The NC State defense led the charge last season when the Wolfpack won nine games. The expectation was that this group would help to get the program over the hump and get to double-digit wins. This veteran group has been able to deliver for the most part with a litany of players that I’ve been writing about in this space for years. Tony Gibson was named to the Broyles Award list this week, and this group that he leads has helped him earn that accolade.
State runs a 3-3-5 with a large defensive line that does a great job of eating up blocks and being disruptive so that their linebackers can run free and make plays. Corey Durden is the man in the middle and the Florida State transfer is relentless. He and C.J. Clark are forces against the run. Devin Vann rounds out the group and he is coming off a very good game against Boston College. It goes without saying that UofL’s offensive line must handle this group if they expect to do anything on offense this weekend.
The Wolfpack finished the BC game with 13 TFLs, 12 QBHs, and 5 sacks. Nearly all of those plays were made by their linebackers. Drake Thomas, Peyton Wilson, and Isaiah Moore are flat-out outstanding. Wilson is an NFL talent while Moore and Thomas are extremely high-level college players that could definitely play at the next level. Thomas is the most productive of the group and he had an All-American type of game last season against the Cards. He contained Malik Cunningham by himself and you can make the argument that he was the main reason State got the win.
Moore is the steady veteran in the middle of the defense but he can really get after it between the tackles. He beats blocks with his strength. He knows how to read plays to fill his gaps. He can also rush the passer well. But he doesn’t have the best foot speed and can be exploited in certain situations.
Wilson is a prototype linebacker from a size and speed standpoint. He is 6-4/240 and he covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Injuries have been an issue for him but he can still really play and he will be a factor against the run. There aren’t many flaws with this group but I do think that Marshon Ford could have some success if NC State puts these guys in man coverage. They’re not bad in this area, but Ford is just better.
The secondary is a mixed group of veterans and young players. The cornerbacks have been good this season with Aydan White making a lot of plays on the ball as a second-year player. Shyhiem Battle has been a mainstay on the opposite side while Derrek Pitts is a part-time starter in the three-man rotation. This group has great size and they are very physical in coverage. They will challenge UofL’s short passing game that looks to use Tyler Hudson’s size as an advantage.
Tanner Ingle is the Perry Ellis of football to me as I feel like I’ve been writing about him for a decade. The undersized safety does a bit of everything for the Wolfpack and he does all of it fairly well. Ingle will play in the box as an addition for run support and he will line up outside in man coverage against slot receivers. He is a key player for this defense with the experience that he brings.
The other safety spot is manned by Cyrus Fagan who transferred in from FSU last season. He is another veteran player on this defense who can make plays. Tyler Baker-Williams has been a very productive player for the Pack this year though he has missed some time. At one point, PFF rated him as the best defensive back in the country and he has been very strong as a slot corner even though he is a fairly big player with the build of a safety. UofL is banged up at wide receiver but this group has had a few rough moments this season. Hopefully, UofL can find a way to get the passing game going.