NC State has its first winning streak of the year after topping Virginia 28-14 in Charlottesville, Va., last Saturday. Now the Pack knows they will be facing a stiffer challenge Saturday when they travel to Florida State.
"Going out and playing, especially the way we did on defense, I think was very satisfying for us," head coach Tom O'Brien said Monday. "Hopefully it will give us a little boost here. We have to go on the road again and play what's become a real explosive Florida State football team the last couple of weeks. It's a big challenge ahead of this week."
O'Brien added that from start to finish, the win at Virginia was the best defensive performance of the season. State held the Cavs to 249 yards of total offense, picked off three passes and limited UVA to 124 rushing yards, almost 70 below the Wahoos' season average prior to the game.
The challenge Saturday though will be containing FSU dual-threat redshirt junior quarterback EJ Manuel. He has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
He's also a 6-foot-5, 245-pound threat with his legs. Manuel has rushed 44 times for 132 yards and three scores despite missing all of the Clemson game and parts of the Oklahoma and Wake Forest contests with a shoulder injury.
"He's a big, strong runner," O'Brien noted. "He's not afraid to pull it down and run with it. They run option with him, they run zone-read schemes, they do everything with him. He's very capable to take off and run."
Defensively, the Noles are noted for their aggressive pass rush. Maryland sophomore quarterback C.J. Brown was knocked out of the Noles 41-16 win last Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. FSU is second in the ACC in sacks, one behind Virginia Tech, but the Hokies have also played one more game this year than the Noles.
Protecting redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon will be a top priority Saturday.
"You don't want him to take any hits," O'Brien said. "Sometimes it's not avoidable. I think he's shown a lot of toughness, a lot of resilience. [Brandon Jenkins] is a great pass rusher. [Bjoern Werner] is on the other side, they great two defensive tackles in the middle that we played last year. These guys can bring a lot of pressure."
O'Brien's secret strategy for protecting Glennon?
"You can hold and hope they don't call it," O'Brien half-heartedly joked.
Click on the link to listen to O'Brien's press conference.
Other tidbits from Monday's press conference
- Redshirt junior receiver Tobais Palmer should be able to play Saturday after sustaining a concussion in pregame warm-ups at Virginia. O'Brien said that Palmer ran into fifth-year senior receiver Jay Smith at some point while catching passes, and that's how he sustained the concussion.
"He was fine yesterday," O'Brien added. "As long as he stays symptom free and the doctor says he can play, he'll play."
- Sophomore cornerback David Amerson's eight interceptions leads the country. O'Brien recalled a conversation with Wolfpack linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, who called Amerson one of the top five talented corners he had ever seen. Tenuta has been a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame among other stops in his coaching career.
NC State defensive backs coach Mike Reed recruited Amerson to Raleigh, and he started the four-star recruit as a true freshman at the boundary corner before moving him to field corner this spring.
"He was a freshman, and the way we played last year we were rolled up a lot into the boundary," O'Brien stated. "Just assignment-wise he had a lot of flat coverage and could play into the boundary. He's a physical enough kid. You don't want to put them in a situation where they are going to lose confidence, and he gained confidence as the year went along. We moved him to field because of his abilities."
- Fifth-year senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy was questionable before the UVA game but played 25 snaps as a reserve, making one solo tackle. Sweezy is back on the first-string on the depth chart.
Sweezy broke his foot in the preseason and had surgery to put a screw into the bone. He returned for the Georgia Tech game Oct. 1, but lingering pain forced a trip to Charlotte to visit renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson. Anderson reassured Sweezy though that the foot was sound.
"There is going to be pain, but the fracture was fine, the screw was fine," O'Brien said. "Hopefully he'll be better this week."
- True freshman T.Y. McGill has had to play extensively this fall with all the injuries on the defensive line. He made his first career start at UVA, and through seven games has nine tackles, including one for a loss.
"He's kind of like [redshirt freshman receiver] Bryan Underwood, O'Brien noted. "Those are kids that we have in our program that we know are good players, that as they mature and grow they are going to be really, really good players. It's not the time that we want them because if they were really good players right now they would be playing.
"As a 300-pound kid, he's really light on his feet. He can run. He'll only get bigger. He'll only get stronger."
O'Brien said that McGill, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Thomas Teal and freshman Carlos Gray, who is redshirting, remind him of the defensive tackles they had while coaching at Boston College. Teal was listed as out on the injury report, still recovering from a foot fracture sustained in the season opener Sept. 3 versus Liberty.
- Count O'Brien as a fan of noon games.
"I think a lot of coaches like it because you get up, you play and it's over with," he said. "The night games, the days go forever, especially if you are on the road because then you don't get back till three or four in the morning. The less time I think I have to be with the team responsible for them in a hotel on the road, the more I like it."
NC State and FSU will kick off at noon Saturday. A week later State-UNC will be a 12:30 kickoff. State will likely leave Raleigh around 4:30 Friday to fly to Tallahassee and may spend as little as 24 hours before returning home. O'Brien does understand how the crowd atmosphere may be lacking at times with early kickoffs.
"Especially where tailgating is big," he noted. "I think our crowd is much better at night than they are at 12 noon, too. It gives you the opportunity to get revved up and ready to go."
- Redshirt sophomore Rashard Smith got his first start of the season at Virginia, taking redshirt junior C.J. Wilson's spot at the boundary corner. Smith made four tackles and broke up a pass in the win, while splitting time with Wilson, who added a pair of hits.
"I think Rashard has a great feel for the game," O'Brien said. "The one thing we did do was we stopped their screen game, which two weeks in a row has been an emphasis for us. I think one of the plays [Rashard made] was a screen. He came up and read it and made a play. He's helped us a lot. He went from defense to offense, now he's back on defense.
"He and C.J. are kind of rotating on there. Keeps them fresh and keeps them physical we hope."