In NC State’s impressive 38-21 win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, the defense played an all-around fantastic game, grabbing up a total of four turnovers. There was some inspired play in all three levels of the defense, especially in spite of some significant injuries, or ejection in the case of junior safety Tanner Ingle. Let’s take a closer look at the impressive NC State defense.
Junior defensive tackle Alim McNeill is going to have a long career if he can keep up the power that he played with in the victory. It isn’t often that you see a 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman get interceptions, but that’s exactly what McNeill accomplished when he picked off Lindell Stone and returned the pass for a touchdown.
McNeill wasn’t the only member of the Wolfpack D-line to have a good day, as redshirt freshman Terrell Dawkins recorded his first career sack and added two tackles.
The entire Wolfpack D-line showed up the entirety of the game, which was especially noticeable on yet another goal-line stop after last week’s stand against Pittsburgh. Having such an impact, despite missing graduate end Daniel Joseph and only putting up one sack as a group, is worthy of a strong grade.
The Wolfpack linebackers did just a little bit of everything in the game, primarily stopping the run and getting in on the turnover party. It was business as usual for redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson and sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas as the pair combined for 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Cavaliers running back Wayne Taulapapa had been having a good season thus far, with 177 yards and two touchdowns to his name already, but the Wolfpack was able to hold Taulapapa to just 35 yards on 12 carries. All in all, the NC State’s defense only allowed 82 total rushing yards, an impressive showing once again.
It doesn’t hurt that redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore also found a way to make a huge impact once more this season, snatching up a fumble from Cavs running back Shane Simpson that was knocked out by sophomore safety Jakeen Harris.
Talk about stepping up. The secondary received yet another blow this week prior to the game when it was announced sophomore safety Rakeim Ashford was done for the year due to injury. Heading into the matchup, there was a lot of pessimism about how the banged-up Wolfpack secondary would deal with a behemoth of a receiving corps from Virginia.
However, those concerns were alleviated with an extremely impressive and inspiring performance by this group. As a whole, the Pack secondary accounted for five pass deflections, two of three NC State sacks, two interceptions and 40 tackles.
NC State did allow 323 total passing yards, but that number looks a lot better when broken down. For starters, 26 of those yards went to punter Nash Griffin on a trick play, and the 297 other yards were split between two different quarterbacks.
The two other UVA quarterbacks combined for 27 incompletions and three interceptions, poor games for each.
Redshirt freshman Shyheim Battle had a stellar game, which is promising for the future of this young secondary. Battle finished the game with his first-ever interception and his first-ever sack. Freshman defensive back Joshua Pierre-Louis also recorded his first career interception on the game, coming off a tipped pass.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Malik Dunlap and sophomore cornerback Cecil Powell also had strong games, with the young duo accounting for three pass deflections, nine tackles and a sack.
The only things keeping this secondary from a perfect grade are the ejection of Ingle on a targeting call and Harris dropping two potential turnovers, though Harris still had an excellent day and led the team in tackles.