NC State prides itself on stopping the run. Its pride took a big hit in last week’s loss to Notre Dame.
Third-ranked Notre Dame, who ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense, gashed the Wolfpack’s defensive front for 318 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. To add salt to the wound, the Irish did it by running right at the ‘Packs’ prideful defensive front.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is fit the run game the right way,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said on Wednesday as part the ACC Coaches Teleconference call with media. “We had a couple misfits, guys in the wrong gap and something we haven’t done. We’ve been very good at that. You’ve got to play with low pads, inside hands, shed blocks and leverage the ball on tackle and that’s what rushing defense is and that’s at all positions, because they can make it a DB tackle with a correct block.
“Guys got to have disciplined eyes so they can strike and play aggressive in the running game.”
The fourth-ranked Tigers, who travel to Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday to play No. 20 NC State, do not run the ball like Notre Dame does, but they’re still effective nonetheless. Clemson ranks second in the ACC, averaging 219.8 yards per game on the ground, including 5.1 yards per carry.
The Tigers also lead the ACC in rushing touchdowns with 24.
Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) running game is led by quarterback Kelly Bryant, who has 460 yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. The Tigers also run a heavy dose of fresh tailbacks, which can wear down a defense.
Last week, Adam Choice, C.J. Fuller, Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster all ran for at least 37 or more yards against Georgia Tech, while averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry. But everything starts with Bryant.
“He has, I think, thirty more carries than their tailback, and maybe it’s fifty, than the other tailback. He’s without a doubt a threat,” Doeren said. “Not just when they design it but when he drops back and he scrambles.”
Doeren said defending Bryant is similar to trying to defend Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Syracuse’s Eric Dungey.
“Our D-Line has to be disciplined,” he said. “We can’t just run past and open up an escape lane. We have to power the pocket and press it, and when we blitz we’ve got to be in our rush lanes and not create seams for him to escape through. If it’s inside pressure, we have to have guys that are containing it outside and understand how we work together in pass rush because that’s really important against an athletic guy like Kelly.”
What is also important is the Wolfpack’s health. Defensive tackles Justin Jones and Eurndraus Bryant, along with defensive end Darien Roseboro, were all banged up last Saturday. Doeren reported all three players were back in practice and should play on Saturday, though he said they will sit Jones a little longer to be on the safe side.
“When we lost three defensive players on the defensive line during (the Notre Dame) game our rotation hurt us as the game went on,” he said. “So hopefully we’ll be healthier. We were able to get all three of those guys in practice today, so that was a very positive thing for our rotation up front.”