We're excited to be home again, back at Sun Life Stadium. We're playing a really good NC State team coached by, I think, one of the best in the business and a future Hall of Famer, Tom O'Brien.
Just a typical Tom O'Brien team - win time of possession, don't beat themselves, very disciplined, excellent with penalties, protect the football, taking the ball away right now, excellent on special teams. They're a big, physical rugged team.
On offense, they present you multiple challenges. Obviously they're offensive line is experienced – I think they have 90 starts between their center and their guards. They use multiple tight ends. We see three running backs. Thornton was a guy who got 145 yards last week and a touchdown; they're excited about him after last week.
[Mike] Glennon makes the whole thing go – big and strong, can step up in the pocket, get the ball down the field, make all the throws for you, and great vision. The wideouts are doing a great job.
They're excellent in time of possession. They're very balanced - about 150 yards rushing and 250 yards passing, and about 29 points a game. They're doing a great job, and are No. 1 in the conference in time of possession.
We're expecting more pressure than they've shown the past couple of weeks. Very active safeties, both among the best in career tackles. Corners are both long and talented. [David] Amerson is as good as advertised, excellent player – 15 tackles and three interceptions on the year already. Experienced safeties with 37 and 34 starts, and the tackles to go along with it.
The thing that jumps out at you on the front seven is the size of their defensive ends right off the bat. When you turn on the tape and see 285-, 290-pound defensive ends, that is going to be a great challenge for us in the running game, but they also get pressure from them. They're big and strong inside, and have three very physical linebackers.
This is typical for Coach O'Brien. Time of possession, protect the football, take the football away, do great on third down and don't beat yourselves with penalties and those types of things.
About the lack of familiarity on both sides:
They have one player that's played Miami, and I don't know if we've had anybody that's played them. I know Tom [O'Brien], so I have an idea of what we're going to face. You're talking about two of the best coordinators in football over the last 20 years. The combination of those two is something that is obviously doing great. They're holding opponents to 25 percent conversion on third down, they're physical, they execute well. It's going to be a challenge for us Saturday.
On the difference in strength of schedule:
It's the first ACC game for them. They're all jacked up, they have an opportunity to come down. They've been in a big game, clearly, on the road at UCONN - tight game - and they were in a big game to open the season against Tennessee. We are weary that they've had both of the last two games under control, so we might see some things that we have not seen. But I don't think the strength of schedule will have any bearing once the ball is kicked off at 12 p.m.
On the resurgence of Davon Johnson and Ben Jones:
I just think the kids are doing great. They're doing a great job. If there's anything that's kind of overarching, it's that every player deserves a coach that believes in him. We believe in them, we believe in developing as players, and to be honest, equally as developing as people.
The more they have success off the field, the more confidence they have. If you can win categories strength and conditioning, weight categories, community service, whatever it is that you do - and you do it well, you can gain confidence and self-esteem from that. I think there's carryover from that, I really do. I think it's hard to compartmentalize it. These two guys are winning in every facet right now, and it's showing up on game days.
On what the players learned against Georgia Tech:
I hope it does give them confidence, but we're walking that fine line. I hate to go backward; we have to go forward now. I hope we learned something, but I hope we learned a lot from the Kansas State experience, too.
Given the same situation, the way we went about trying to get back in that game, we went about it as individuals. This approach here was forget about the scoreboard, put your blinders on, and execute one play at a time. Have the confidence and the trust, and live with the results. Hopefully we gained confidence from that, but I don't want to keep living like this. It's not fun. We're in condition, we're growing mentally tougher, there's some unity in our reservoir that we can rely on, and the guys stayed together and did a good job.
On the reason for Ben Jones' late emergence:
He has made a lot of progress and he has stayed with it. He has gotten himself in condition, and he's leaner than he has been. I'm really happy for Ben. He has worked hard, he's humble, and he just goes to work every day. It's a lesson for everybody. Stay with the process, trust it, and when your opportunity comes, go out and capitalize on it, and he did. I'm happy for the young man.
On what stood out about Mike James' performance:
The unselfishness. The things that you can't see. His efforts on kickoff returns were phenomenal – the one return that Duke returned to the 50[-yard line], his block was unbelievable, the effort on that. The way he held us together at halftime. He protected in the two-minute drive, he was on the field almost the whole time - he caught screens, caught checkdowns, ran the ball hard. He trusted his conditioning, and his conditioning never failed him. He never wanted to come out of the game.
