In the first two games of the 2019 season, the NC State Wolfpack defense has allowed just six total points and has not given up a touchdown. Albeit these games were against the ECU Pirates and Western Carolina Catamounts, what the Pack has done in both of these games should not be overlooked.
In their last game versus the Catamounts, the Wolfpack allowed just 106 yards on the day and 16 total yards in the second half. They also picked up three sacks and held Western Carolina’s running backs to under four yards per carry. The Catamounts only had two runs greater than four yards against the Pack.
For a defense that ranked 108th against the pass in 2018, the Pack has allowed only 326 passing yards in their first two games, resulting in an average of 163 yards per game. The Pack’s rush defense has been even more impressive. They have allowed just 49 yards in 48 attempts, resulting in an average of one yard per carry.
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Improved Defense On Display For NC State
Every defense has its key players that are crucial to its success, and the Wolfpack are no different. They no longer have the likes of Bradley Chubb, Justin Jones, or B.J. Hill. Instead, the Wolfpack are developing new talented players such as Payton Wilson, Tanner Ingle, Brock Miller, Alim McNeill, Drake Thomas, as well as many others.
This young defense led by their captain, defensive lineman James Smith-Williams, appears to be faster, bigger, and more athletic than in years past. All of this can be attributed to the culture that head coach Dave Doeren and his staff have built at NC State. They may be young, but they aren’t afraid of the moment.
“We have younger guys that are hungry, fast, strong, and ready to eat,” Wilson said.
One key reason for the Wolfpack’s defensive success so far in 2019 has been the adjustment to a new defensive scheme. During the off-season, Doeren hired West Virginia Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson. He joined the Pack in the role of co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Coming over from West Virginia, Gibson brought a new 3-3-5 scheme to NC State — differing from the Wolfpack’s base defensive scheme of 4-2-5. The Wolfpack planned on using both alignments, but with injuries to the defensive line, the Pack has almost exclusively been using a three-man front.
“We wanted to see how it played it out and have both available,” Doeren said. “Then we get into camp and we lose three or four defensive tackles within a week of camp. It forced us into being more one-dimensional for a three-man front.”
After suffering an embarrassing 52-13 lopsided loss in last years Gator Bowl, the Wolfpack players have embraced the change.
“I love it because you’ve got more guys in the box,” safety Jarius Morehead said. “You’ve got more guys dropping down in zone coverage. You take away the short routes and you got three guys deep.”
Tougher Days Ahead For NC State
Unlike in years past, the Wolfpack have done exactly what they needed to do when facing lesser competition; play drama-free football.
However, things are about to get tougher for the Pack. This young and refreshed defense will head to West Virginia for their first test against a Power-Five opponent. After the West Virginia contest, the Wolfpack return home to play a very winnable game versus Ball State. Then comes ACC play. NC State will travel to Tallahassee to take on the struggling Florida State Seminoles before returning home to play the Syracuse Orange on a Thursday night primetime showdown. The Pack then travel to Boston College and Wake Forest for two tough road games and then return home for a monumental meeting against the defending National Champions, the Clemson Tigers. The Pack will then finish out the final three games of the season at home against Louisville, away versus Georgia Tech, and then again at home against their bitter rival North Carolina.
There’s no doubt that the level of competition is increasing, but if the Pack can keep this momentum going, expect them to make some noise in ACC play.