By Josh Hyber/Photo by Allen Sharpe
A quick YouTube search for “NC State football defense” yields an impressive 183,000 page results.
It’s a lot, yes, but one doesn’t need to spend months sifting through videos of bone-crushing sacks, electric speed and highlight-reel interceptions to know what the Wolfpack defense, particularly the front seven, is all about. Just watch the first link, a video produced by the ACC Digital Network, titled “The Destructive NC State D-Line.”
There’s B.J. Hill sacking then-North Carolina starter Mitchell Trubisky, the eventual No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. There’s Kentavius Street bringing down Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, the 52nd pick, now the Cleveland Browns starting signal caller.
There’s Bradley Chubb corralling FSU’s Dalvin Cook in the backfield and Darian Roseboro bringing Miami’s Brad Kaaya to the turf.
“The strength of their football team is in their defensive front four,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said about NC State at his Tuesday news conference at Williams-Brice Stadium. “Those guys are extremely talented, with (Bradley) Chubb and (Kentavius) Street and (B.J.) Hill and (Justin) Jones. They are really good football players.”
SC will see those “good football players” on Saturday at 3 p.m. when the Gamecocks play the Wolfpack at 3 p.m. (ESPN) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“They’ve very disruptive. They do a really good job of rushing four guys, they can get to the quarterback with four guys rushing,” Muschamp added. “They’re going to do a good job of attacking your protections to get in some one-on-one matchups, which you’ve got to be careful with. They do a good job of ... creating a one-on-one matchups across the board with the linebacker rushing in the rush.
“You got to make sure you get enough variety and protection to keep your quarterback upright, but they’re also very disruptive in the run game as well.”
The success against guys like Trubisky, Kizer, Cook and Kaaya and the season-ending numbers they produced brings the NC State front seven credibility. The front seven led a defense that allowed opponents to 5.1 yards per play and 108.6 rushing yards per game, good for the eighth-best rushing defense in the country. It was the best mark for the Wolfpack in over a decade.
The success of the unit also brings hype.
South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper mentioned this summer that the Wolfpack, “have one guy squatting 700 pounds or something like that.”
“It can’t affect your whole game plan, but it is going to affect some decisions, for sure,” Roper said. “… They play hard, they play physical, they play with leverage and their motor runs high … They’ve coached them and developed them into being really good players who will probably make money playing this game.
“It’s going to be a challenge.”
When asked if SC quarterback Jake Bentley will throw more quick passes than normal on Saturday, Muschamp evaded the question.
“You know I can’t tell you that,” the coach said. “They put their hands up, too, they can bat balls down.”
NC State’s defense returns eight starters, six of which are either linemen or linebackers. Despite playing four teams that ended the season ranked in the Top 25 in total offense, the Wolfpack finished 24th in the country in total defense. Even more impressive, the NC State defense that held opponents to 4.42 yards per play on first down, the second-best rate in the country.
Chubb, Hill and Moore were each named to preseason watch lists for national defensive awards.
The Wolfpack also return two senior linebackers, four-year starter Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore, who has started every game the past two seasons and got the nod in four games as a freshman in 2014.
But, as SC offensive line coach Eric Wolford said earlier this summer, the Gamecock offensive line must line up and play. With a unit that returns four of five starters, they’re capable.
“Every pro scout that comes in here talks about all those defensive linemen (the Wolfpack) have,” Wolford said. “What a great matchup, because really that’s what we are going to face when we play in the SEC. It’s going to be the same style of front so it’s going to be just to kind of a preview for what we can expect during the conference season.”
The ACC hype video ends with a question: Is the Pack defensive line the ACC’s best?
We’re about to see them state their case.