There’s no detailed formula to slow No. 11 North Carolina’s high-powered offense. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren doesn’t pretend to have one but thinks a common-sense approach is the best bet.
“You have to make them earn it,” Doeren said. “You can’t give up big plays.”
N.C. State was able to shut down UNC’s offense last year in a 35-7 win in Chapel Hill. The points and total yards (207) were the fewest by UNC in 49 games under coach Larry Fedora.
But no ACC team has been able to duplicate what the Wolfpack did in last year’s regular-season finale.
The Tar Heels (10-1), 6-5 going into this game a year ago, have won 10 straight games and are 7-0 in ACC play and the Coastal Division champions.
An improved defense has made a big difference for UNC, but it has the highest-scoring offense in the ACC (40.9 points per game), which ranks No. 10 in the country. It leads the ACC and ranks second in the country in yards per play (7.4).
The average yards per play can only get that high with big plays, and the Tar Heels have had plenty of them this season. They lead the ACC in plays of 10-plus yards (194), 20-plus yards (75) and 30-plus yards (36), according to CFBstats.com.
Doeren said one of the keys in last year’s game was limiting what he calls “chunk plays.”
N.C. State, led by a strong performance by its defensive front, actually made UNC’s offense go the other way in last year’s game. The Wolfpack forced 10 plays for negative yards.
Before a late touchdown, UNC ran 54 plays for 121 yards, or 2.2 yards per play.
But Doeren is quick to point out that UNC’s not the same team this year.
“They’re playing better on offense,” Doeren said. “Really as a team overall.”
UNC’s yards (493.3) and points per ACC game (42.1) are up significantly from last season. The Heels averaged 30.0 points per conference game last season.
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams has accounted for 27 touchdowns, second in the ACC to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and a veteran offensive line has helped sophomore running back Elijah Hood run for 1,060 yards.
Hood, who was dealing with injuries during the second half of his freshman season, had only one carry for minus-2 yards in last year’s game.
N.C. State’s success last year started up front. The defensive line dominated UNC’s front. Defensive tackle Thomas Teal led the team with six tackles, and defensive tackle T.Y. McGill had the sack early in the third quarter that knocked Williams out of the game.
Teal and McGill, who were both seniors, are gone, but the line again has been a strength for the Wolfpack, which ranks No. 13 in the country in total defense (312.5 yards per game).
Senior defensive end Mike Rose leads the team, and ranks second in the ACC, with 10.5 sacks. Sophomore end Bradley Chubb has 5.5 sacks and has turned up his play recently.
N.C. State has turned up the pressure with 10 sacks during the past three games, which has helped lead to 11 turnovers.
Sophomore tackles B.J. Hill and Justin Jones have been active on the inside in support of Rose and Chubb. Sophomore Kentavius Street has played tackle and end recently and has been playing his best.
Doeren attributes the uptick to experience for a young defensive front.
“It’s bunch of young guys getting a lot of reps and getting better,” Doeren said. “You can just see they’re more comfortable.”
And the defensive line is getting more than just sacks. Chubb had an interception against Florida State two weeks ago, and freshman defensive end Darian Roseboro returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse last week.
Doeren credited defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen with the group’s growth and success.
“He’s a tough guy that played the position, and he demands toughness,” Doeren said of Nielsen.
N.C. State was tougher up front than UNC last year. The Wolfpack will have to find a way to do that again Saturday if the Wolfpack has any chance to end the Heels’ 10-game winning streak.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
13 N.C. State rank in total defense
10.5 Number of sacks by Mike Rose
11 Forced turnovers in past three games