.

    The one he got to Davis Saturday by, once again, creating and getting out of the pocket... that was vintage Russell. He had a chance for a couple more we dropped balls on too.

    Are dropped balls something you'd like to see improve?
    They are part of the game. I've always felt if a guy drops the ball, then he is going to make a great catch for you as long as he stays after it and stays focused and everything else. I think it evens out over time.

    I thought the injuries would even out over time too. We did have some good news. The trainer walked in Sunday and said, "For the first time, I don't have a season-ending injury to report." Maybe we are breaking the streak here.

    Surely there are things the offense has to do to get better.
    We certainly can. Catching the ball is obviously a matter of concentration. When balls hit you right in the hands, he has thrown some pretty good balls that guys have dropped. To Russell's credit, he shakes it off and goes back and wings it again.

    Losing Mattes sets us back up front. I think Barbee did a nice job, and certainly Wallace did a great job Saturday.. finding out 40 minutes before the game that he was going to start. Vermiglio has the flu, so he'll be back and that helps. We are going to need everybody that we can up front.

    The thing that we need to continue to work on is running the football a little bit better. That will help us throwing the football. We got too pass-happy there a little bit during that middle part of October. The last two game when we committed back to the run, and got a little better balance, I think we have done better offensively.

    Plus we've held the ball and kept the opposing offense off the field... which helps our defense.

    Can you get by with double-teaming the defensive ends the whole game?
    You can get by with it a whole game if they just rush four. If they start rushing more than four, you are going to get singled up. You can slide your line one way, and then you can chip a back going out to the other side.

    That is what most people do or have tried to do. That is what people have done to us a little bit with Willie Young. They've doubled him most of the game.

    There are times when you just have to say, "Forget about it. We have to single you up and do the best we can."

    It's not unlike facing a good quarterback. You can't give him the same look all the time. If you do, then they'll counter you enough and talent will take over in the long run.

    Does Russell give you another weapon against that with his running ability?
    Certainly. I'm not saying what I'm looking for.

    Have you heard anything about Toney's sixth year?
    No, it has been submitted and it's on its pipeline. I ask every Monday to check where it is, and I haven't got an answer back to where it is. It is somewhere in the NCAA's hands or the ACC office's hands right now.

    With the play of Wallace and Mattes, does that give you hope the offensive line is moving in a positive direction, long-term?
    Certainly. Those three, and Zach Allen is the third kid, and then we played Wentz this year as a true freshman at center, knowing that is the best for us in the future.

    The [majority] of guys that are leaving the football program this year are on the offensive and defensive line... there is eight of them.

    We have four kids coming back on the defensive line. We think we have some good young kids coming up that are still in the program and [Jeff] Rieskamp will be back to help there.

    It is important for us to play Wentz, to play Allen, to play Wallace and to get Mattes playing time this year as we go forward. There is three good, young kids in Sam Jones, Christophe, and Denzelle Good, who is injured right now... [they are] as good a prospects as we have had.

    Thoughts on the play of Alan-Michael Cash:
    He has been playing very well down the stretch. He has taken to heart, since we have so many of those young kids in the back, you guys up front are going to have to play a little better. He was a force in the middle, both on the run and the pass on Saturday.

    I think he's playing the best he's played since I've been here. Knock on wood, it's the healthiest he's been since we've been here. He has three more games in his career. I know he is out to make it the three best games that he can play.

    Can you talk about the receivers, specifically Jarvis Williams?
    He has gotten better and better in every game we've been here. He's a great competitor. I think he has worked hard to be a good route runner. He has done a great job catching the ball for us.

    He is a guy that Russell really feels comfortable with. It's like anything else, you throw the ball to the guy that you know is going to catch it. If everything is even, then I think the ball is going to go to Jarvis.

    He is going to find him, which he has done consistently this year. More times than not, Jarvis is going to come down with the football.

    How much different is Clemson with the coaching staff changes?
    Certainly they are different on defense because they have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele. I played against him when he was the head coach at Baylor when I was at BC. He ended up at Florida State with Mickey Andrews, so there is a little bit of that in there. That mixed with the Saban/Alabama stuff is what they look like on defense.

