Tudor: O'Brien's 'transition' references ring true

Staff WriterNovember 27, 2011 

In the sense that all is well that ends well, N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien left Carter-Finley Stadium a happy man on Saturday.

Maybe the wildest game in school history - a 56-41 win against lowly Maryland (2-10, 1-7) - punctuated an equally madcap regular season for the fifth-year coach.

At 7-5 overall (4-4 ACC), the erratic Wolfpack earned a postseason trip - one that could be to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 at 8 p.m. against a Big East opponent.

O'Brien called it a "transition season."

For much of Saturday afternoon, the pressing postgame question might have been a "transition" to what?

The last time a Pack team finished 6-6 also was the last game for another Irishman, Mike O'Cain, in 1999.

After beating Maryland late in the season, O'Cain's team slipped from 6-4 to 6-6 with demoralizing losses to UNC and ECU. The coach was immediately fired by a woman, then-Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

In contrast, the incredible comeback by O'Brien's team allowed the players and coaches to present a game ball to another female executive, athletics director Debbie Yow, formerly of Maryland.

But when the score was Maryland 41, State 14 early in the third quarter, O'Brien had to be wondering if the ultimate job transition might be in his future.

The Pack had to win the game to bowl.

With O'Brien and his staff finally in the shelter of that postseason, the coach's description of the season could be taken literally.

The transition from Russell Wilson to Mike Glennon as offensive leader was complete.

A defensive unit that had been built around Nate Irving transitioned to a younger group that should benefit from the return of non-seniors Terrell Manning (linebacker), David Amerson (corner), Brandan Bishop (safety), Earl Wolff (safety), Brian Slay (end) and Art Norman (end) among others.

"This team had to grow up as we went along, and that led to a lot of ups and downs - just like in this game," said senior tight end George Bryan.

It helped that the Pack had a nonconference schedule that included Liberty, South Alabama and Central Michigan - all in Raleigh.

Next season's non-ACC schedule will be Tennessee (opening game, Sept. 1, Atlanta), at Connecticut, South Alabama and The Citadel.

There will be difficult league games at UNC and Clemson.

Had Maryland completed the rout Saturday, the offseason and preseason 2012 camp would have been marked by unremitting anxiety and speculation for State's players. The 2011 season would have been remembered for the flattest, most disappointing final-game performance imaginable.

"We were a totally different team in the second half," Bryan said.

He was talking about the game Saturday, but the same could said for the season - three wins in the final four games and a narrow loss to Boston College.

Throughout the week leading up to Maryland, O'Brien maintained that the previous week's 37-13 win against then-No. 7 Clemson would "mean nothing if we don't beat Maryland."

Now a season that easily could have finished 4-8 could turn out to be 8-5, which would have to equate to sometimes painful, but important, transition from bad to good.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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