In the past two ACC games, N.C. State’s defense has made fewer mistakes and more big plays.
The result this past Saturday was a 24-17 win at Syracuse, the first ACC victory for coach Dave Doeren.
Senior defensive end Art Norman, who had 2.5 sacks agaisnt the Orange, said that’s a trend he hopes will continue.
“We need to keep stepping up,” Norman said. “Hopefully, we’ll improve this week as well.”
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N.C. State (5-4, 1-4) held Syracuse to 38 rushing yards, the fewest by an ACC opponent since allowing 16 in a 37-6 home win over Wake Forest in November 2012.
The Wolfpack also registered eight sacks, the most in an ACC game since star defensive end Mario Williams and his crew had 10 against Virginia Tech in September 2004.
N.C. State started its defensive improvement after yielding 310 yards on the ground to Boston College in a 30-14 loss on Oct. 11.
After giving up 478.3 yards in the first three ACC games, the Wolfpack gave up 369 to Louisville on Oct. 18 and 345 to the Orange this past Saturday.
“We’ve gotten better,” Doeren said. “We’ve gotten a lot better in the last two (games).”
Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) offers a different challenge, similar but not exactly the same as run-heavy teams like Georgia Southern and Boston College.
Georgia Southern, which runs a variation of the offense that Paul Johnson employs at Georgia Tech, ran for 246 yards in the season opener.
N.C. State won 24-23, but the defense had a particularly difficult time keeping track of Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison (118 rushing yards) on the option.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy ran for 132 yards against the Wolfpack.
There is an easier-said-than-done solution to that particular problem, Norman said.
“Everybody has to do their job,” Norman said. “Everybody has to be where they are supposed to be.”
Quarterback Justin Thomas leads the Yellow Jackets with 721 rushing yards. He also has thrown for 14 touchdowns in nine games – the most by any Georgia Tech quarterback under Johnson.
The Jackets rank first in the ACC – and fourth in the country – with 319.7 rushing yards per game.
“Nobody has stopped Georgia Tech,” Doeren said. “We have a great challenge this week.”
Some of N.C. State’s progress will be negated by the style of Georgia Tech’s triple option. The Wolfpack has turned up the pressure in the past two games, and have doubled the number of blitzes, Doeren said.
The difference in pressure and “disruption,” as Doeren put it, has been noticeable from the beginning of the season when the defense would try to sit back and react. Against Syracuse, the Wolfpack had 21 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Jackets average only 15.8 pass attempts per game; even Boston College threw 30 passes against N.C. State.
And while there is some carryover in scheme from facing Georgia Southern, the way Georgia Tech cut blocks is entirely different, Doeren said.
“You can’t simulate the speed that the looks come at you,” Doeren said. “We’re not going to cut our guys for three days and get them beat up going into the game either.”
The Jackets have averaged 35.7 points in six ACC games. Duke held them to the fewest points in a 31-25 win in Atlanta on Oct. 11.
The Jackets have scored at least 40 points three times and put up 56 on Pittsburgh. So even after the progress on defense, N.C. State’s best chance at an ACC winning streak might be the offense.
Senior tackle Rob Crisp said the Wolfpack offense understands the best way to beat Georgia Tech is to keep the Jackets’ offense off the field and make hay with the chances they get.
“We know we have to score,” Crisp said.