ACC Football: N.C. State defensive line hopes to dominate UNC
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012
RALEIGH – For the past two years, North Carolina State has beaten up North Carolina’s offensive line and quarterbacks.
For the past two years, North Carolina State has beaten up North Carolina’s offensive line and quarterbacks.
N.C. State has racked up 11 sacks and held the Tar Heels to minus-4 yards rushing in the past two meetings heading into Saturday’s renewal of the long and heated rivalry. This time, the Wolfpack brings one of the nation’s best pass rushes to Chapel Hill while the Tar Heels have been among the nation’s best at protecting quarterback Bryn Renner.
North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien, who coached the offensive line during his time as an assistant to George Welsh at Virginia, called the Tar Heels’ front “the best offensive line we’re going to play against this year.”
North Carolina has started the same offensive line in seven of eight games this year.
“Those guys have played every game thus far this year,” O’Brien said. “That’s the key to having a good offensive line, other than having the good players they have, is being cohesive and playing with the same guys week in and week out.”
North Carolina (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) knew the line would be a strength with the return of senior guard Jonathan Cooper and junior tackle James Hurst, who had a combined 60 college starts entering the season. The line has allowed just five sacks all year, best in the ACC and eighth nationally in fewest sacks per game (0.63).
N.C. State (5-2, 2-1) leads the league and ranks tied for eighth nationally in sacks, including 10 in the past two wins against Florida State and Maryland.
The Wolfpack averages better than three sacks per game.
“Just getting pressure, on the back end it makes our job easier covering (receivers),” Wolfpack safety Earl Wolff said. “With them bringing that pressure, it allows us to try to hold our receivers not as long as we’d need to, which opens up a lot for you. Hopefully we’ll bring that pressure and hopefully that’ll eventually turn into turnovers.”
N.C. State has won the past five meetings, though its ability to pressure the passer has been key in the past two wins in particular. Two years ago, N.C. State sacked T.J. Yates seven times and held the Tar Heels to minus-7 yards rushing in a 29-25 road win.
Last year, the Wolfpack held the Tar Heels to 165 total yards – including just 3 yards rushing – racked up four sacks and knocked Renner out of the game in the 13-0 win.
“They’ve been able to blitz well, had a great players up front and I feel like they schemed very well against us,” Cooper said. “That made it very difficult.”
To listen to UNC’s players, N.C. State also played with more intensity than they did in the past two games. The Tar Heels, who haven’t beaten the Wolfpack since O’Brien took over before the 2007 season, know they’ll have to figure out a way to match it – something they haven’t been able to do so far.
“They’re a well-coached team and they’re going to play hard,” Renner said. “They’ve got the upper hand so we have to try to match their intensity and try to get out early and play a good, clean game. We know what they’re going to bring to the table every time we play them.”