Oct. 3, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
Heading into the 2012 campaign, the Wolfpack offensive line was one of the most solidly entrenched units on the squad. All five starters on the OL heading into the opener had started games previously during the careers, combining to start 112 games, with three as redshirt seniors and one a true senior.
But just six games into the season, the Pack will start its fourth different combination in Saturday night’s game against Florida State. Injuries have forced the NC State coaching staff to make adjustments to what once was a veteran group.
• Senior Zach Allen has already been ruled out for this week. The Pack’s starting right guard in 31 straight games was injured at Miami with a lower leg injury.
• Senior Andrew Wallace missed the Miami game also with a lower leg injury suffered in the win over The Citadel. He had started the first four games of the season at right tackle, after making the switch from guard in the offseason.
• Junior Rob Crisp opened the season at left tackle, but has missed the last four games with a lower back injury suffered in the season opener.
“Despite the injuries, its been incredible the performance we have been getting,” said senior R.J. Mattes who has lined up at both guard and tackle this season. “The next guys up, Cam Fordham and Joe Thuney, just came in and we didn’t miss a beat.
“Guys are paying attention in practice, getting the mental reps when they are watching to know what their job is. I’m proud of those guys for working hard in practice. Even though some starters are down, we didn’t miss a step because the back-ups stepped up and played well.”
When Crisp was ruled out for the second game of the season, redshirt sophomore Tyson Chandler got the starting call at left tackle despite only 26 career snaps. Chandler has since been in for 293 snaps over the last four games, starting the first three at left tackle and then at right tackle last week at Miami.
That new offensive line with Chandler as a starter at left tackle last three games, all Wolfpack wins, before Wallace went down.
With Wallace out against Miami, Mattes was moved to left tackle, Chandler to right tackle, and redshirt junior Duran Christophe stepped in at left guard.
The good news last week was Mattes started 12 games at left tackle last season, while Christophe also started 12 games at left guard a year ago.
“I played (left tackle) all of last season, so it wasn’t too big of a transition,” said Mattes. “Playing guard actually helped me out a little bit with my punch, having to use more power going against defensive tackles rather then using more quickness going against the ends.”
But the injury bug struck again at Miami, when Allen’s leg was rolled up on and he was forced to miss much of the second half. Already ruled out against Florida State, Allen will be replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt sophomore Cameron Fordham (54 career snaps before the Miami game).
Senior center Cam Wentz is the only Pack player to remain at his original position from when the season started, but even Wentz moved around last weekend. With the rash of injuries, Wentz who has started 31 straight games at center, slid over to right guard for 36 plays in addition to getting 52 snaps at center.
Stepping into Wentz’s role at center was redshirt freshman Joe Thuney, who had only 24 career snaps before Saturday.
“The speed of a game is a lot faster than it is in practice,” said Thuney. “I think I handled myself pretty well. Keep getting the opportunity to get into games always helps you out. My teammates helped be out a lot at Miami, and that was a big help.”
Thuney had the luxury of lining up next to Wentz, and Coach O’Brien already mentioned that same could be a possibility against Florida State at some point.
“We talk in the huddle and on the line about how to approach each play,” said Thuney. “We just have to go out and execute, but I think we work pretty well next to each other.”
Despite the hardships that injuries have placed on the offense, NC State has found a resurgent rushing attack as of late.
In the first three games of 2012, NC State averaged just 100.0 yards rushing as a team, with an individual high of just 68 yards. But over the last two games, the Pack has averaged 253.0 yards on the ground with a 100-yard rusher in both games. It marks the first time since late in the 19998 campaign that the Wolfpack has posted over 200 yards rushing as a team in back-to-back games.
“I’m glad we are finally running the ball, that is our favorite thing for offensive linemen,” said Mattes. “We want to pound the rock down their throat, that is what opens up the passing game. The first few games we were not really productive, but these last couple of games have really picked up and we hope to keep that trend going.”
The offensive line, even completely healthy, will have its work cut out against Florida State. The Seminoles defense ranks in the top 10 in five statistical categories: total defense (200.80 ypg, 3rd), rushing defense (72.40 ypg, 5th), scoring defense (11.4 ppg, 7th), pass defense (128.40, 4th) and pass efficiency defense (88.03, 4th).
“Probably one of the best defensive lines we will face this year,” said Mattes. “They are ranked in the top-five for a reason, mainly because of their defense. Their defense has just been shutting down everybody, and ranked in many categories. We have our hands full with them, so hopefully everybody steps up.”
O’Brien agreed with his senior offensive lineman.
“Certainly they have great speed, guys that can come off the edge with speed,” said O’Brien. “We saw that last year. We only have one starter in a spot we want him in. That’s going to be the challenge for the guys up front. We have to be able to protect the quarterback and we have to be able to throw the ball.”