Thursday, September 16, 2010

Impressive defense makes it fun to be a State fan again

The ACC finally has a team to rally around, and it’s an unlikely Wolfpack crew that has found a renewed sense of desire on defense.

Russell Wilson had a marvelous game Thursday night in N.C. State’s convincing 30-19 wins over Cincinnati at Carter-Finley Stadium.  Wilson threw with confidence, ran when he had to and showed he has learned the hard lesson of sliding feet-first to avoid a hit. He once slid just short of a first down, but Wolfpack  fans, understanding how important he is and how his injuries have changed their seasons, can understand why. 

But the difference in State between this year and last was defense, and that’s in part because of two key people – coach Jon Tenuta and linebacker Nate Irving.

ACC fans know all about Tenuta, the smart, hard-charging defensive whiz who was at UNC for John Bunting’s first season before leaving. Tenuta has coached at Georgia Tech and Notre Dame and was job-hunting at just the right time for N.C. State. Tenuta’s genius is his ability to devise blitzing schemes that cover all the gaps and leave offenses guessing.

Tenuta is considered a star defensive coordinator, but State had Mike Archer in that job. So Tenuta is coaching linebackers and feeding his blitzing ideas to Archer.   

What an impact that had Thursday night. Tenuta has linebacker Irving to coach, although Irving, so far, is nowhere near the wrecking crew he was two years ago. But fellow linebackers Audie Cole and Terrell Manning have been outstanding. It has hardly mattered that State’s defensive front came into the season untested, with end David Akinniyi transferring from Northeastern and the rest of the defensive front entirely new.

N.C. State has some weaknesses, especially with so much inexperience at defensive back.  But All those blitzes have the added benefit of not letting rival quarterbacks get time to exploit a Wolfpack secondary that, frankly, does not look impressive.

A great quarterback can mask many problems, but a bad defense is hard to hide. The Wolfpack had one of the ACC’s weakest defenses last year. Given the personnel losses from that, Thursday’s effort was nothing short of outstanding.

There are other factors contributing to the Pack’s 3-0 start as well. N.C. State is due a break on injuries after some hard knocks so far under Tom O’Brien. The offense is a determined group led by Wilson, whose father died over the summer, and coordinator Dana Bible, who could have died in the offseason from a rare form of leukemia. Every Wolfpack player sees Bible coaching in practice and understands what this sport means to him.

N.C. State has upcoming games at Georgia Tech, vs. Virginia Tech and against Boston College, and given the way the league has played out so far, you have to believe all are winnable.

N.C. State has had four straight losing seasons. That streak is about to end. On Thursday night, it was, finally, fun to be a Wolfpack fan again.

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