Monday, September 27, 2010

Pack trying to keep success in perspective

N.C. State defensive tackles Natanu Mageo and J.R. Sweezy were walking on campus this morning when a fellow student shouted a short congratulations.

"Four and oh," the student yelled.

The Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0 ACC), picked to finish fourth in the ACC Atlantic Division in the conference's preseason poll, is the only undefeated team left in the ACC heading into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. home game with Virginia Tech (2-2, 1-0).

N.C. State also is ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press' top 25 for the first time since 2003. While the players are enjoying the positive vibes after the quick start, they also seem determined to continue the hard work that has led to their early success.

"There's still room for improvement," Mageo said, "and we need to not let the spotlight take away from our approach to the game."

Offensive tackle R.J. Mattes said offensive coordinator Dana Bible is saying, "don't drink the Kool-Aid" to players, trying to keep them from drinking in too much of the excitement surrounding them.

"We're not a bad team," Mattes said, "but we're not as good as people are telling us we are."

Coach Tom O'Brien said players need to understand how they got to 4-0 and continue doing the things they have been doing for the past month. So far he is pleased with the team's maturity.

"They don't get too high and they don't get too low," O'Brien said. "That's what's good about them right now."

O'Brien made some other points this afternoon during his weekly news conference:

- Andy Leffler remains the starting punter after averaging 37.3 yards on three kicks in his first career start last week at Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech is known for blocking kicks with its outstanding special teams under Frank Beamer, but O'Brien said one of Leffler's strengths is releasing his punts quickly.

O'Brien said he doesn't want his players overreacting out of concern over the Hokies' special teams.

"You've got to stay in what you do and play the game," O'Brien said.

- Russell Wilson should be considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, according to O'Brien.

"But he's still got to continue to prove himself," O'Brien said. "The best thing we can do is keep winning, and he can keep completing passes."

Wilson has been named the ACC offensive back of the week in each of the last two weeks and passed for a career-high 368 yards at Georgia Tech.

- Virginia Tech is by far the most talented team N.C. State will have faced yet this season, O'Brien said.

He speculated that a heartbreaking, narrow loss to Boise State in the season opener and a five-day turnaround afterward might have hurt the Hokies in their shocking loss to James Madison on Sept. 11.

"They're about five plays from being a top-five team in the country," O'Brien said. "Maybe one loss cost them two, but they're still a very good football team."

Ken Tysiac