If there’s one thing that Dave Doeren has done well at NC State it’s fielding a good defense. Tony Gibson is one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the country and the Wolfpack do a great job of recruiting to their scheme. While the Wolfpack looks to have taken a step back this year, they still have been able to get plenty of sacks and turnovers with a veteran defense.
The defensive line is always a key in this scheme and State has some good players up front. Former four-star, Savion Jackson is back and looking to finally play a full season. Red Hibbler has been a pleasant surprise as a JUCO transfer with 3.5 sacks so far this year. Devin Vann rounds out a strong defensive end group with depth to burn and great size.
State has had to replace some key players inside over the last few years but they still do a good job of eating up blocks to let the linebackers run free. CJ Clark will likely get the start with Brandon Cleveland rotating in. The interior line will be key in this game as the Wolfpack has improved against the run over the last two weeks but it was a major issue in their first two games. Which run defense shows up?
Payton Wilson may be the most talented football player Louisville will see this year. There may be better players, but Wilson is a physical freak at 6-4/240 with a forty time of 4.49. Wilson showed up a few times in the Notre Dame game chasing down receivers downfield. He is on pace to lead the conference in tackles for the second time in his career and he has also made big plays this year with a game-sealing interception against UConn and 2.5 tackles for loss.
The linebacker group is rounded out by Devon Betty and Jaylon Scott. Both players are solid against the run and make some plays. Scott is a big hitter and I’ve been impressed with his speed to the ball. He has chased down some plays to the sideline that stood out to me. Caden Fordham and Jordan Poole are two young guys to keep an eye on as well. Both were solid recruits.
The secondary has always been good but not great for Doreren but this year they have left a bit to be desired. Sam Hartman carved them up for four touchdowns and Virginia had success with their true freshman quarterback. Aiden White is the star of the group after a super impressive sophomore season last year. He was All-ACC last season and didn’t allow a touchdown all year. He’s started off this season well and will likely be a high draft pick if he bolts for the NFL. He will be a test for Louisville’s receivers.
The opposite corner spot is manned by Shyheem Battle who is another veteran on this defense. Battle is a big corner but his production has fallen off each year after a stellar freshman season. His size could help with some of the short throws that we’ve seen from Louisville but UofL has just been able to run past people so far this year and we could see the same this weekend.
Safety is where Jeff Brohm nas focuses his passing attack and we should expect the same in this game. Devan Boykin and Sean Brown are new starters and they haven’t done much to make me think that they can stop the trend of Brohm putting pressure on safeties in coverage. Brown is second on the team in tackles, which could factor into stopping the run but I keep going back to Notre Dame owning the middle of the field in the passing game and I think UofL could do the same.
The last spot in the secondary is the nickel spot and Robert Kennedy has made the most impressive play of the season for State, in my opinion. He had a very nice pick-six against VMI where he showed outstanding speed. I think he could be a player to watch on the defense as the slot receivers have had a good start to the season for UofL.