NC State has never been known as a defensive powerhouse school but the 2016 defense has shown to be much improved. The Wolfpack has a front seven that has really gotten after the quarterback and they have a back end that has been serviceable at stopping the pass. The Wolfpack has a good amount of speed but they will be tested with trying to contain Lamar Jackson in the run game.
The best group on this Wolfpack team is the defensive line and it’s not really close. Bradley Chubb, Darian Roseboro, and Kentavius Street have been great off the edge and they’ve also been big factors in State’s ability to stop the run. All three are averaging at least one tackle for loss per game and all are in the top 15 in the ACC in sacks per game and TFLs per game. Louisville’s tackles have played pretty well against larger defensive ends like these three but speed has been an issue at times and all of these guys can bend around the edge well. Louisville has to slow these guys down or they will keep the offense out of rhythm.
B.J. Hill is probably the most well-known defender on the Wolfpack defense but he hasn’t made the impact plays that he did last year so far this year. Hill has no sacks and no tackles for loss after finishing last year with 6.5 and 11, respectively. Hill and Justin Jones have definitely get full credit for leading a defense that is only allowing 2.9 yards per carry even though they’re presence doesn’t show much in the box score. Hill can cause havoc with his ability to beat blocks and we’ve all witnessed what happens when things suddenly change in the backfield for Louisville’s offense.
The Wolfpack runs a true 4-2-5 nickel like Duke and the two linebackers are very good players. Arrius Moore has been very good at creating negative plays for two years now and he’s manning the weakside linebacker spot that’s been giving Louisville fits for years (Ben Boulware had 18 tackles from that spot). Moore is a speedy player that could possibly be used as a spy this week. Duke had some success spying Lamar Jackson because they’re defensive line stayed disciplined and kept to their rush lanes. Spying Lamar doesn’t work at all if Lamar has open field to either outrun the spy or make a move on him. Moore lines up next to Jerod Fernandez who left their game on Saturday with what looked like a bad arm or wrist injury. Fernandez would be a huge loss for the Wolfpack defense as he is not only the team’s third leading tackler but he’s also the guy responsible for making all of the calls for the defense. If Fernandez can go, I feel comfortable saying that UofL will be facing the best run defense they’ve seen so far this year other than maybe Clemson.
The secondary for NC State is very similar to the wide receiver group. They don’t have a lot of athletes in the back end but they do have some experience. Jack Tocho has been at State for roughly 17 years and Mike Stevens started every game last year. Just like last year, the cornerback position is solid for State. Tocho has great size but he is a definite liability if you’re asking him to turn and run with someone. Stevens is a good all-around player but he doesn’t make a ton of plays like some of the better corners Louisville has faced this year.
The safety spot is where Louisville killed the Wolfpack last year. Even though the game was in the rain and UofL didn’t pass the ball all that well, Lamar Jackson got to the second level and State’s safeties had zero chance of keeping up with him. Josh Jones returns at safety but Shawn Boone has taken over at strong safety. Jones leads the teams in tackles and he’s made more plays than he had in the past. But, he’s still way too big and slow to match up well with receivers and teams are attacking him because of it. Boone isn’t much better in coverage but I think he might be an upgrade from last season. I don’t think that the Wolfpack will be in man coverage with no deep help like they were last year but they still have the same system they had last year. Lamar Jackson ran wild last year and the same will happen if they chose to leave their safeties to clean up everything that gets past the line of scrimmage.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Bradley Chubb, DE Kentavius Street, DE Darian Roseboro, WLB Arrius Moore, FS Josh Jones