NC State D features fast pack of Wolves
Just a hunch but expect Reggie Herring to get some votes for the Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant coach.
The first-year NC State defensive coordinator is presiding over a devastating Wolfpack crew. They blitz. They chase. They swarm. And they don't stop. State went into Lane Stadium last weekend and abused the Virginia Tech offense, recording 18 tackles behind the line, including 10 sacks of the Hokies heady QB Bryan Randall. (Tech managed just 35 net yards through three quarters.) Through the first month of the season NC State leads the nation in defense, allowing just 165.3 yards a game -- 68 yards on the ground and 97 passing. It's a huge step up from a group that ranked 89th overall last season. So why the big change?
Yes, State is indeed blitzing more, but as Wolfpack coaches are quick to point out, they aren't running any blitzes that everyone doesn't on a weekly basis. Manny Diaz, State's bright young safeties coach, says the keys are that they have everyone back, all those guys are really fast, and everyone's play more together than last year, "so now those fast guys are playing fast."
Having one voice to run the defense, the fiery Herring, explains just why they are able to play more together. (Last year, coach Chuck Amato relied on a coordinators-by-committee approach.) Now, instead of four separate factions, there is one way to follow. Herring's way.
Consider Manny Lawson Exhibit A. The freakish 6-foot-5, 230-pound (5 sacks) shifted from OLB to DE this season and now has Amato evoking comparisons to one of his former FSU greats, Peter Boulware, after Lawson came up with three sacks against Tech. Lawson and bookend DE Mario Williams also are faster than most OLBs in the country so dropping them into coverage on some zone blitzes gives the Pack even more bite. Adding a horse like DT John McCargo causing havoc inside helps even more, so does the improved play of cover corner Lamont Reid, and safeties Marcus Hudson, Andre Maddox and Troy Graham.
Best of all, though, there is a feeding frenzy mentality that has taken hold. Players believe in what they're doing. That makes them relentless. But apparently, it's going to get even nastier.
"We're nowhere near, nowhere near, where we want to be," Herring told reporters this week. "This defense is just scratching the surface. Somebody said, 'Well, you got 10 sacks last week, that's pretty impressive.' You want to know the truth? We should have had about 15 or 16."
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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