LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When looking at the schedule heading into the 2021 season, and deducing who would give the most fits to the Louisville offense, one of the first teams that came to mind was NC State.
The reason being was continuity, as the Wolfpack returned their top thirteen tacklers from a team that finished 8-4 in 2020. This included players like defensive lineman Daniel Joseph, who opted to pass on the NFL; linebacker Payton Wilson, who was voted to the preseason All-ACC team; and linebacker Isaiah Moore, who at the halfway point of the 2021 season was considered to be the frontrunner for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
However, the injury bug has not been kind to NC State. In the second game of the year against Mississippi State, both Wilson and starting safety Cyrus Fagan suffered season-ending injuries. Starting defensive tackle C.J. Clark did as well in the next game against Furman. Then most recently at Miami, Moore became the latest defensive asset for the Wolfpack to be lost for the season due to injury.
That being said, the Wolfpack still has a very deep roster on defense, and numerous players have stepped up to ensure they keep on ticking. Even with all their injuries, NC State still boasts one of the best defenses in all of college football, allowing only 312.6 yards per for game - the 18th-most in FBS.
“They play extremely hard, all of them do," Satterfield said. They’re a three down team, they'll drop a lot to keep everything in front and their three defensive lineman get out and they really free their linebackers up."
Linebacker Drake Thomas has picked up his game following injuries to the rest of his position group, tallying team-high 54 tackles and two interceptions, accompanied by four tackles for loss and two sacks. Safety Tanner Ingle has been an underrated piece in the secondary, amassing 37 tackles due to his ability to seek out ball carriers in a hurry.
Part of NC State's state's success in the face of injuries, coupled with solid depth, is their scheme. The Wolfpack operates out of a base 3-3-5 system, which they execute extremely well. Despite having a "front six" so to speak, they bring a ton of pressure - particularly on running backs.
NC State allows just 93.1 rushing yards per game - the 11th-best mark in FBS - and has allowed more than 100 yards only three times: against USF, Clemson and Louisiana Tech. Even for a Louisville offensive line who has everything rolling in the run game as of late, this presents a worthy challenge.
"They play a little bit of a different scheme, but they pressure a lot," offensive line coach Jack Bicknell said. "That kind of puts the pressure on the offense to be able to pick that up, and to be able to keep the quarterback upright, basically."
Putting up points against this NC State defense won't come easy, as the Wolfpack are holding teams to an average of 16.7 per game - the 10th best in all of FBS. But both Satterfield and Bicknell are looking forward to the challenge, and proving what they in turn can do, too.
"That's what you live for when you play at this level, and coach at this level, to be able to get in games like this. We're excited for it," Bicknell said.
Kickoff at NC State is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. EST.
(Photo of Davin Vann: Sam Navarro - USA TODAY Sports)
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