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Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina State: Q&A with Backing the Pack

The Hokies and Wolfpack will renew acquaintances this Saturday for the first time since 2005. To get us up-to-date on the Pack, I turned to Akula Wolf from SB Nation's NC State blog Backing the Pack. He was kind enough to fill us in on the current state of NC State football. My answers to his queries are here.

GC: NC State was a team many thought had a chance to win the Atlantic division coming into this year. Now its ineligible for bowl season. What caused the Pack to go from being 3-1 and handing Pitt its only loss to being 4-6?

BTP: I'm not sure there is any difference between the 3-1 team and the 4-6 one. The problems that would plague the Wolfpack down the road--crippling turnovers, poor tackling, bad defense in general--were all on display in the Pittsburgh game, and Tom O'Brien said as much afterwards, telling the media that this was a bad football team with a long way to go. We managed to squeak by Pitt because Russell Wilson played brilliantly and the defense managed a couple of stops in the fourth quarter. Since then, Wilson hasn't been brilliant, and the defense has lost every ounce of its confidence.

That defense is a huge disaster right now. Some of it is injuries--the back seven has endured several casualties. Mostly it's a lack of talent, speed, and awareness. The way they've played, we've needed to be just about perfect in the other phases of the game in order to win, and we haven't come close to that. The special teams have been consistently poor and we haven't been on the plus side of turnover margin in a game since September 12th.

GC: Is the honeymoon over for Tom O'Brien?

BTP: Probably, though it's always tough to guage this sort of thing based on the internet. Nothing was expected of his first two teams, so folks took their lumps with a stay-the-course attitude. With this year's team falling so woefully short of expectations, though, there's no question people are frustrated. TOB's radio call-in show has certainly gotten more entertaining.

Luckily for O'Brien, at least for now, most of the heat has been directed toward defensive coordinator Mike Archer. But I think everybody's tired of hearing O'Brien talk about how he's got to coach better, how the players have to execute better, how significant the team's injuries are, etc. If he can't break through with 7-8 wins next year, I expect it'll start getting ugly.

GC: Russell Wilson's already thrown nine more INTs than he did last year, but he's also already thrown nine more TDs than he did last year. Have Pack fans been satisfied with his performance and his growth as a quarterback this year or is 10 INTs just too much to take?

BTP: He's been essentially the same player he was last year, with more INTs, as you noted. Maybe that's a bit of a disappointment simply because of the high standard he set for himself, but with the exception of Christian Ponder, there's no quarterback in this league I'd rather have under center. If there is a difference in the way he's played this year, it's probably his tendency to force throws a bit more. It could be that he's pressing because he knows the offense needs to score a bunch to cover for the defense, and those 50-50 battles that our receivers seemed to win every time last year haven't worked so well in 2009.

Between the defense's poor down-to-down play and its inability to force turnovers, we've needed Wilson to be the amazingly mistake-free passer he was in conference play last season; unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way.

GC: These two teams haven't played since 2005. How has NC State's program changed since then, other than the obvious coaching change?

BTP: All that speed on the defensive side of the ball is gone, for one thing. The schemes offensively and defensively are dramatically different as well. We spread the ball out a lot more now, the better to take advantage of Wilson's skills. We'll operate primarily from the shotgun. Defensively, we're strictly a zone coverage team, which is a total 180 from Amato's FSU-style man pressure.

GC: Why should Hokie fans be worried about Saturday's game?

BTP: They shouldn't be worried. Not even a little bit. We stink and we have nothing to play for.