NC State will kick off Tuesday night against No. 21/22 West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. On the eve of the game, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien and Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart met with the media for the final time before the contest.
The two are long-time friends. Both coaches noted how they are former offensive line coaches whose career crossed paths multiple times. Stewart was an assistant at UNC while O'Brien was an assistant for Virginia, and then Stewart was an assistant at West Virginia when O'Brien was the head coach at Boston College while the Eagles were still in the Big East conference.
Stewart downplayed any talk of distractions over his future at West Virginia. The university announced in December that Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will be the team's new offensive coordinator next season and take over as the head coach in 2012 while Stewart moves into an administrative role in the athletic department.
Stewart noted he believes the team has kept their focus on NC State.
"I don't have any problems coaching," Stewart said. "My job is to keep this football team and this coaching staff focused. We've done a pretty good job.
"We don't talk about distractions. We talk about the opponent and NC State. When we put that tape on NC State our players got more than enough to worry about.
O'Brien declined to share his personal feelings on Stewart's imminent departure.
"I hope that I'm never in that situation," O'Brien added.
O'Brien noted that this is the third time during his years as a head coach, first at Boston College and now at NC State, that he has to play a bowl game against a football squad that was entering a coaching transition period.
In 2005 Boston College defeated Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho, 27-21 in Dan Hawkins final game before he left for Colorado. He also coached BC to a 31-17 win over Arizona State in the 2000 Aloha Bowl in Bruce Snyder's final game at that school.
Other tidbits from Monday's press conferenecs:
- Both coaches expressed concerns that their fans will be able to make the trip to Orlando with the inclement winter weather blanketing much of North Carolina and West Virginia.
- O'Brien made it a point to get the team's trips to the amusement parks out of the way quickly, noting that there is a lot of walking to do in the parks and he wanted his team focused on the game. He feels like his players understand this is an important football game.
He added that NC State is one of just three ACC teams that will be playing a ranked opponent in a bowl game this year.
- O'Brien was very complimentary of West Virginia's offense, and he was impressed with the progression of West Virginia sophomore quarterback Geno Smith. He also admired the physical nature of West Virginia's lines, and O'Brien noted that NC State is trying to get to that point but has not arrived there "quite yet."
Stewart said that much of Smith's improvement came after his foot injury healed, and the coaching staff allowed him to scramble and run more. Stewart also said that after two straight Big East losses entering their bye week, West Virginia decided to go with a lot more two-back sets on offense.
- West Virginia's nationally ranked defense could be a problem for NC State. They run a three-down line set and have five players standing up that can come from anywhere. Stewart feels like they may be quicker that West Virginia's much heralded 2007 defensive unit.
- One major focus for NC State during the bowl preparations was to get better in the fundamentals of pass defense. While NC State shut down UNC and Maryland's rushing attacks, both teams threw for over 400 yards.
O'Brien attributed that partly to poor tackling against UNC and allowing two Maryland players, quarterback Danny O'Brien and receiver Torrey Smith to beat them.
- Stewart's biggest worry about Tuesday's game may be the matchup of NC State's tall receivers and tight ends against West Virginia's smaller cornerbacks. Stewart remarked it could be "jump-ball city."
He also said that it was imperative that they not allow Wolfpack redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson get into a rhythm. He described Wilson as a great "first and 10 quarterback" that moves the chains very well. Stewart predicted that whoever wins the first and 10 battles will have the upper hand in the bowl game.
Click on the links below to listen to Monday's press conferences: