Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
NC State is finally ahead of the game under coach Tom O’Brien.
For the past two seasons, the Wolfpack have started the season with a 1-2 record and didn’t win more than two games in their first four tries. NC State was forced to make a push late in the season to even have a chance at bowl eligibility the last two years. Now, after a 3-1 start that includes a win over a Pittsburgh team contending to win the Big East, the Pack seems in a much more comfortable position heading into conference play this Saturday at Wake Forest.
“The confidence level is way higher,” said defensive tackle Leroy Burgess. “It doesn’t seem like you’re digging out of a hole, you’re just maintaining what you have, keeping the positive energy and that drive to keep doing better.”
And everyone in the program -- starting with O’Brien -- is still waiting for this team to get better.
Not so fast with the applause, O’Brien has cautioned this week. Immediately following NC State’s win over Pitt, O’Brien delivered a very public and poignant message to his players -- they’re not a good football team. Not yet, anyway. O’Brien has downplayed about every achievement the Pack have accomplished this month, including the fact they’re ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense.
“It doesn’t really say anything” after four games, O’Brien said. “If we’re there after 12 games then I think it will say a lot about our defense.”
If O’Brien is trying to keep his players humble, it’s working.
“I believe we all agreed with him,” said tight end George Bryan. “I think that there was a lot that could be improved in that game. We also agreed with how he said we learned how to fight for 60 minutes.
There were more than 20 missed tackles in the win over Pitt and the loss to South Carolina. The Pack had 12 different penalties against Pitt, five of which were false starts.
“When you look at that, we were very happy to win the game, but we certainly aren’t a good football team if you’re doing it like that,” O’Brien said.
And about that 3-1 start?
“I think the schedule has something to do with it,” O’Brien said, referring to the Pack’s lopsided wins over Murray State and Gardner-Webb.
Despite O’Brien’s tempered enthusiasm, NC State has been one of the most consistent teams in the conference so far, winning three straight. The Wolfpack lead the ACC in scoring offense and total defense, are second in total offense, and are tops in rushing defense, pass defense and pass efficiency. And that’s with a depleted secondary and starting four different offensive lines in four games.
“The confidence level is definitely there,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We know that we have a great team this year, but we have a lot of improving to do, like coach O’Brien said right after the game -- we’re not good yet, and I agree. Everybody else on the team does as well. We have a lot of things we have to correct, a lot of things we can get better at and things that we can fix. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, it’s a positive thing that we can get better.”