NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable knows a few things about playing in Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Huxtable was the defensive coordinator for Pittsburgh in 2012 before getting hired by NC State in 2013. He returns with the No. 49-ranked defense in the country, which allows 23.7 points per game. The 5-1 Wolfpack are eighth in rushing yards allowed per game (90.7), but No. 122 in passing yards allowed (296.3).
“It’s a beautiful stadium down around the river,” Huxtable said. “It’s a great setting for the fans. You are playing in an NFL stadium, so that will be exciting for the players. It should be a really neat atmosphere and an exciting game day for our guys and the fans.”
NCSU will get a chance to improve upon those numbers against a 2-4 Pittsburgh squad that lost starting senior quarterback Max Browne for the season with a shoulder injury. The Panthers are No. 96 with 24.3 points per game.
“They do a really good and are multiple in their formations,” Huxtable said. “It is a lot of shifts and a lot of motions and jet motions. There are double movements. We have to be disciplined with our adjustments.”
The Wolfpack defense is also rallying around one of their own. Junior defensive end Darian Roseboro lost his father, Johnny Roseboro, at age 43 this past Saturday. The family had a private funeral Monday in Lincolnton, N.C., and the players will wear a “JR” stick on their helmets against Pittsburgh.
“He actually had a tough game Thursday night [against Louisville], and after the game, we found out why,” Roseboro said. “He is very close to his family. Darian and his dad were very, very tight. I feel bad for Darian and I love that guy, as we all do.”
The defensive unit is dominated by seniors, who have become close over the years, some dating back to the recruiting process.
“They are so fun to coach and they talk about family and they talk about brotherhood,” Huxtable said. “They have each others back. We have great leadership from our seniors on defense. They are very special guys.”
Two other members of Huxtable’s defense have also been ruled out for the rest of the season. Junior middle linebacker Riley Nicholson suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff against South Carolina, and due to previous concussion issues, has become a medical redshirt. Redshirt freshman Brock Miller, who has played both weakside linebacker and nickel, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Huxtable recruited both Florida products.
“Riley had a great spring and a tremendous fall camp,” Huxtable said. “He was playing well and with a lot of confidence. It’s a shame what happened. He loves football and is very passionate about it.
“He came to talk to me about it, and we both broke down together. We embraced and it is God’s plan. I told Riley he has to prepare himself to move on to his next life’s work.”
Nicholson could eventually move into the coaching profession or move into the strength and conditioning field. He finished his NCSU career with 43 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one caused fumble in 25 games (five starts).
“He loves the weight room and is interested in being a strength coach,” Huxtable said. “He is a tremendous guy in the weight room and is very strong. He is down there with Thunder [Dantonio Burnette]."
Freshmen Louis Acceus moved to second-string middle linebacker behind fifth-year senior Jerod Fernandez. Senior weakside linebacker Airius Moore also has past experience playing in the middle.
Acceus, freshman weakside linebacker Raven Saunders and freshman Isaiah Moore were part of the Wolfpack’s class of 2017.
“Louis Acceus will have to step up for us,” Huxtable said. “I’ve been really impressed with Isaiah Moore in some of our developmental [sessions] on Friday’s. He’s big, he’s strong and has really good movement. He is a good knee-bender as is Raven Saunders, who is a really good athlete. They are young, but they have good potential and ability.”