NC State has averaged 218 yards on the ground over the past two games. Saturday's 212-yard rushing effort against North Carolina marked the team's fourth contest with at least 200 yards on the ground this year. The Wolfpack is running the ball as well as they have in almost 20 years, even without starting left tackle Rob Crisp, who is arguably the team's top lineman.
Despite the injury, the offense has already eclipsed last year's rushing total with 1,473 yards on the ground through eight games. That means the Pack is on pace to total over 2,200 rushing yards this year, which would stand as the team's best mark since 1992 (2,464). Their clip of 4.2 yards per carry stands the program's best since 1994 (4.4), while their average of 184.1 rushing yards per game is also the highest since that same campaign (192.0).
A big part of the Pack's increased ground production can be attributed to the fact that the offensive line has finally benefitted from some consistency up front, even if it's not with the group that most thought would be playing. After starting three different combinations in the first three games, the Pack has enjoyed the same starting five on the line since the Clemson contest.
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The group, from left to right, is Joe Thuney, Duran Christophe, Quinton Schooley, Alex Barr and Tyson Chandler; three are in their second year of eligibility while Chandler is a redshirt junior and Christophe a fifth-year senior.
"It's definitely helped a lot," Barr said of starting the same lineup for the last six games. "I think bonding is one of the main things. We get together a lot at night and watch film together, go out to eat. The last couple of games, we've started to rush the ball a lot better; pass protection is starting to pick up a little bit.
"I think the sky is the limit, we've just got to keep working and getting better."
After practice on Tuesday when Barr and Schooley, the center, were being interviewed by the media, the other three starters waited until their cohorts were finished and all five could walk back to the locker room together. The chemistry developed off the field has carried over onto the field, and the increased production has been encouraging for the big men, according to Barr.
It has also helped that, at times, quarterback Brandon Mitchell and running back Shadrach Thornton have had instances in the past two weeks where they look like they're running possessed.
"When you finally start to get it going, it gives you a boost to keep working hard and keep pushing yourself harder," he said. "We love blocking for those guys that run behind their pads, lower their pads and keep driving their feet; they're always striving to get that extra yard."
Although the line is normally a group that is recognized and criticized as a group, Barr was singled out by the coaching staff as the Offensive Player of the Week on Satruday. He is the first offensive lineman to win the award by himself; Thuney was bestowed the honor for the Central Michigan contest, but he shared it with wide receiver Bryan Underwood.
"It was definitely an accomplishment for me," Barr noted. "It's something that I strive to get, but I would much rather win [the game]. It's definitely something that is great to have and it feels good, but to win would've been a lot better.
"I think I've definitely improved. One thing I need to work on a lot is my pad level, and we started going underneath the shutes and stuff to work on that. I feel like we've all improved on all aspects of our game, we just need to keep going and keep getting better."
Barr has also settled in at right guard after playing tackle earlier in his career. He logged 23 snaps in eight games as a redshirt freshman last year, and he has eclipsed that play total in the last six games while starting each of them.
"At first, it was a little bit tough making the transition from tackle to guard, especially on pass protection," he admitted. "I think I've gotten a lot better from camp.
"At tackle, you've always got that outside where you can run them up field, but at guard, you don't have that. That was probably the biggest adjustment."