NC State defensive line coach Keith Willis knows what is coming and is ready for the challenge Saturday at Virginia.
The Cavaliers love to run the football and are coming off a 24-21 victory over then No. 12-ranked Georgia Tech last Saturday. UVa rushed for 274 yards on 47 carries and two rushing touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets. The Cavaliers have rushed for at least 153 yards in every game this season.
Virginia will be attacking an NC State defensive line that has been battling injuries all season.
"You can call it a man-up [game], but this game is no different than any other game is what I tell my guys," Willis said. "You don't take anyone for granted. Last time we played Central Michigan. [UVa] has the same type of offensive line. These guys are going to come out and try to pound you because of their size. You have to stand up and match what they bring regardless of your size."
Fifth-year seniors J.R. Sweezy and Jeff Rieskamp were the expected building blocks at defensive tackle and defensive end respectively for the Wolfpack, but both have missed extensive time. Sweezy missed the first four games after foot surgery, returned for two, but could miss the Virginia contest. Rieskamp has a shoulder situation that hasn't been able to get resolved after getting injured prior to the Wake Forest game Sept. 10.
Backup redshirt freshman defensive tackle Thomas Teal has also missed five games with a foot injury, and won't be available Saturday. Sophomore defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson has missed two contests, but is expected to play against Virginia.
Freshman defensive tackle T.Y. McGill and redshirt freshman defensive end Art Norman have moved up the depth chart to first string in the place of the injured players.
"They have to [grow up fast] with all the injuries," Willis said. "Thank God we get some people back, but those guys will have to grow up. So far, they are doing pretty good. With the bye week and have that extra practice under their belt, it will make things a little bit easier."
The 6-foot-1, 242-pound Norman has started the last five games, and has 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, 20 quarterback pressures and one pass broken up. He has played at least 38 snaps in all but one game — he missed two-thirds of the South Alabama game Sept. 17 with an injury — and had a season-high 67 plays at Cincinnati Sept. 22.
"Art is pretty good and he's a pass-rusher," Willis said. "He has really improved at the point of the attack and using his hands. As small as he is, he is really strong at the point of the attack."
McGill is the lone true freshman defensive lineman for the Wolfpack playing. He is scheduled to receive his first start of the season against Virginia, but has been in the rotation all season. He has nine tackles and one tackle for loss in 124 plays, and had a season-high 41 snaps against Cincinnati.
"He's learning and thank God I played him his first year," Willis said. "He will be ahead of the bar [in the future]. He has to play a little bit lower. He reminds me a lot of a young man I coached at BC, B.J. Raji [of the Green Bay Packers] when he came in as a young guy.
McGill can physically matchup on the ACC level at 6-1 and 290 pounds, but it isn't his size alone that has brought on the Raji comparisons.
"He has the potential, but potential is just one thing," Willis said. "His ability to run around, his size and his stature. The way at time he uses his hands and when he's locked in. All those things he's learning, [but] B.J. picked it up a bit quicker. He has the potential to be that type of player."
While the young guys learn, two veterans have become anchors on the defensive line. However, both junior Brian Slay and fifth-year senior Markus Kuhn are going through their first full season as starters. The duo entered the season with four career starts — three by Kuhn and one by Slay.
"People don't really care [about inexperience], they just care what is out there," Willis said.
Slay also missed one game and part of another because of injury, but returned to action and came off the bench against Central Michigan on Oct. 8. The 6-3, 290-pound Slay has made the move from defensive tackle to defensive end.
"Brian is pretty smart," Willis said. "His football knowledge is unbelievable. He picks up things pretty quick. He plays with good leverage. Will he be a five-technique end? No, but he'll be a good six technique end where we have him."