No. 23 Wolpack takes on Hokies|N.C. State looks to stay undefeated

Published 7:56 pm Friday, October 1, 2010

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — North Carolina State’s showdown with Virginia Tech is shaping up just as many in the preseason figured it might.
One team is nationally ranked, undefeated and tops in the ACC. The other is clawing back after a discouraging start.
Here’s the twist — it’s the No. 23 Wolfpack who are flying high.
The roles have reversed in Raleigh, where N.C. State (4-0, 1-0) puts its best start since 2002 on the line Saturday in its toughest test so far, the preseason league favorite Hokies (2-2, 1-0).
‘‘I hope (the strong start) gives them a little bit of confidence, because they’ve been having success and they’ve been doing things the right way, the way we want them to do it,’’ Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said. ‘‘So there’s some validation there, not only for us but for them, to understand we’ve done it this way and if you’re going to have a chance to succeed, you’re going to have to continue to do it this way.
‘‘The ranking, that’s good, because it’s a recognition of what they’ve done the last month,’’ he added, ‘‘but it really has nothing to do with the game.’’
The Wolfpack, the only remaining unbeaten in the ACC, will play their first game as a ranked team since Philip Rivers was a senior in 2003. Russell Wilson orchestrates the league’s top passing offense, averaging 289 yards, and the dual-threat redshirt junior certainly looks like the conference’s best player so far. He leads the ACC in total offense, at a shade under 300 yards per game.
Still, a win over the Hokies would be an upset only according to the Top 25 rankings. Las Vegas has Tech as a 4-point favorite.
‘‘Right now, they’re definitely a high-powered team as a whole,’’ Virginia Tech tight end Andre Smith said. ‘‘They definitely have gained a lot since last year, and that’s obvious in what you see with the numbers and things like that. It seems like they’re hitting on all cylinders. Once a team is hitting on all cylinders, you’re just about as productive as you can be.’’
That’s where the Hokies would like their offense to be.
Virginia Tech is coming off a 19-0 victory at Boston College in which it made four trips into the red zone and came away with one touchdown. Perhaps further complicating things, the Hokies once again will be without all-ACC tailback Ryan Williams, who will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
‘‘There’s huge urgency,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We’re just as hungry as ever. We’re more hungry now, just knowing and seeing things we could have done more efficiently. Again, we could have changed four field goals into 28 points. For us, it’s exciting to see where we possibly can be, and for us it’s just going to be a process to get to that point.’’
The Hokies, who plummeted out of the rankings following season-opening losses to Boise State and James Madison six days apart, say they feel like contenders again because they’re still undefeated in league play.
‘‘Week in and week out, we’ve basically been trying to make a statement. We had two hurtful losses to the first two games, but we’re coming out with something to prove every week,’’ rover Davon Morgan said. ‘‘We know the talent that we have, and we know what we can do when we play our game. … We’re coming out with a chip on our shoulders. Everybody’s playing with an attitude, and that’s what we need.’’
N.C. State wants to maintain that hunger, too. It’s been nearly impossible for the Wolfpack to avoid the distractions and other tests of mental toughness that always seem to hover around successful teams.
The campus has buzzed all week about the hot start. Wilson is being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Some players have heard screams of ‘‘4-0!’’ as they walked to class and heard plenty of distressed worries from classmates who couldn’t scrape up tickets to this sold-out game.
That’s why the Wolfpack say they’re heeding offensive coordinator Dana Bible’s game-week message to ‘‘don’t drink the Kool-Aid’’ — in other words, keep locked in on the ultimate goal and don’t buy into the outsiders’ hype.
‘‘We’ve just got to focus like we have been the first four games — one play at a time, one thing at a time, one practice at a time,’’ Wilson said.