Last Line of Defense

Winning Saturday afternoon in Atlanta won't be easy for the Wolfpack. NC State has been stifling defensively, but Georgia Tech will be their biggest test yet.

NC State is allowing just 85 yards per game rushing, ranking No. 20 nationally, but hasn't faced an offense focused on the ground attack like Georgia Tech's. The Yellow Jackets are No. 3 nationally in rushing offense (345 yards per game) and rushed for 372 yards in last week's win at North Carolina. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone offense continues to give opposing defenses fits.

"We have to read our keys," said Wolfpack safety Brandan Bishop. "Georgia Tech is a real good team. They'll run that option 10 or 12 times and then try to throw one behind you. You've got to be aware on every play and be focused.

"Tackling will be huge. They are going to run the ball, and we just have to get them on the ground. If we are in a position we have to get them on the ground... no doubt about it."

Bishop's play will factor heavily in the outcome of the game. The Wolfpack's field safety, the sophomore will be responsible for being physical in run support but also making sure he doesn't allow a Tech receiver to sneak behind the defense for a long pass. The Yellow Jackets don't pass the ball much, in fact they are No. 119 nationally in passing offense (68 yards per game), but when they do throw it's normally a deep ball to a wide open receiver.

"They try to lull you to sleep," said Bishop. "The safeties, we've got to be a big part of the run-stop too, so we've got a pretty big job this week.

"You've got to be aware on all plays. You can't let them run behind you, but you've also got to be strong in support. We've got to bring our 'A' game on Saturday."

Tech's flexbone offense features blocking from virtually all positions outside of quarterback. The Yellow Jackets are known for their physical style of play, and NC State must match Tech's physicality if they are going to have a chance of pulling the upset.

"Their style is they are going to try and beat you up," Bishop said. "When you get in a fight you've got to try and throw the first punch, so we're going to be physical because I know they are going to come out and try to be as physical as possible."

Georgia Tech's most physical player might be star quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. A first-team All-ACC selection in 2009, Nesbitt is a master at executing Tech's attack and is one of the top runners in the conference.

Checking in at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, he is built like a tailback and certainly doesn't shy away from contact. Through three games Nesbitt leads the ACC in rushing touchdowns (6) and is third in rushing (89 yards per game). Priority No. 1 for the Wolfpack has to be stopping Joshua Nesbitt.

"He's a real good runner," Bishop said of Nesbitt. "If he can tuck the ball and get a couple of yards then that's a successful play for them. When he's got the ball in his hands you've got to get him on the ground."

This week in practice junior wide receiver Tobais Palmer has been the scout team's version of Joshua Nesbitt. While he isn't built like Nesbitt, Palmer might be the quickest player on the Wolfpack's roster, and the hope is his quickness can give the defense a solid look at what they will be facing. What has Bishop seen from Palmer and the scout team?

"I think the scout team is doing a great job this week," he said. "I think they're really focused in on trying to help us and make us better. The better the look team is the more prepared we're going to be. So far they've done great job for us."

It's unlikely that NC State is going to go into Bobby Dodd Stadium and shutdown Georgia Tech's offense... few teams do. However, what they can focus on doing is capitalize on potential turnovers.

There will be opportunities for fumble recoveries as Tech normally puts the ball on the ground a few times per game. The key for NC State will be making game-changing plays when the opportunity presents itself.

Tech had three fumbles in the loss at Kansas and three fumbles in the win at North Carolina, losing one in each game. NC State is currently No. 20 nationally in turnovers gained with seven, and Bishop forced probably the biggest of the season when his forced fumble ended a potential game-tying drive down in Orlando.

"Anytime the ball is on the ground we've got to capitalize," he stated. "That's crucial. With them pitching the ball a lot and running it so many times there are going to be a few chances... hopefully for us to recover those.

"I think we've done a pretty good job so far this season, but we've got to get a couple on Saturday."

Tom O'Brien's team is 3-0 for the first time in his tenure at NC State. Under O'Brien the Wolfpack have never won their first conference game. Defeating the defending ACC champions in Atlanta will end that streak and also give the State an additional confidence boost heading into the conference slate.

"We've got three good wins to start off the season but now we're 0-0," said Bishop. "If we want to have a shot at the ACC [title] we've got to beat the best so so Georgia Tech is a big game for us."

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