NC State

The key to beating Boston College? Stop the run

Joe Giglio previews NC State’s matchup with Boston College

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio asks whether this is a new NC State football team we are seeing as the Wolfpack face the Boston College Eagles on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
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The News & Observer's Joe Giglio asks whether this is a new NC State football team we are seeing as the Wolfpack face the Boston College Eagles on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Who plays for Boston College might change on Saturday but how the Eagles will play, probably will not.

At least, that will be No. 23 N.C. State’s approach to Saturday’s important ACC home game with the 4-1 Eagles.

“It doesn’t matter who is back there, we have to stop the run,” senior linebacker Germaine Pratt said.

The “who” will be determined on Saturday, BC coach Steve Addazio said earlier this week. Star running back A.J. Dillon, who leads the ACC in rushing, sprained his left ankle in last week’s win over Temple.

Dillon, who has 652 rushing yards this season, will be a game-time decision, Addazio said. If Dillon can’t go, the Eagles will have a few good options. Junior Ben Glines ran for 120 yards in relief of Dillon against the Owls. Freshman David Bailey (6-1, 245 pounds) is cut from the same cloth as Dillon (6-0, 245).

“That’s what they do,” said Pratt, N.C. State’s leading tackler (36) through four games. “They pound the ball. We have to stop the run.”

The unbeaten Wolfpack (4-0) has been effective against the run this season. N.C. State ranks No. 19 in the country in run defense (104.3 yards per game).

N.C. State had to replace eight starters from last year’s defense. The whole front seven is new with all four of last year’s defensive linemen going in the first four rounds of the NFL draft.

With quarterback Ryan Finley back and a standout group of receivers and blockers, the questions before the season about N.C. State were on the defensive side.

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, whose background is as a defensive coach, said when that happens, the group that gets the least attention is usually the hungriest.

“I think that happened with our defense,” Doeren said. “I think they listened to everyone talk about the other side of the ball all summer and it made them mad. They wanted to prove something. All they heard about who was leaving instead of who is back.”

Junior defensive end James Smith-Williams, who has five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, has been one of the surprises on the defensive front this season. Junior defensive tackle Larrell Murchison leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss (and three sacks).

N.C. State’s rebuilt defense has been effective against the run this season. Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins, who has had two 100-yard rushing games this season, was held to 24 yards on 14 carries by the Wolfpack.

“Stop the run, have some fun,” Smith-Williams said. “That’s our motto.”

But none of the teams on the Wolfpack’s schedule so far have the ability to run like the Eagles.

“This team we are playing this week, Boston College, will be the best team we have played,” Doeren said. “There’s no doubt. Statistically, they’re a very impressive team and they have great players and they’re very experienced.”

Doeren called Dillon, who ranks fifth in the country in rushing yards per game (130.4), the best running back in the country.

Dillon had his way against N.C. State’s defense last year in a 17-14 Wolfpack win at Boston College. Dillon ran for 196 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run, in last year’s game.

The 236 total rushing yards were the most N.C. State allowed in an ACC game last year. The 168 rushing yards Boston College had in a 21-14 win at Carter-Finley Stadium in 2016 were the most N.C. State’s defense gave up in any game that season. The Eagles ran for 310 yards in a 30-14 win in Raleigh in 2014.

“They like to load the line with big boys and they like to pound it,” N.C. State safety Jarius Morehead said. “We have to be physical and wrap up on their running backs.”

That’s N.C. State’s plan, no matter who winds up playing running back for the Eagles.