Mageo has started the first three games of the 2010 season, recording eight tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack.
"Natanu is great," said Wolfpack starting safety Brandan Bishop. "He's a big, strong guy, and he comes off hard on the ball. He plays every play really hard, and I think he's definitely improved from last year to this year. He's an important player for us."
A native of Pago Pago, American Samoa, Mageo has seen the option attack before, but certainly not at the level he will see it on Saturday.
"There was a high school back home that ran the option a lot," he stated. "I hated it and we always shut it down, but nobody runs it like Georgia Tech. There's a whole different approach to it. We're going to take it one play at a time to try and prepare for it."
Georgia Tech's triple option offense is unique in the ACC and gives the Yellow Jackets a tremendous advantage as opposing defenses rarely have enough time to fully prepare for what they are facing. With head coach Paul Johnson calling the plays, the Ramblin' Wreck's scheme has two A-backs or slotbacks, and a B-back, or fullback, who lines up behind the quarterback.
The B-back serves as the first option in the triple option, often taking the dive up the middle from the quarterback. Tech has had success over the past couple of years with Johnathan Dwyer serving as its primary B-back.
Dwyer, a two-time All-ACC selection, left early for the NFL and was replaced by Anthony Allen, a senior who moved over from the A-back position. Allen is coming off his best game of the year, a 20-carry, 115-yard performance in the win over North Carolina, and he has rushed for 232 yards through three games.
For NC State to nullify Allen's effectiveness, they must receive strong play from Mageo and the other defensive tackles. However, it won't be easy because Georgia Tech's offensive line poses a stiff challenge.
"We need to have a lot of awareness," said Mageo. "They are going to cut a lot, and they have a bunch of different blocking schemes. You've got to have a lot of awareness and stay on your feet, avoid them when you get cut, but at the same time, you've go to be physical with them.
"If we can be physical that will help us out a lot. The game is a physical game. If we can be more physical than them, we should be able to win the game."
The biggest reason for Tech's success has been the stellar play of star quarterback Josh Nesbitt. The senior is coming off a first-team All-ACC performance in 2009 when he led the Yellow Jackets to an ACC Title. Nesbitt currently leads the ACC in rushing touchdowns (6) and is third in rushing (89 yards per game).
"He's a unique guy," Mageo said of Nesbitt. "He never backs down. He can take a lot of hits... that's why he's Nesbitt. He's good... he's a good athlete."
Georgia Tech likes to use its offense to tire out the defense, thus limiting their effectiveness as the game moves on. NC State has a solid four-man rotation at defensive tackle with Mageo and J.R. Sweezy starting and Markus Kuhn and Brian Slay serving as the reserves. All four players receive a lot of work and have been effective since Kuhn and Sweezy returned from a one-game suspension.
"All of us are good," said Mageo. "If we can keep rotating it's like two against one... two of us against one of their o-lineman. We can have the advantage.
"[Kuhn and Sweezy] are physical dudes, and we really needed them. They help our defense. Basically it helps the defensive line a lot having them back."
Sweezy has really given the Wolfpack a lift since his return. A former linebacker, he has above-average athleticism for a defensive tackle and often requires two blockers which frees up the linebackers. The play of him and Mageo has enabled State to use a three-down lineman look much more frequently this season.
"He's pretty geeked before the game and during the game so he keeps you up," Mageo said of Sweezy. "He's a hard-nosed dude. He gets it done."
Checking in at 3-0, NC State can make a statement by defeating Georgia Tech to move to 4-0 and 1-0 in ACC play.
"It's a big game," said Mageo. "It's the biggest game so far, but every game is a big game for us. We've just got to go out there and do what we're supposed to do, and hopefully come out of there with a win."