It's Thanksgiving week, which slightly alters the Wolfpack's game-week preparations. Sunday through Tuesday are normal, but with no classes Wednesday, NC State head coach Tom O'Brien will push practice back a few hours to take advantage of the afternoon's warmth.
On Thanksgiving, the team will practice in the afternoon until about five, when they will get ready for a feast at the Angus Barn. The team, coaches and their wives will celebrate the holiday together, and O'Brien's thankful to have a meaningful final regular season game.
"About five weeks ago, who knew where we'd be," O'Brien stated. "I'm thankful for this team being able to have the opportunity to do this. I think that's the best thing. I like the look on their faces when they win and enjoy success."
By virtue of its 37-13 win over Clemson last Saturday, the Pack improved to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the ACC. Most importantly, they are one game away from being bowl eligible. A win Saturday against Maryland assures State of its third bowl game in four years.
"They had such a great time playing in the bowl last year," O'Brien said. "When you go to bowls and have a good time, they want to go back. Those experiences are something that you have a tangible goal for them to try to attain."
This is the second straight year that the Pack is playing a meaningful regular season finale against Maryland. Last year the Pack went to College Park with a chance to clinch a trip to the ACC title game, but after jumping out to a 17-3 lead gave up 35 straight points to Maryland.
State rallied to cut the lead to 38-31, but were unable to hold late on a controversial fourth and one.
"I try not to rank disappointments," O'Brien stated. "It was a very disappointing game. You had the opportunity to get to the ACC Championship game and we fought our way each and every week, just like we fought our way to get to this position now and got to go play Maryland. Hopefully being at home will be much better for us this year than having to go on the road."
O'Brien is leery of Maryland despite their 2-9 record. He said that Maryland star junior defensive tackle Joe Vellano reminded him of former Boston College All-American defensive tackle and NFL veteran Chris Hovan.
The Terrapins sophomore quarterback C.J. Brown also poses problems with his dual threat capabilities. O'Brien noted that Brown "almost single handedly beat Clemson himself a couple of weeks ago."
Maryland senior running back Davin Meggett is also one of the top backs in the ACC, rushing for 805 yards and 5.2 yards per carry.
"He's been a tough guy for us to play against," O' Brien said.
O'Brien wants NC State to learn the lesson from its loss at Boston College Nov. 12 and sustain the focus and energy they had against Clemson.
"I said to them very seldom in life do you get a second chance, but they've earned the second chance," O'Brien said. "They've given themselves a second chance. If they're going to go touch the hot stove and burn themselves again, that's their deal. We're in a playoffs right now, either you win or you go home. They have to decide where they want to go.
"You can't think because Maryland has won two games, just because they've lost six or seven in a row that doesn't mean that team there is going to be the one they're going to play on Saturday. They got nothing to lose. They can come here and do whatever the heck they want, and we have to play that way."
O'Brien is also hopeful the fans will help push State over the top.
"They are part of the refuse to lose," O'Brien said. "That atmosphere on Saturday was as good as it gets. We have to repeat that, they have to repeat that, too. I know it's after Thanksgiving. Let's all go shopping Friday and show up 12:30 Saturday with all their new stuff on, get ready to go, we need them."
- Between NC State and Clemson fans Saturday, over 2,000 toys, a new record, were collected at the gates of Carter-Finley Stadium for the annual Toys for Tots drive. Cash donations, coupled with those received from Harris Teeter and Coca-Cola, were in excess of $39,000. Even Clemson coach Dabo Swinney helped.
"Coach Swinney gave me a check before the game to give. I kind of looked at it. It was a pretty sizeable check so I'm real happy with that. We thank the Clemson people for helping us out."
- Saturday is senior day for NC State, and fifth-year senior defensive end Jeff Rieskamp will be honored. Rieskamp missed his redshirt sophomore year and all but one game this season with injuries, making him a prime candidate for a sixth year, but he has indicated he does not want to pursue it.
Senior linebacker Sterling Lucas is missing the season with a knee injury, but since he has a redshirt year, O'Brien said that he will try to return next season. Thus, Lucas will not walk Saturday.
Senior fullback Taylor Gentry suffered a season-ending foot injury against Georgia Tech Oct. 1. O'Brien said that Gentry would like to petition after the season for a fifth-year, but because he played five games it's a "long, long, long shot."
- O'Brien doesn't have a reason for why Maryland seems to be have State's number in recent years. The Terps have won eight of the last 11 games against the Pack. In addition to last year's disappointment, a 37-0 loss in 2007 at home prevented NCSU from going to a bowl game in a similar situation to this year.
"There's always a team in a conference that give other teams problems," O'Brien noted. "I go back to being at Virginia losing 29 years in a row to Clemson. There are instances for whatever reasons, whether its matchup, whether it's attitude, whatever it is, you go in conference you find some teams that always play better against another team year in, year out."
The Wolfpack coach would not mind seeing the Pack end the year with a different opponent. He believes that Wake Forest would be a more natural regular season finale opponent.
"If Duke and Carolina are going to play, then we ought to play Wake," he stated. "We are the four teams in this state, then somehow we have to play each other. That's my personal feeling. Maryland ought to play BC."