Pack "D" Line Could Be Key Vs. Buckeyes

Last year's NC State vs. Ohio State matchup had a ton of storylines, giving sportswriters their pick of articles to write.

The first meeting between the two schools. The biggest second-half comeback by a road team in the history of the "Horseshoe." A frantic finish in triple overtime, with Pack junior tailback T.A. McLendon coming up inches short of a game-tying touchdown. State quarterback Philip Rivers playing through a shoulder injury to carry the Wolfpack back into the contest. A phantom interception by the Buckeyes. A kickoff caroming off Richard Washington's helmet, leading directly to an Ohio State score.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the incredible game, however, was a rather amazing statistic: the Buckeyes rushed for just 44 yards on 32 carries. A young Pack defensive line more than held its own against a physical, veteran group, using speed and quickness off the ball to offset Ohio State's size and experience.

The Buckeyes said goodbye to quarterback Craig Krenzel and three starters on the offensive line following last season, putting young signal-caller Justin Zwick in the limelight. NC State knows that it will need a similar showing against the Ohio State running game to put pressure on Zwick and hope to pull off the upset against the seventh-ranked Buckeyes.

"We've got to be physical up front," said coach Chuck Amato. "We've got to convince them the first couple of times they run the ball that the same thing is going to happen – and that may not happen.

"We've got to play good low technique on defense; our down linemen have to play pads under pads. We've got to tackle; we can't miss a tackle at the line of scrimmage and the guy runs for 30 yards before one of our guys runs him down. We've got to be physical and we've got to tackle."

The Pack got off to a strong start in defending the ground game in the season opener vs. Richmond. State held the Spiders to 104 yards on 36 carries – less than three yards per attempt. The Wolfpack also garnered two sacks and two interceptions in limiting the visitors to just 67 yards through the air, but defensive line coach Todd Stroud has higher expectations of his unit.

"For an opening home game, it was a good effort," said Stroud. "Obviously, I was a little disappointed in our ability to rush the passer, but at the same time, they threw a lot of timing routes and the quarterback delivered the ball quick underneath.

"Overall, assignment-wise and the learning curve-wise and for a first ballgame, it was solid at best."

Against the Buckeyes, the plan likely will be to try to again take away the running game and force Zwick to make plays through the air. And with Jay Davis making just his second start for the Pack, the opposite is likely true.

"If I said that, I'd be telling you half the game plan," Amato said when asked if both defenses would attempt to rattle the signal-callers with blitzes. "Ask Ohio State the other half."

Stroud knows that stopping the Ohio State rushing attack is easier said than done. Though attrition hit the Buckeyes' offensive line, that has only created opportunities for highly regarded youngsters to step through the door and make their own reputations. NC State will counter with a still-young defensive front that will call on last year's experiences against the Buckeyes to help know what to expect.

"It's the same Ohio State team," Stroud said. "They obviously graduated three out of their five guys up front, and they just replaced them with more big, strong bodies up there. They do the same thing scheme-wise.

"As far as learning curve goes, two or three of [NC State's] guys that played against them last year that we have are familiar with the offense and familiar with the scheme and the game last year. So that's a plus, obviously, but they do the same thing, and they're awful big and physical up front."

"It looks about the same to me," said senior rover Andre Maddox of Ohio State's offensive line. "I think they're pretty good, but I think the way to beat those big guys is with quickness, and I think we have that on the line -- and if all goes well, we'll beat that with quickness."

In his first start at defensive end, State junior Manny Lawson had a sack, forcing a fumble and pouncing on it. True freshmen DeMario Pressley and Raymond Brooks lend depth, and redshirt freshman Martrel Brown gathered his first career sack against Richmond. Sophomores Mario Williams and John McCargo are stalwarts at end and tackle, respectively, and junior Dwayne Herndon and sophomore "Tank" Tyler give NC State more options in the middle of the line. Junior Renaldo Moses and sophomore Maurice Charles are two more candidates at defensive end.

Stroud is staying patient with the group, but is confident in the rotation he has on hand and knows that the linemen will only progress throughout the season.

"They're on the right track," said Stroud. "The thing is we create players sometimes, but these guys have a chance. And it's not just a quick evaluation, it's going to be a step-by-step progression. The second game is the next step to it. And they're making progress, they really are; this will be a good test for them.

"We have depth right now, where I feel real comfortable in the two-deep to play two-deep right now without any reservations. So that is a positive, but the depth is very young as well, with DeMario being a true freshman, Martrel Brown being a redshirt freshman and Ray Brooks being a freshman, and those are three guys that rotate in with the second group. And yes, I've got Manny Lawson starting, but really, by position, he's like a redshirt freshman playing defensive end.

"The depth is still youthful, but once again, about 11 of them got their feet wet that first week, which was a positive."

If that rotation can stuff the Buckeyes running backs early on, that will force Zwick to make plays in the air – and give Wolfpack defensive coordinator Reggie Herring the green light to come after Zwick by bringing pressure and mixing up the coverages. Last year in Columbus, the Pack came through with one half of that philosophy. Though they stopped the run effectively, NC State allowed the veteran Krenzel to throw for 273 yards and four touchdowns.

The hope this time is around that the youthful Zwick will have trouble carrying the Ohio State offense by himself – like Krenzel did -- if the running game stalls.

"I think if we stop the run, the play-action pass won't be as effective," Maddox said. "We did a great job last year of stopping the run; I know they didn't have too many yards rushing on us. But they had a lot of yards in the air, and Craig Krenzel was one of the main ingredients in doing that.

"Stopping the run is key to stopping the play-action pass. Once we stop the run, everything else falls in line from there."

That's why, with so many more storylines available for NC State-Ohio State II, the key to the game could by the play of the Wolfpack defensive line. Zwick has already thrown four interceptions and coughed up a few fumbles in the season's first two games, so he can be forced into mistakes. If the Pack can take away the run, put the game in Zwick's hands, create turnovers and capitalize on the resulting field position, sportswriters will only have one story to write – about a big NC State upset.

WALK-ON TO WATCH: Though members of NC State's scout squad usually toil in anonymity, occasionally a player will emerge who catches the eye of varsity players. One such student-athlete this year has been junior defensive lineman John Amanchukwu. After starring at Cardinal Gibbons in Raleigh, Amanchukwu was tabbed as the No. 2 tight end in the state three years ago – then listed at 6-4, 250 pounds with 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash -- and elected to attend hometown St. Augustine's College.

Now Amanchukwu, who is also an ordained minister, has transferred to NC State. The 6-5, 280-pounder could eventually get a chance to help the Wolfpack.

"He's a local transfer who is ineligible this year," said Stroud. "He's a big, strong kid and he's going to have a chance to help us down the line."


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