Saturday, September 20, 2008

N.C. State coach enjoys results of hard work

News & Observer photographer Ethan Hyman e-mailed an image Saturday showing N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien, flanked by his players, grinning.

“Ever seen O’Brien like this?” Hyman’s message asked.

Not recently.

O’Brien’s dour expressions for most of the first month of this season have been easy to explain. N.C. State had been picked to finish last in the ACC’s Atlantic Division even before a devastating group of injuries decimated its roster.

But N.C. State’s 30-24 win in overtime against 15th-ranked East Carolina on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium demonstrated that the season is far from lost for the Wolfpack. The struggles of other ACC teams demonstrate that there are beatable opponents on the schedule.

Unlike some of those teams, N.C. State is getting better.

The most obvious improvement is at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Russell Wilson seems to be discovering what he’s capable of. O’Brien is still learning about Wilson, too, and said Wilson plays much better in games than in practice.

Wilson is learning to use his speed to evade the rush, then making big plays down the field on the run and the pass once he breaks containment. After some difficult moments in his first two starts, he was 21-for-31 for 210 yards with three touchdown passes Saturday.

Running back Andre Brown, who scored the winning touchdown, is playing the best football of his life as a senior. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry Saturday, caught four passes for 35 yards and carried the offense on his shoulders with two mighty runs in overtime.

Jamelle Eugene’s return from an ankle injury Saturday gives N.C. State a good complement to Brown – a smaller, quicker back who also can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Finally, some guys who aren’t used to having their numbers called are making big plays on defense. J.C. Neal made a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Shea McKeen stripped Patrick Pinkney and ended East Carolina’s possession in overtime.It was enough to make a coach smile.

“We’re playing hard, and we’re learning how to play hard,” O’Brien said. “And if we continue to do that, we’re going to have chances to win some football games. It’s the only way we can win them right now with all the injuries and lack of personnel.”

– Ken Tysiac

1 comments: said...

A few thoughts on the N.C. State game:

It’s a game we should have won. Period.

I understand all of the dynamics involved. However, if we score down there the first time at the four yard line, and go up by 11 in the middle of the 4th quarter, then it is all but over. The only way they win is if we do something stupid or turn it over. Instead, their two goal line stands turned it around for them. Quarterbacks and running backs get all the glory, but the game is won or lost in the trenches.

It was still the right call. Field position and all that. Besides, Pirates go for it when you’re that close to the goal line. Wimps play it safe. We don’t have wimpy coaches. And this attitude carries over to the players.

To some extent, the loud crowd affected the offense. I think there were a few times they had trouble getting everyone on the same page. A crowd like that can be so loud, you can’t even hear the play called in the huddle. We missed an assignment down there at the goal line, a missed block, because of the noise. Yeah, they practice against it all the time, but it’s different in a game. A crowd like that can be so loud, you can’t even hear yourself think. And I believe it affected the outcome of a close game. (At the same time, I don’t believe we had a false start penalty. Amazing.)

It seems to me that State got all the breaks. For example, one time we punted and it hit a State player running down the field, we had several players surrounding the ball, yet State still managed to recover it. That would have given us a 1st down at the 20 yard line.

And how many calls were reversed against us by the replay officials? At the same time, I don’t blame the refs in this game. They did a decent job.

State quarterback, Wilson, came of age against us. His mobility made the difference. He made plays with his feet. The other QB was a statue back there, like Glennon for Virginia Tech.

State made a lot of short throws underneath and then ran for more yards. Does Quentin Cotton make the difference and stop those plays? We’ll never know.

I said earlier that our starting left tackle getting hurt would come back to haunt us. In overtime, State’s defensive end ran right by our new left tackle and caused Pinkney to fumble. (He should not have held on to the ball so long anyway. He’s got to have an internal clock in his head that says run it or throw it away.)

Does that Brown kid from Greenville, #24, who ran the ball well for State and scored the winning touchdown, does he go to N.C. State instead of ECU, if we are in a BCS conference?

Yeah, I understand putting this behind us, go 1-0 each week, stay humble and hungry, go win CUSA, and all that jazz. But a large part of me does not get excited about CUSA, even though I understand the ramifications of winning the conference – Liberty Bowl, more exposure, recruiting, etc. and may lead to membership in the Big East. That’s what this is all about, getting out of CUSA and into a better, more regional conference with an automatic BCS bid. (And the kids will have more class time, right?)

If Skip Holtz stays, I believe he’ll do at East Carolina what Jim Grobe has done at Wake Forest. (Take itty bitty WF out of the ACC and they are nothing.)

Now that we’ve lost this game, it may be the best thing for us long term. The pressure of an unbeaten season as well as all of that BCS bowl talk is off of us. We played in the loudest, most hostile environment that we will play in all season. Every game atmosphere from here on out will pale in comparison. So when we play at Virginia or other CUSA away games, we will be prepared.

We still have the opportunity to have an excellent season.