    Offensively, one thing... they are still multiple with what they do with a lot of different personnel and formations, but there is a concerted effort to make sure that Spiller and Jacoby Ford touch the football. They are going to make sure that they get their touches, and they line them up in a lot of different places to find ways to get them the football. That is where they may have spread the ball a little more before, they are making sure those two guys, game-breakers, touch the football.

    Did you see any change in the team after the win?
    Not really. They just seem to be the same. I tell them to forget the game before. I think they've already forgot about it and moved on to the next one. They've been that way.

    Psychologically it has to be... we certainly didn't play the best we could on offense. The good thing was the defense kept us in there, and we found a way to win the football game.

    We build on that, and that is what we are going to try and do.... be much better on offense and not turn the football over. We can't turn the football over against these guys or we'll be in deep trouble... play a solid football game on offense and try to do the best we can against Spiller and Ford.

    How much interaction does Nate Irving have with the team?
    He has been out there coaching the linebackers, and he takes credit if they do something good. If they do something bad, I'll look at him and he turns around and won't look at me. Actually, he is going to go back, and this week is the first week he has been cleared to run on dirt. He is going to go out.

    He has been on the treadmill... I've been harassing him because he has been on the "Old Man Machine" up there.

    Does he run with the coaches?
    No, he doesn't run with the coaches. He is on his own. I think he's embarrassed with the speed he is going at up there. He is going slower than the coaches, which is hard to believe.

    Is this a landmark move for him to go from inside to outside running?
    I think it is. Psychologically for him, I think it's a huge situation. Last week, he told me he had 10 plays in him. I said, "10 plays? I have more chance of playing 10 plays than you do."

    I think for him psychologically, to go outside and run... I think it will be big for the team to see him out there for what he has gone through. With what we all saw of him the day after in the hospital... it's amazing that he is back to where he is.

    Does he go to every practice?
    Not to every practice. I think October hurt him as much as anybody on the football team. I think that not being part... and looking at all the changes and everything going on... not being able to help out. Really it was a difficult time for him. We didn't see him for a while on the field.

    Can you talk about how the injuries/changes in the secondary have affected what you want to do scheme-wise?
    The consistency that we talked about all the time... recognition is the key to playing defense. If you are not sure what your responsibility is, what your assignment is, where you are supposed to align up, you can't execute the defense. That's been a major problem for a lot of things that we have done.

    Defense isn't as easy as you think it is. Different personnel, different formations... everything changes. There are different calls and there are different forces and coverages and things you have to react to. Only by time, only getting to an experienced level like the Clemson secondary has, that you make 34 interceptions.

    That is the biggest situation, is the continuity and the consistency in this program for three years. Not only to this point, but off the field to get to the field, and then the injuries again have just magnified all the problems that we've had. It has tripled them, quadrupled them or whatever.

    It's difficult to play good defense when you don't have the same guys, week-in and week-out. It's impossible... but the kids are fighting. Nobody has given up. They are playing their butts off. We still got a shot at it, and we are going to play hard the next three games. It's great to come back and be at home and have our fans support us, and play against a team like Clemson. Clemson thinks they've got a lot to play for, but so do we.

    What was it like to see the crowd turnout against Maryland after a four-game losing streak?
    It was great. That is why I said on my TV show that they are the best fans in the state. Nobody would show up and cheer like that unless they were certainly concerned. I know they are concerned. I know that the perception going into the year isn't where we ought to be, but reality bites sometimes.

    To show up and to support this football team I think is really important... especially for the young kids. They need the help. Being negative doesn't help anybody, especially young guys that aren't really sure of what they are doing. They could be more sure when people are cheering for them.

    Has anyone stepped up and shown leadership after the losing streak that may have surprised you?
    We talked about Cash before. I think he has been one guy that has really done a good job. I think a couple of those other seniors, they know it's their last year.

    I think one of them said to my wife the other day, "It certainly hasn't turned out the way we wanted it." As I said before, it is all we have. It is all we have. This is it, and we'll make the best of the bad hand that we've been dealt and we are going to go on.

    Of course, I'll say the same thing to you that I said to the TV people. Life is a sine curve. You guys ever take Trig? I knew you Journalists would have no idea. All the Engineers and Mathematicians here know exactly what that means.

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