If you like defense, specifically NC State’s defense, the Pack’s 16-10 victory over Syracuse on Thursday night was fun to watch. As the offense struggled to find the end zone, the Wolfpack defense rendered the Orange inert through three quarters.
Of Syracuse’s first eight drives, seven went for punts, including four three-and-outs. Facing off against an offensive line that ranked in the 100s in sacks allowed, NC State took Syracuse quarterback Tommy Devito down eight times. Junior linebacker Louis Acceus, who finished the game with 14 tackles and three sacks, credited the pressure to defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable.
“Oh, it’s all coach Hux,” Acceus said. “It’s crazy scheming. All these blitzes he’s drawing up, everybody’s crossing here, crossing there, and somebody’s gonna end up open.”
The pressure started to get there early in the first quarter, with Tommy DeVito intentionally grounding the ball in the face of white jerseys. The Wolfpack sacked DeVito five times in the first half. Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Moore credited NC State’s success late in the game to the fact that the defense started strong.
“We get one sack, and we get confident,” Moore said. “Our coaches get more confident in calling more blitzes. You get one, you get two, then it keeps rallying off of there.”
Last year’s matchup against the Orange went much differently than this year’s, with Eric Dungey carving NC State up for 51 points. Dungey had 411 yards passing and three touchdowns in a shootout the Orange won. The Wolfpack subdued that passing attack with the new 3-3-5 defense Tony Gibson brought over.
“We need to be able to slow people down that we can’t stop in our other defense,” Doeren said. “That’s Clemson, and that’s Syracuse. Their passing attacks and their receivers. We’ve been able to stop the run against anybody, but those offensive systems make it hard for four down [defenses] unless you just have two NFL corners that can lock people down.”
Though Syracuse couldn’t get anything going in the first three quarters, held to 178 total yards and 4-12 on third down, the Orange started to put it together in the final frame with 163 total yards in the fourth quarter alone. The Orange ended the game driving towards the end zone, just like last year’s contest against Wake Forest, but this year was different. Graduate defensive tackle Larrell Murchison put the game away with a walk-off sack to seal the deal for NC State. With the game on the line, the defense delivered.
“When it’s a tight game like that, as a defense, we just all got tighter,” Moore said. “I think that’s a bond we have on the defense; if it’s on us, it’s on us, and that’s how we want it. We feel like we can shoulder [the team].”
The NC State faithful deserve credit for the win, showing up in force for the white-out, military appreciation game and staying for all four quarters. During the final drive, the crowd got loud and helped cause two 10-second runoffs thanks to false starts. Doeren noticed the effect fans had throughout the game, causing penalties and disrupting Syracuse's adjustments.
“I’d like to thank our fans, it was awesome tonight,” Doeren said. “It helps our guys. We felt it with the pre-snap penalties they were getting [and] their inability to change some of the things that they wanted to do. I appreciate that, it helps a lot.”
NC State hasn't fielded a defense that inspires confidence when the going gets tough in a while, but this unit is performing like one of the best in the ACC despite injuries to its starting cornerbacks and multiple key defensive line contributors. The defense is the strength of NC State this year, despite the adversity it’s faced.
“I think it says a lot about the fight of the entire team,” Moore said. “We’re a hard-working bunch of guys that’s going to fight until the end, and I think we showed that.”