The buzz word this week for the linebacker corps at NC State this week will be "assignment." Linebackers coach Jon Tenuta used the word on at least three occasions when talking about defending Georgia Tech's triple option offense which the Pack will face in Atlanta Saturday.
Tenuta, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, has plenty of experience with the option dating back to his playing days as a defensive back at Virginia.
"I think any time you play an option team it comes back to the fundamentals of assignment football," Tenuta said. "I think their offense can give people problems, but you have to be mentally tough, and you got to do your assignment and make things happen that way.
"When you play against Earl Campbell and the wishbone as a player, you see the real McCoy over the years. Again, it comes back to assignment. Do your assignment. Bang, bang, bang, you have to stop the fullback, you have to get the quarterback and you have to get to the pitch. All those things come into play, and obviously they do a heck of a job with what they do offensively."
Tenuta coaches a linebackers unit that has emerged as one of the better starting trio in the ACC. Their experience against the option though is somewhat limited. The Pack has not played Georgia Tech since 2005, when Chan Gailey was the head coach and quarterback Reggie Ball was trying to locate star receiver Calvin Johnson every chance he got.
State has never played a Paul Johnson-coached squad, and Tenuta never faced Johnson when the latter was the head coach at Georgia Southern while Tenuta was the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
Redshirt junior Audie Cole, NC State's leading tackler with 20 hits through three games, said this week he has never faced an offense like this. His counterpart at outside linebacker, redshirt sophomore Terrell Manning, feels much more comfortable defending the option however. During his playing days at Scotland County High in Laurinburg, N.C., Manning played against a similar scheme.
"We played it all the time back in high school," Manning said. "We played against 71st from Fayetteville, a Bob Paroli-coached team. It was the exact same scheme basically, so I feel like I am ready.
"The thing is everybody doing what you have to do. Every play doing what you have to do, taking care of your responsibility and yours only, and when it's time for you to make a play, it'll present itself, and you got to take that opportunity. At the same time you have to be mentally tough. Don't give up. Don't think everything is okay because as soon as you do they'll hit you with a little wrinkle and get a big play."
Manning led NC State with 10 tackles in the Pack's season opening win against Western Carolina. A week later he had four tackles and recovered the game-clinching fumble at the NC State 10-yard line with less than a minute remaining at Central Florida.
Last Thursday in the win over Cincinnati, Manning added four more tackles, including his first two career quarterback sacks, and had a quarterback hurry. He is second on the team with 18 tackles this year, and is emerging as a force on the defense. Manning though knows that he cannot get caught up in trying to make a play on the ball carrier every time against Georgia Tech.
"It's very hard," Manning said. "Everybody on this level is a playmaker. That's what they are recruited for, but at the same time you have to play your role. You have to know your role on the defense. That's the challenge of our defense right now."
In other words, know your assignment.