There aren't many college football teams that still utilize an option attack on offense. Luckily for NC State, one of the best option teams in the country, Georgia Tech, resides in the ACC and the Wolfpack has squared off with the Yellow Jackets in each of the past two seasons, so some of the older players have experience defending a variation of the ground-based offense.
"Of course, [playing] Georgia Tech helps this week," redshirt junior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop said. "It gives us a lot of experience and exposure to the double wing, some of its wrinkles and some of the things that we have to pay attention to.
"We've been focusing on our keys and sticking to the basics. We just need to try to stay focused."
Cato-Bishop has logged time against Georgia Tech in each of the past two seasons, so he and several other defensive linemen will help lead their unit this weekend because fifth-year senior middle linebacker Sterling Lucas is the only athlete in the middle with experience defending the option. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer called the linebackers the key to Saturday's game against The Citadel, but their success starts with the play up front.
"[The defensive line] is going to be very important Saturday," Cato-Bishop said. "We have to be in the backfield, we have to stop the dives, we have to stop the pitches. If we get a lot of penetration up front, we'll be good."
The defense has made great strides each game this season, limiting their last two opponents to less than 2.5 yards per carry and culminating in a seven sack and 12 tackle for loss effort against South Alabama last week. Cato-Bishop tallied a season-best four stops, including 1.5 for loss, and he combined with linebacker Rickey Dowdy for a sack. He also forced a fumble and tallied an additional quarterback pressure.
"It felt good to get to the quarterback," he said. "We still have to do a better job of getting more pressure on the quarterback up front. If we keep getting more pressure on the quarterback, the defense will be a lot better.
"I think we've made a lot of improvements, but there's still a lot of area for improvement."
Saturday might not present many opportunities for Cato-Bishop and his teammates to get to the quarterback, at least on a throwing attempt. The Citadel has attempted just 22 passes in three games this season with 12 completions, while they have rushed the ball 176 times.
However, the defensive line will have plenty of opportunities to make their impact felt against a team averaging 370 rushing yards per game, and the big men are licking their chops for an old-fashioned, smashmouth football game at Carter-Finley Stadium this weekend.
"I think if we win in the trenches up front, we'll be able to win a lot of games," Cato-Bishop said. "For this game, we need to stay disciplined, stay with our keys and we'll be fine."