On Mike James' personal history:
We don't bring it up unless Michael feels comfortable about it, but I know there are some days when he thinks about it, or when he goes home to see his sister, nieces, and nephews. He's strong - his attitude is phenomenal. The way he responds is to give back to the community. He's just an incredible human being. In every aspect of his life, he represents what we want, and, more importantly, he represents what he wants for his mom.
On helping injured players on the field:
I'm almost embarrassed to talk about it, because at the end of the day, Malcolm [Lewis] is injured and Malcolm has to have surgery. That's the bottom line. The kids work so hard for us year round…I've always, as a coach, believed in rolling up your sleeves and being on the plant floor with them, and not being up in an ivory tower. If a guy gets hurt playing as hard as they play, or preparing, or practicing as hard as they practice, they deserve that [treatment].
On the performance of the offensive line against Georgia Tech:
The offensive line played their best game. We need that same focus this week. I know that Georgia Tech got their attention early in the week, as the Wolfpack [have], with their size.
With all the pressures and the three different fronts that we saw last week, it got their attention and they responded.
We won't see all the different fronts we saw last week again this week, but they're stopping the run in other ways, and they're getting off the field on third down in other ways. One of the ways they're doing it is with their sheer size and strength up front – their linebackers are big, their front four are big, and their safeties are active. We have to be locked in. The offensive line did a good job last week, and that's the challenge this week – do it again. Become consistent.
On the performance of Eddie Johnson:
Eddie's done a great job. Every opportunity that we've given him on special teams or on defense, he has fulfilled that role and, with that, he has received more opportunities. He's playing as hard as anybody on our defense right now. He's finishing at a level that is tremendous right now. He's knocking piles back; he's not getting a lot of mental errors. Eddie Johnson is coming to play right now every week, which is great.
On the importance of wide receivers stepping up:
It's a shame that Malcolm [Lewis] is down, but now we need Herb [Waters] and Robert Lockhart to step up. It's a credit to all those guys, and the tight ends, too. A lot of those guys have become pass targets, and of course Duke [Johnson], Mike [James] and ‘OT' [Eduardo Clements] out of the backfield too. We have to keep doing it. We want to be balanced run/pass, and we want to be able to continue to spread it around. We don't want to just give it to one person.
On a perceived lack of results from the tight end position:
I think all of those guys have been rotating in. Last week we saw some things in the game, and we were pleased from the output we had from Davon Johnson and Philip [Dorsett] in the game, so that's the way we went. There is no question we're trying to get the ball to tight ends more
. We need all three of them to respond – [Asante] Cleveland, [Dyron] Dye and [Clive] Walford. We're going to try to get those guys the ball. I agree with Jedd [Fisch] – we need to get those guys the ball more, and they have to respond. Biggest thing right now is ‘DJ' [Davon Johnson], [Allen] Hurns, Duke [Johnson], and Mike [James], and all those guys at wideout, they're running the routes the same way in practice that they are in a game, so the quarterbacks are trusting them. We need to get that out of the tight ends.
On the performance of his special teams unit against Georgia Tech:
I thought we were making a lot of progress, but we didn't play well Saturday on special teams. Our kickoff returns were okay. Our kickoff coverage could have been better. To be honest with you, with [Vaughn] Telemaque down, [Denzel] Perryman down, Gabe Terry did not play, [Andrew] Swasey did not play, [Raphael] Kirby's been out – so I was nervous going into the game, and we did not play well. Terry's back, Swasey's back, Telemaque's back - those guys are all special teams players. There's no question we have to do a better job this week. We did not execute well enough last week – Georgia Tech beat us in the kicking game.
On the play of freshman Tracy Howard:
He has been great. We asked him, as we asked a lot of guys last week - because the defense you put on the field for Georgia Tech is different - his role was to go down and get our offense ready.
He did a great job and had a great attitude He had 100 plays in the first three games, and that's a lot for a freshman. He, and Antonio Crwaford, and some of the other freshmen, they weren't ready for the triple option. It was hard enough having Deon Bush back there at safety.
It's scary. The option is no place for freshmen, let's put it that way. The less we can play against that look, the better. As we get into spring, and then next summer, they'll get their turn and get a look next year.