N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien is confident in his team's maturity, pleased with the development of his linebackers and unconcerned about place-kicker Josh Czajkowski's struggles at Georgia Tech.
Here are excerpts from O'Brien's news conference Monday as the Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0 ACC) prepares for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game with Virginia Tech (2-2, 1-0) at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Q: I guess the next step is handling the success. How do you help your team in doing that and staying focused and do you sense this is a mature enough group to be able to do that?
A: I think that they, it’s all part of them understanding where they are and how they got to this point and how they have to continue doing what they’ve done for the past month. If they don’t, they’re not going to be able to continue winning football games. Certainly the opposition steps up this weekend when Virginia Tech comes to town. But I think we’ve gotten really great leadership out of the captains thus far and we’ll find out if they’re mature enough to handle it or not.
Q: What impact has [offensive tackle] R.J. Mattes’ return had on your offense?
A: I think [Mikel] Overgaard was doing a good job when he went down [with an elbow injury against Central Florida]. It cost us a little bit of depth because we’re still short a guy because he’s still fighting to get back. R.J., he’s getting back [from knee surgery]. He sat out a whole year and is coming back in. If he was healthy in August he would have, along with Jake, been the best returning guy we had because of all the snaps he played. He’s continuing to get better. I think his confidence grows each and every week. He played a lot of plays Saturday and got banged around and knocked down. So I think he feels confident that his knee is sound and he can continue to get better from here.
Q: Both Nate Irving and Audie Cole have been awarded ACC player of the week through four games. How do you feel like bringing in Jon Tenuta has helped get the linebacking corps together?
A: Jon’s a good coach. I don’t think anybody is going to dispute that. His ability to coach the linebackers, and he came into a pretty good situation, too, because Nate’s back healthy and a heck of a player and has shown it, and knock on wood he stays healthy and keeps playing for us. And Audie has really matured a lot and grew up a lot in the last year. Same with Terrell Manning. So those three kids, in the way we play defense, are given the opportunities to make plays. And they’ve made them. And that’s good for us. They have to make them, or we wouldn’t be having the success we’ve been having on defense.
Q: Russell Wilson had what you identified as a rusty stage there the first few games. When did he kind of make that [improvement]?
A: I think in the Cincinnati game. Certainly he made a couple early throws and made some pretty good decisions. And then he had some guys make some pretty good catches for him, too, early. And that helped. Then he got on a little bit of a roll and a little confidence, and he’s been pretty good the last two weeks.
Q: It turned out not to be a big thing, but Josh Czajkowski got off to a shaky start [missing two of three field goal attempts at Georgia Tech]. Is there anything you can talk to him about, or do you just stay away from kickers?
A: That’s Jerry Petercuskie’s specialty. He’s the special teams coach. He talks with them. They have their own meetings. They have their own séances. He can talk to them and figure it out. I would probably exacerbate the problem if I got anywhere near him.
Q: Are you worried about it?
A: No. He’s been so good for us. Looking at it, in talking with Jerry as we do, and we grade out and everything, he was fast. And I guess Josh said to him after the first one, “I was fast.” He kicked it too fast. Kickers are like anything else. You’ve got to get it back into the rhythm and back into the groove. Because he’s certainly got enough leg and he’s shown that 31-yard field goals should be chip shots for him.