"They lead the country in total offense," said NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer. "The biggest [difference] from last year is their ability to throw the football. The big plays... the leading rusher is one of their wingbacks, it's not the fullback. He's taken a couple of option pitches, one 95 yards against Kansas on the first play."
The player Archer is referring to is Yellow Jacket junior slotback Orwin Smith. He has 349 yards rushing and four touchdowns on just 19 carries and 172 yards and another score on only five catches. Smith is averaging an amazing 22 yards per touch, making him a dangerous weapon.
However, the key to Tech's offense has been the play of junior quarterback Tevin Washington. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder started the final four games of the 2010 season after Joshua Nesbitt went down with an arm injury, and he averaged over 100 yards per game on the ground. With that being said, he's made huge strides in the passing game, as Washington has proven to be an effective passer which has opened up their ground game even more.
In 2011 Washington has rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns but has completed 27-of-42 passes (64% completion) for 821 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. He leads the country in passing efficiency (286.6) and his emergence has been scary for opposing teams to watch.
Last year, he completed just 41% of his passing attempts. For his career Nesbitt, a guy most figured ideal to run the offense, never completed more than 46% of his passes in a single season.
"He can throw it," Archer said of Washington. "He's a very accurate thrower. They are two different quarterbacks. Nesbitt was a big, strong running back playing quarterback who didn't have a great throwing motion, but this guy is not as big and strong as Nesbitt but is a much better thrower. He's made some big plays for them."
Washington's top target has been junior wide receiver Stephen Hill. At 6-foot-5 and 206 pounds, Hill is a matchup nightmare for defensive backs, and all season he has used his size and athleticism to make plays in the air. He only has 14 catches, but has totaled 462 yards, an average of 33 yards per catch, with four touchdowns. Last week he was a difference maker versus North Carolina, as he caught six passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
"He is a big guy," Archer said of Hill. "That is the guy that the quarterback looks to throw to. He's got 14 catches and obviously that is the guy in crucial situations the passing offense resolves around. We have to be aware because they are going to move him around. He's going to be outside sometimes and in the slot. We've got to be aware of where he is because he is a major part of the offense."
NC State opened the 2010 season with three wins before starting ACC play on the road at Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack entered as an underdog but left Atlanta with a surprising 45-28 victory. Georgia Tech churned out 363 yards of total offense, but the Wolfpack defense forced two turnovers and was outstanding on third and fourth down. Tech converted just four-of-14 chances on third down and one of four tries on fourth down, which stalled drives and put the Wolfpack's offense back on the field.
"We played them last year and with the exception of four plays we played very well," said Archer. "We gave up a touchdown drive of 82 yards that consisted of two passes... that's the thing, you've got to eliminate the big plays.
"You've got to make them keep snapping it. They are going to get yards because of the way the offense is designed, but you've got to make them kick field goals in the red zone and keep them out of the red zone."
But, that was 2010 and this is 2011 and the Wolfpack's defense is in a much different place right now. Last year's defensive line featured two seniors and two juniors backed up by two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. The linebacking corps was led by senior Nate Irving.
However, injuries have decimated this year's front seven. Starting defensive linemen J.R. Sweezy and Jeff Rieskamp have missed multiple games, and Sweezy has yet to play this season. Standout linebacker Terrell Manning is also expected to miss the Georgia Tech game, and the Wolfpack has had to move starting defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop inside to defensive tackle. It is so bad that this week State moved walk-on offensive guard Jacob Kahut over to defensive tackle where the coaches hope he can add some depth.
T.Y. McGill, a true freshman out of Jesup, Georgia, has also had to play when most expected the defensive tackle to redshirt this fall.
"He was forced into playing, obviously because of the injury situation, and he's going to play again on Saturday," Archer said of McGill. "He's a freshman, and we were going to redshirt him. That all changed quickly about three weeks ago. He did some good things [against Cincinnati], but he did some things that hurt us too that the average fan might not see. He's young, and the great thing about it is he'll get better."
Another young player who is being asked to play more snaps than previously expected is redshirt freshman defensive end Art Norman. He is one of the Wolfpack's top pass rushers, and the coaching staff had hoped to use the 6-foot-1, 242-pounder mainly in pass-rushing situations this season. With the loss of Rieskamp, Norman has been starting at defensive end and playing a lot of reps. Long-term that will benefit him and the Wolfpack defense, but Archer knows right now that situations like that aren't ideal.
"Art has done some really good things, but this is his first go-around," said Archer. "He's learning on the run. Thursday night he had some really good pass rushes and there are other times where you sit there and scratch your head. That is part of the learning curve and part of playing with young guys, and you've got to take the good with the bad.
"There's no question... the plan for him was to be the backup and play him 20 snaps a game. Now he's playing 60. But, that's out of our hands, and we have no control over that. We've got to bite the bullet, but you get better with reps. He is going to be that much of a better player. He gets better each week as he sees things for the first time."
Norman didn't play last season against Georgia Tech and neither did T.Y. McGill. Starting defensive end McKay Frandsen was at Snow Junior College, and starting defensive tackles Markus Kuhn and Darryl Cato-Bishop were reserves. This group has virtually no experience against Tech's offense and there is no way to simulate the speed at which they operate in practice.
"The thing they don't understand is how fast it's going to happen," said Archer. "You can simulate it out here, but you don't realize how fast that guard gets on you and how fast that back loads on you and cuts you. That's the hard part.
"When you watch it on film you still don't understand. The guys who played last year can relay it to them, but you've got to go out there and see it."