NC State head coach Tom O'Brien strolled into the Murphy Center media room Monday for his weekly press conference and quickly noticed the difference. A media contingent about twice as large as normal had showed up.
"Big crowd today, who we playing?" O'Brien jokingly asked.
The Pack renews its rivalry with archrival UNC Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, trying to extend its four-game winning streak against the Heels.
"It's an important game," O'Brien admitted. "It's an important game because it's an important game for our faculty, our staff, our alumni, our fan base. I think that's what makes it different. There are games throughout the year that you can just tell, just look at all you guys here today, it's not just your normal game in terms of playing in the season.
"Every school has a team that is probably their No. 1 opponent that they play during the course of the year. You have to play all 12 games, but there is certainly always a game that's more important than the other ones. This fits that for certainly our school."
To beat the Heels, NC State will need to defeat a well-rounded squad that's 6-3 overall after a lopsided win over Wake Forest in Chapel Hill last Saturday.
"They're very formidable on defense," O'Brien noted. "Their front seven, front four and two inside linebackers are very, very good. The strength of them is up front, and they're huge up front on offense. They are all 300-pound guys. Three of the linemen are 6-7.
"The tailback [Giovani Bernard] has made a difference. He has breakaway speed, does a good job, got really quick feet finding seems and then he can run away from you. The quarterback [Bryn Renner] has been really efficient. They have two big, tall 6-4 receivers that can get down the field and they make tough catches. They are a good football team, certainly deserving of the wins they've had."
O'Brien said that UNC redshirt freshman tailback Giovani Bernard, who is second in the ACC with 965 yards, reminds him of the backs at Virginia only faster and Cincinnati star rusher Isiah Pead. He also complimented how well UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop has used redshirt sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner, who tops the ACC in passing efficiency at 171.9.
"He gets back there and he gets rid of the football," O'Brien said. "Looks like he knows where he's going with the football when the ball's snapped. He's doing a good job of studying the defense and getting pre-snap reads."
State will also need to put the disappointment of last Saturday's 34-0 loss at Florida State behind them. O'Brien's message was simple: "Forget about it, move on."
"You have to do that whether you win or lose in college football today," O'Brien said. "There's a plethora of examples week-in and week-out of teams that play one week and don't play the next. You have to be able to go through a 12-game season playing the one that you just played, putting it behind you and moving on to the next one. You can't let teams beat you twice. That happens whether you win or you lose the previous week."
- O'Brien reiterated that fifth-year senior defensive end Jeff Rieskamp, who was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season Monday, has indicated he would not seek a sixth year even though he has missed almost two full seasons with separate injuries, although the door will remain open if he wants to return. Rieskamp injured his shoulder in practice after the season opener against Liberty Sept. 3.
The original hope was that Rieskamp had suffered a dislocated shoulder and be ready to go in about four weeks, but when there was no progress being made in rehab, a second MRI revealed a tear.
"That's a tough thing to him, certainly for us," O'Brien stated. "I think he played 50 plays this year, thinking you are coming back as a redshirt senior and having a great year and be cut short like that, that's tough for him."
- Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon had perhaps his worst game of the season Saturday, completing 19 of 34 passes for just 130 yards and throwing two picks. O'Brien is not worried about Glennon's confidence however.
"You're still going to have games like that," O'Brien noted. "I think it's a good thing for him that he can learn from it. I think he's the right type of guy that will learn from it and will get better because of it. It's all part of a learning process. I don't think he was shy or intimidated at all. We didn't see that on the field or on the film."
- What O'Brien did see in person was a talented FSU squad. You can count O'Brien as a big believer in a healthier Noles roster that has now one three straight ACC games in lopsided fashion.
"They are better than advertised," O'Brien said. "They were back to where they were. That's the best Florida State defense I've seen since probably eight, nine years ago. They're back to that type of defense. You could sense it looking at tape, but I think certainly in person."
O'Brien also likened FSU redshirt junior quarterback EJ Manuel to former Syracuse and NFL star Donovan McNabb.
- Former NCSU coach Dick Sheridan, the last Wolfpack coach to win five straight against UNC, had done the coin toss at the last two UNC-State contests in Carter-Finley Stadium. He will not be able to do it Saturday however because of personal obligations.