NCAA Football: State looks for answers on defense
By Joedy McCreary
RALEIGH — Not even Russell Wilson could solve this problem for North Carolina State.
A defense, which was thought to be the strength of the team, is allowing more than 400 yards per game. That includes last week’s 34-27 loss at Wake Forest in which the Wolfpack (1-1) allowed 438 total yards and gave up two scoring passes of at least 30 yards.
The prevailing preseason opinion was that the defense — which returns eight starters from last year — would carry the team while new quarterback Mike Glennon got comfortable in replacing Wilson, whose offseason transfer to Wisconsin generated plenty of buzz and overshadowed virtually everything else surrounding the team.
But in reality, the offense has been serviceable while the defense has struggled. N.C. State ranks 93rd nationally and 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total defense, allowing an average of 422 yards.
“I’d say it was an all-around terrible effort,” safety Brandan Bishop said Monday. “Embarrassing, to say the least.”
Coach Tom O’Brien says part of the problem has been injuries to his top three pass rushers — defensive linemen J.R. Sweezy, Thomas Teal and Jeff Rieskamp.
Sweezy, a co-captain, broke his foot during the preseason and is expected to miss three more weeks. Teal could be out five more weeks with a broken foot. Rieskamp injured a shoulder last week and is week to week, O’Brien said. Without them, N.C. State’s four-man pass rush had serious trouble generating pressure.
“We’ve got to find some leadership, and we’re still searching for it,” O’Brien said. “When Sweezy got hurt, the whole dynamics of that unit changed, and we have to be able to survive without that, and we haven’t been able to find that one person to be able to make it work.”
The coaches, he said, are “trying to identify who we can get a pick-up from and leadership from. You lost your two seniors on your defensive line (Sweezy and Rieskamp) that had to give you leadership that we don’t have there, so there’s a vacuum there right now.”
The defense was of the bend-but-don’t-break variety in the opener against Liberty of the FCS, allowing 406 yards but matching a school record by forcing seven turnovers in that 43-21 win.
Then, against Wake Forest, the defense broke.
N.C. State allowed Tanner Price to complete 22 of 35 passes for 297 yards with a 31-yard touchdown pass. Receiver Michael Campanaro threw another scoring pass on a trick play and the Demon Deacons built a 27-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
“The blueprint’s kind of out there, as far as what teams can do to us and what teams are going to want to do to us the rest of the way, until we stop it,” Bishop said. “Tackling in space, getting guys down after the completion and limiting the yards after a catch is a big thing for us.”
This is a critical week for the Wolfpack. They shouldn’t have much trouble with South Alabama (2-0), which is in only its third season of competition and is facing a Bowl Subdivision team for the first time.
But what follows that is a Thursday night trip to face a Cincinnati team that averages 478.5 yards.
“It was ugly and there were a lot of reasons why it was ugly, but the good thing is, everything’s fixable and we’ll go back to work this week and we’ll correct those things,” Bishop said.