N.C. State QB Russell Wilson has Virginia Tech's full attention
Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer never offered North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson a scholarship back when he was rising through the high school ranks in 2005 and 2006, but that doesn't mean the Hokies weren't well aware of his talents.
Beamer was in attendance at a banquet when Wilson received an award as the best football player in the Richmond area. But the Hokies' coaching staff was afraid Wilson might not play football for four years given his talents on the baseball diamond. In 2010, Wilson was selected in the fourth round of the MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies.
Considering that Tyrod Taylor was already signed to come to Blacksburg, Virginia Tech turned its attention elsewhere. Still, Beamer was quick to point out he's been impressed with Wilson long before he started this season by throwing 11 touchdowns and just one interception.
“We understood how good a player Wilson was ... the question was is he gonna play baseball full time," Beamer said earlier this week. Wilson hit .230 for the Tri-City Dust Devils in short-season Class A minor league baseball this past summer. "Not playing baseball here wasn’t gonna be the issue, it was leaving after a couple years or maybe not coming at all to play baseball. But boy he’s turned out great. He’s very poised and doing a great job for those guys.”
Wilson has become the focus of Virginia Tech's game planning this week. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster compared Wilson's abilities as both a passer and a runner to those of Donovan McNabb when he played at Syracuse more than a decade ago.
It doesn't help that Wilson is coming off perhaps the finest game of his career against Georgia Tech last week. He threw for a career-high 368 yards and three touchdowns while running for a fourth score. He did throw one interception that was returned for a Yellow Jackets touchdown. As a result of his performance, Wilson was named the ACC offensive back of the week for a second-straight time.
"He’s a great threat with his wheels, but even more of a threat with his arm," Foster said. "He scrambles to throw, but he has the capability of beating you on the run. He’s really just a dynamic guy who’s playing extremely, extremely well."
The Hokies were able to contain Wilson last year in a 38-10 victory in Blacksburg. Wilson was 15 of 26 for 234 yards and threw one touchdown and one interception. The real problem was the Wolfpack couldn't hold on to the ball, losing three fumbles in that game.
Wilson has always been extremely accurate, especially for someone known to be a legitimate threat in the run game. He holds the NCAA record with 389 consecutive passes without an interception and has just 13 picks in 795 career attempts. He also has 738 rushing yards during his two-plus seasons as the Wolfpack's starter.
"With him, he’s definitely a speed guy, so you definitely have to be careful with pursuit," said defensive end Steven Friday. "We can’t let him out of the pocket. That’s gonna be the big key. If we do that, I think we’ll be okay.”
Wilson, though, has always been fairly consistent. The problem has been the supporting cast around him. North Carolina State has been beset by injuries in recent seasons, and in last year's game against the Hokies the offense was thrown into a bit of chaos after offensive coordinator Dana Bible found out he was suffering from leukemia and had to leave the team to begin treatments.
Now, Bible is back on the sideline and North Carolina State possesses a receiving corps that Beamer said earlier this week would be the best Virginia Tech would face all season. Wilson completed passes to 10 receivers during last weekend's victory over Georgia Tech.
"We had 16 guys out last season. A lot of them were starting players, good players," North Carolina State Coach Tom O'Brien said. "But the way [Russell] plays and approaches the game is different I think than a lot of people do. Part of it is his baseball. I've never been around such a positive person. He thinks he can do anything. Certainly he's proven he can do a heck of a lot."
Through four games, Wilson appears to be the front runner for ACC player of the year honors, especially if the Wolfpack, which was picked to finish fourth in the conference during the preseason, continue to rack up wins.
Slowing down this multi-talented quarterback has become the No. 1 priority for the Virginia Tech defense. Knowing Foster, my guess is we'll see a lot of nickel coverages, and maybe even a defender shadowing Wilson. Like Friday said, keeping Wilson in the pocket will be important, especially if the Hokies bring pressure up the middle like they have in recent weeks.
But if Wilson has another big day, it could be a long afternoon in Raleigh for the Hokies.
| September 30, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
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