RALEIGH — Nate Irving knows N.C. State's defense is better than it played in its last game.
The All-ACC linebacker is thankful the Wolfpack gets a chance to prove it against West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl.
"It's another chance to show everybody what type of defense we have," said Irving, who led the team with six sacks and finished with 88 tackles.
N.C. State's defense made significant improvement during the 2010 season. The Wolfpack moved up 60 spots in the national rankings in scoring defense (No. 39, 22.5 points per game) and 23 spots in total defense (No. 34, 340.5 yards per game) from its 2009 numbers.
But against Maryland, the defense reverted to '09 form in the Nov. 27 loss. The Terrapins threw for 417 yards and put up 38 points. It was only the third time this season the Wolfpack defense gave up more than 30 points, after having eight such games in '09.
The Terps turned N.C. State blitzes, which went for sacks in a 29-25 win over North Carolina on Nov. 20, into big plays. Maryland receiver Torrey Smith caught 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns.
N.C. State finished with four sacks against Maryland but couldn't disrupt the Terps' passing game.
Linebacker Audie Cole said the defense actually played "decent" against Maryland but was obviously hurt by big plays and missed tackles.
Cole said he expects the Pack's pressure-based defense to take the same approach against the Mountaineers in the bowl game.
"I'm sure we're going to take our chances, and a lot of them will pay off," Cole said.
West Virginia runs a spread option, a different offensive set than Maryland. The Mountaineers are more of a running team, with speed-burning running back Noel Devine (811 yards), than a passing team. Still, first-year starter Geno Smith has been effective throwing the ball. The sophomore quarterback has 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Whether they run or pass, Irving said the Mountaineers have only one speed.
"They're fast," Irving said. "They've just got a lot of speed."
Cole said the Wolfpack defense has to cut down on the mistakes against the Mountaineers.
"What hurts are the big plays," Cole said. "We can't have the missed tackles and mental errors."
Notes: Sunday's practice at Carter-Finley Stadium was open to the public before N.C. State's basketball game with Arizona. A sparse crowd sat out in the cold, but Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said it was a welcomed change of pace for the players.
"They like it when the fans come out," O'Brien said. "It gives them a little more energy."
Freshman receiver Tobias Palmer was the star of the practice with two deep touchdown catches. Palmer, from Pittsboro, redshirted this season with a glut of senior receivers in front of him on the depth chart. Without Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis next season, Palmer will get a chance to use his practice skills on Saturdays.
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