Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wolfpack's focus on tackling pays off

During N.C. State’s open date last week, coach Tom O’Brien focused the defense almost exclusively on the fundamentals of tackling.

“That’s all we did,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien was particularly frustrated as Maryland rushed for 203 yards in a 27-24 defeat of the Wolfpack on Oct. 25 before the open date. O’Brien said missed tackles turned 3-, 4- and 5-yard gains into 10- and 15-yard gains.

With fewer missed tackles in the return from the open date at Duke on Saturday, N.C. State gave up a season-low 94 rushing yards and won 27-17. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer loaded up the box to prevent the Blue Devils from running in the middle of the field.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe countered with passes to the flats to challenge N.C. State cornerbacks Jeremy Gray and DeAndre Morgan. Gray made 16 tackles and Morgan added 15.

And in the middle of the field, linebacker Nate Irving finished tackles that others might not have made when he was out with a sprained ankle.

“Nate has a lot of shock and power to him,” O’Brien said. “When he hits you, you go down. A lot of the extra yards that we have been giving up. . . .didn’t happen on Saturday. And still against some pretty good backs who have run through and over people in the past.

“He’s not close to where he was before he got hurt in the East Carolina game but if he continues to stay healthy and continues to play, he has a couple games to get back there.”

N.C. State’s rushing defense will have to be even better against Wake Forest, which has used the power-I and smash-mouth football for three straight wins. The teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Raleigh.

The Deacons are hot and have an Atlantic Division title in their sights, but they will have to penetrate an improved N.C. State rush defense to extend their winning streak to four games.

– Ken Tysiac