PEELER: O'Brien Pleased With Pack's Rush Defense
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. When NC State football coach Tom O’Brien chastised his defense for giving up too many third down conversions, it responded allowing Maryland to convert just three of eight opportunities.
Next, his sights were set on reducing the number of rushing yards the defense allowed for a team that was ranked 12th in the ACC in rushing defense. And Saturday at Duke, the Wolfpack allowed a season-low 94 rushing yards.
If this is some sort of O’Brien late-season magic, why wasn’t he clicking his heals together and wishing for these things sooner?
The answer, of course, isn’t that simple. Part of it has to do with the return of sophomore linebacker Nate Irving. Part of it has to do with a bye-week emphasis on tackling. And part of it has to do with more aggressive play from the secondary.
But the results were impressive in Saturday’s 27-17 victory over the Blue Devils at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium against an offense that had averaged some 152.3 rushing yards per game. The Wolfpack forced Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to throw 52 passes, mainly on short out patterns. The Wolfpack secondary was never beaten deep.
The front seven of the defense also stepped up their efforts to stop Duke’s offense four times on fourth down.
“It was the game plan from the coaches and the effort from all the players on the field, to give 110 percent and stop the run,” said Irving, who had 10 tackles in his first full game since the loss at Clemson.
For O’Brien slowing down Duke’s rushing game was simply a matter of holding on after initial hits.
“We tackled better,” O’Brien said. “Before, we were missing tackles or teams would just run through the tackles. We were letting 3- and 4-yard runs turn into 12- and 15-yard runs. That allowed us to do better again on third downs and get off the field.”
Irving, from his linebacker position, also made a big difference in that regard.
“When Nate hits you, that is where you stay,” O’Brien said. “We have had some shots where the hit has been made and the running back still gets three or four yards. Duke didn’t get a lot of extra yards against us.”
Irving was initially hurt in the second quarter of the win over East Carolina and attempted an early comeback against Florida State. But he is still not completely healed.
“He’s not close to where he was before he got hurt against East Carolina,” O’Brien said. “If he continues to stay healthy and continues to play well, our defense will continue to improve.”
This week, the Wolfpack (3-6 overall, 1-4 ACC) will face another stiff in-state challenge as it prepares for Wake Forest, a team that won the ACC Championship two years ago with its misdirection running attack. The Demon Deacons (6-3, 4-2) have gotten away from that most of this season and ranks below Duke in the ACC team rushing stats.
“Wake Forest is still a very physical team,” Irving said. “They will run straight at you and get downhill.”
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.