NC State's defense held Florida State to just 19 yards rushing in the second half to help spur the 17-16 upset win over the No. 3 Seminoles last Saturday.
NC State redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Thomas Teal was rewarded by winning the ACC defensive lineman of the week. The 6-foot-2, 315-pounder had six tackles and two tackles for loss for minus-eight yards.
The one-two defensive tackles punch of Teal and sophomore T.Y. McGill, who is 6-1 and 298 pounds, helps anchor the Wolfpack defense. NC State coach Tom O'Brien knows the difference in his defense when the defensive tackles anchor the interior.
"They are getting better, but they got a long ways to go," said O'Brien following Thursday's practice. "The good news is they are only sophomores. They have two years after this. With each game, it's a little something different asked of them. They both have the chance to be really good football players."
Teal has 15 tackles and four tackles for loss, and McGill has 13 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack. McGill is third on the team in tackles for loss behind outside linebackers Rickey Dowdy (eight) and Rodman Noel (six).
"For big guys, they are both light on their feet, can run and are powerful guys," O'Brien said. "It's just a question of working hard each and every week, and paying attention to what gap they are supposed to be in."
Having the NC State defense line up incorrectly at times helped contribute to FSU senior running back Chris Thompson rushing for 115 yards on 14 carries in the first half. Thompson finished with 141 yards on 25 attempts.
"We are still having trouble getting to places sometimes in our blitzes," O'Brien said. "That's the thing we constantly have to work on, so we don't open a gap like we did Saturday night and give up a [36-yard] run to Thompson."
NC State went through a rash of defensive tackle injuries last year, including losing Teal for a stretch. The injuries forced McGill to avoid being redshirted. Having two guys in the middle like Teal and McGill is a good start in building a good defense in this era of high-scoring offenses. The Wolfpack are allowing 20.5 points per game this season.
"If you are going to play defense the way we do, you have to have run stoppers in there like them," O'Brien said. "It helps that they are decent enough pass rushers against the pass when they are in there. It's something that we've been building upon since we've been here. The good news is that they are sophomores."
The no-huddle offenses and spread attacks have put college football defenses on their heels in some games.
"The whole premise of the offense and spread is to get yourself in one-on-one situations," O'Brien said. "You have to find a way to stay out of one-on-one's, if your ones aren't as good as their ones."
NC State has done a good job of moving safeties to strongside linebacker over the last several years. Robbie Leonard and D.J. Green both made that move, and Noel is the latest.
Noel is the third sophomore on the defense logging significant snaps while rotating with fellow classmate Brandon Pittman. Noel is fifth on the squad with 33 tackles and also has a sack to go with his previously mentioned six tackles for loss.
"He's getting better each and every game," O'Brien said. "This is his first year out there. It's similar to D.J. last year, who made the same move. We've had success and that is what we've done at that position. You are half a secondary guy and half a linebacker.
"We like those big guys that have range like that and can play the field. If they have to, they can get into the box and play against heavy formations."
Former Miami Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson would always take safeties and move them to outside linebacker, and then take linebackers and make them defensive ends in his quest to have as much speed on the field as possible.
Some things haven't changed 20 years later with offenses using the spread and or using three- and- four wide receiver sets.
"That is still a good philosophy because whatever positions the guys have played in high school, they are good at that, but when you project them to college and how good they can be, you want more speed on the field," O'Brien said.
NC State took Sunday-through-Tuesday off to heal from an assortment of bumps and bruises. O'Brien figured about 20-plus guys would have had to sit out of practice if they hadn't of taken some time off.
"They went in the weight room and did some running and conditioning skills [Wednesday]," O'Brien said. "This was our first practice [Thursday]. We probably had about 15 guys not at practice today. The key is to get the guys healthy."
The younger players have been able to get extra reps this week and the coaches have stressed fundamentals. The NC State players will start focusing on Maryland next Sunday. The Wolfpack play at the Terrapins on Oct. 20.
The coaches have also been doing some self-evaluation this past week. O'Brien said they'll be emphasizing to the team on how to handle prosperity after the FSU win and 4-2 start.
"Around here, it goes to the head a little bit and they start thinking they are good," O'Brien said. "[Defensive coordinator] Mike Archer was correct a few years ago when he said, 'Every time we get ranked, we end up losing a game and end up going backwards.' There is always something to be concerned with, but it's always better to come off a win."