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August 28, 2012

Q&A: Tom O'Brien excited about playing UT

NC State coach Tom O'Brien knows his team will be the "underdog" against SEC member Tennessee, but more importantly pointed out the Wolfpack have the chance to change perceptions of both their program and for the ACC.

O'Brien answered several questions Tuesday during his Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game teleconference, in promoting Friday's game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Below is a transcript of O'Brien's press conference:

Opening statement:

"Our kids are excited about the opportunity presented to come to Atlanta and play in the game like this on a Friday night against a SEC football powerhouse. It's a great opportunity and that's how we are looking at it. We look forward to the game on Friday night."

What do you remember about Tennessee coach Derek Dooley when he played at Virginia?

"He continues to tell me he protected me all those years from those guys, so I take him at his word. Derek came to UVa as a walk-on and Coach [George] Welsh personally recruited him. He earned a scholarship and deserved to get a scholarship.

"As I tell our wide receivers all the time, if you catch the ball, the quarterback will throw it to you. Derek would catch the ball, he'd get open and he'd make plays for us. He was always a smart player and he knew the offense. He probably knew everybody's position on the offense, and certainly was a leader on that football team that had a lot of leaders."

What sticks out about Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter, who is returning from an ACL injury?

"The first thing is, he's big. He's a 6-foot-4 kid and he can run and has great hands. He can go up and get the football. He was probably the go-to guy when he got hurt last year. He is certainly coming back. The wider you play away from the ball, the easier it is to get back into the swing of things. Wide receivers can come back from injuries, and almost start off from where they were without very little drop off."

How do you feel about the team coming out of camp?

"I think head coaches right now, when you get to the end of camp, you look forward to playing the opening game after practicing against yourself for such a long time, you aren't sure what you have. In an opener against a team like Tennessee, you end up trying to cover everything. A lot of the questions that we might have about ourselves, when you go against an SEC powerhouse like Tennessee, they will be answered for us when we get through our first game."

How will Dontae Johnson do at cornerback?

"Dontae will be fine. We made the move last spring. Dontae started the spring game at corner for us. It really had nothing to do with C.J. [Wilson], but everything to do with Dontae Johnson and what his abilities are. He's been at cornerback since spring practice and he finished up spring practice at corner. He certainly has continued to have a good camp."

Did NC State recruit Daniel McCullers from Raleigh, who signed with Tennessee out of junior college?

"Certainly, we were [recruiting him]. We knew about him coming out of high school [at Southeast Raleigh], and we knew he was going to Georgia Military [College]. We went to recruit him there at Georgia Military, but we were recruiting him to be an offensive lineman. He wanted to play defense. He kind of told us to take a hike because he would rather play defense in college."

Do you see similarities between Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and NC State quarterback Mike Glennon?

"I think they are similar in stature. They both have strong arms. I know Michael is a student of the game, and from what I know about Tyler, he's a student of the game. They both were with each other during the summer at the Manning Camp, and I'm not sure about the Elite 11. They got to hang out with each other.

"It's unusual that the opposing team has a quarterback who is the same ilk of yours. Your secondary, as they go against each other, you are getting a good look and preparation for the quarterback you have to play against in the opening game."

How does your defensive line stack up compared to ones in the past at NC State?

"It's more experienced and deeper, which is what we've talked about since the end of last year. The depth comes for us at the defensive end position. We moved a couple of kids. Last year after we went through the injuries the first five games, we redid the whole defense. We ended up moving [Brian] Slay outside and [Darryl] Cato-Bishop played inside, and moved outside [for this year], and they've both dropped some pounds. Art Norman has played, [McKay] Frandsen has played and [Forrest] West is a transfer who started two years at Colorado that came back to the East Coast. There is good depth and good experience there.

"[T.Y.] McGill finished the year really strong for us last year [at defensive tackle]. [Thomas] Teal played a lot last year when we had all those injuries. The two guys [Carlos Gray, Deylan Buntyn] behind them are inexperienced, but they are the kind of guys we want to play with in the middle. They are both 6-3, 6-4 guys and 300-plus pound guys.

"There is some depth on that [defensive] line, with some experience and some guys that have played a lot of football. We believe in playing two lines and even more now that we have more guys who are able to play to be fresh when we get to the fourth quarter of the football game."

How are the new starters at linebacker?

"I think they've progressed during camp. We've moved [Brandon] Pittman, who has been inside and been outside. To get the best three, he's in the best three, so it's better for us he's outside. [Rickey] Dowdy is more of an inside guy. We get Sterling Lucas back after a year with a knee injury. Those are three guys who have progressed through camp.

"The first test will be Friday night when they get on the football field and everything changes, and the crowd is roaring. Those are three positions that we really have to pay attention to as the game starts and progresses Saturday night."

What would a win mean to the ACC to start the season?

"I think it would be a departure on what has happened in the past couple of seasons. Since I've been in the league, and come down here to State, we've started this game, and there has been other high profile ACC out of conference games. We haven't won any. Certainly, that creates a perception and talking points for everybody else in recruiting against the ACC. It's an opportunity. We are playing this game first for our football team, our school and our alumni, and then we'll play it for the ACC. It's not lost on me as a coach in the ACC, that we have to start winning games like this."

How much time have you spent watching Alabama defensive film last year?

"We've spent a good amount of time looking at them. We weren't sure until their depth chart came out that they did go to three down lineman with the J.C. kids they have in there. We've practiced four down lineman because we are a four down lineman football team. We got a pretty heavy dose of that in camp. Once we stopped camp and turned our attention to Tennessee, we went more to looking at the odd and more to the slide out of the odd, one way or another."

Do you recruit against the SEC for a lot of kids?

"I think it's difficult to deal with. We do, but it's not as much as some of our southern conference members do - the schools in Florida, Georgia and possibly South Carolina. That's where you have a much greater SEC influence, and they talk about it all the time. I think it's something we have to be aware of. Winning all those national championships adds validity to their argument."

What is the impact of playing Tennessee has had on the team during camp?

"I think it started last January when we came back after we won six of our last eight games, and guys were feeling confident with what they were doing. When they looked at the schedule, they had Tennessee starting them right in the face. I think it started last January, and carried over to our offseason workouts and into spring practice, through the summer work sessions and then preseason camp. The closer it gets, the more excited we get about the opportunity. As the ACC, we go in again as the underdog to an SEC team. We recognize this opportunity, and are trying to go do something."

N.C. State NEWS


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