by Joe Schwartz
RALEIGH — Maybe I walked into the wrong press conference. I thought I came to listen to a coach beaming about scoring 21 unanswered points to barnstorm Pitt 38-31 and close a shootout of a game. A coach who'd be happy about his team's turnaround and its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team. N.C. State head man Tom O'Brien saw the contest a little differently, his emotions matching the dreary weather conditions.
"Well, we're certainly excited to come away with the victory," he said, using his usual opening line after a victory, looking down at the podium, combing his blond hair with his fingers.
"I know the kids are very happy, but an analysis you look at, we're just not a very good football team. Too many mistakes, a bad job of coaching anytime you've got 12 penalties, most of them before the snap, that's just a bad job. We've got to face up to some facts."
That's the first thing the never-too-high, never-too-low coach said to his team in the locker room, "just so they realize." he said. "They've got a tendency to think they're pretty good, but they're not."
If they aren't good, at least they are exciting to watch. Following two snoozers against Football Championship Subdivision foes, N.C. State (3-1) got knocked down a peg in the first quarter. Pitt (3-1), which had won 13 of its last 17 games coming into Saturday, returned the opening kick 47 yards to the N.C. State 48. Pitt running back Dion Lewis then gained 17 yards on a draw play with a late hit by safety Earl Wolff placing the ball on the 16 yard line. Quarterback Bill Stull found tight end Dorin Dickerson with acres of space in the end zone two plays later to give the Wolfpack an abrupt welcome back to playing someone their own size.
The score marked the first time N.C. State was losing in three games. By the time Murray State and Gardner Webb scored their first points it was already the second half and the Wolfpack were up 65-7 and 38-7, respectively.
Obviously, O'Brien wasn't too impressed. He said the first touchdown came on an all-out blitz, and that his team "gave them the touchdown." A Pitt field goal soon followed.
Everything seemed to be going wrong. Luckily for them, N.C. State has Russell Wilson under center. The never satisfied sophomore found fullback Taylor Gentry for his first career score, starting a trend that saw four different players catch a touchdown. Wilson, who ended up 322 yards passing and 97 running. Still, "nobody had a great game," he said.
Wilson was the key player in contest where quick scoring drivers were plentiful and eyes moved horizontally all day. The game had it all: long touchdowns, field goals that were blocked or hit the upright, huge kickoff returns and a final twist that saw N.C. State snap it over Wilson's head on third down, giving Pitt a 1st and goal on the eight yard line with two minutes to go before the defense made a stand to win it.
Other coaches probably would have been thrilled to escape with a win, especially with Wilson scrambling to convert a huge 4th and 14 play in the final quarter and tie the game two plays later on a pass to tight end George Bryan.
But for O'Brien, his team simply wasn't good enough as they prepare to enter ACC play next week at Wake Forest.
Running back Toney Baker who had a 38-yard touchdown reception in the game said O'Brien's sudden dose of reality sent a strong message.
"I see exactly what he sees, and it's important that everybody else sees it too on the team, I think they do," Baker said. "Really we just got to take it in It's a great win, but the point is we've got a lot of things clean it up."
Get the rubber gloves out. The cleanup job begins at practice this week. For now, N.C. State fans can enjoy the winning mess they saw Saturday.