The defense that the Pack is playing early in 2004 has many scrambling for the recordbooks to find the finest defensive units that State has ever fielded. Three games into the campaign, the Wolfpack has allowed just 165.3 yards per contest to rank No. 1 in the land. NC State fans are now looking for nicknames for the unit, with Red Raid, Red Strike, Red Dogs and Assault By Wolf among the submissions. Some of the Wolfpack faithful have suggested reintroducing Red Terrors as the moniker for the defense, while others have suggested Red Shoes Defense – an acknowledgement to the past as well as a nod to the present. Coach Chuck Amato was a linebacker on State's 1967 White Shoes Defense, and he now wears Ronald McDonald-style red shoes while patrolling the Wolfpack sideline.
The White Shoes Defense surrendered just 94 points in 11 games in '67, an average of only 8.5 points per contest. Florida State (10), Penn State (13) and Clemson (14) were the only teams to reach double-digits that year. State has allowed 38 points thus far in 2004, but only two of the scoring drives have been longer than 50 yards – and those were 51- and 55-yard possessions. One more interesting stat that the '67 and '04 defenses share: both returned nine starters from the prior season.
Here are the top five reasons for the rapid improvement of the Wolfpack defense from last year's No. 89 ranking to its current perch at No. 1.
Red Herring: The arrival of Reggie Herring as the new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach has amped-up the intensity of the entire defensive unit. His zone-blitzing schemes have effectively blended the Pack's talents and personnel with the most productive philosophy. "It's great for everybody … the way he does things and puts people in places to make plays," said senior linebacker Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay. "He's doing a great job, so we've just got to continue to do what he says and keep working hard out here in practice and learn what he wants us to do."
"He has meant everything," added senior cornerback Dovonte Edwards. "He's an extension of Coach Amato for the defense."
"Hud's" Move: After sitting out a season ago, former cornerback Marcus Hudson was switched to free safety, where he has turned into the perfect ball-hawking complement to rover Andre Maddox. He already has 18 tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, an interception and a touchdown scored on a blocked punt. The 6-2, 191-pounder is equally adept at covering slot receivers, blitzing or playing centerfield.
"Devo," Lamont & A.J.: To execute Herring's defensive schemes correctly, a ton of pressure is placed on the cornerbacks to lock down receivers in man-to-man coverage. Putting the Pack corners out an island on a consistent basis will occasionally result in long gainers when the quarterback is protected, but NC State is gambling that its defensive line and blitzers will get to the opposing signal-caller before he can make an accurate-enough throw to burn the coverage. Seniors cornerbacks Edwards and Lamont Reid and redshirt sophomore A.J. Davis give the Wolfpack three starting-caliber cornerbacks to pull off this scheme, and the results have been outstanding in the first three games.
Man, Oh Manny: The move of freakish junior Manny Lawson to defensive end from linebacker has paid more and quicker dividends than probably even the Pack staff could have predicted. The 6-5, 220-pounder with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash has five sacks, three quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup in the first three games. With opposing offensive lines often double-teaming sophomore Mario Williams on the other end of the line, Lawson has shown an ability to get around the corner in a frightening hurry and chase down unsuspecting signal-callers.
Stroud's Strength: Former director of strength and conditioning Todd Stroud has become defensive line coach, and the ex-Florida State nose guard has quickly whipped his troops into a havoc-wreaking crew. He has presided over a unit that is rapidly maturing, helping defensive tackle John McCargo develop into an every-down menace while also worked closely to speed the process of Lawson, Williams and the other Wolfpack defensive linemen. Stroud is beloved by the players, who appreciate that they can see the fruits of his tough love in how quickly they gain strength and can apply it on the field. These five reasons and others have turned the Pack defense into a high-octane group that now possesses the depth to rotate in and out so that the constant blitzing doesn't wear down the starters. But maybe the best thing about the "D" is that Herring is a perfectionist who won't allow anyone to rest on their laurels.
"If we want to have the kind of defense that we preach to our players, you've got to bring it every week, day in and day out," said Herring. "This defense is just scratching the surface. Someone said, ‘You guys had 10 sacks [against Virginia Tech] last week, that's impressive.' If you want to know the truth, we should have had 15 or 16, when you look on film. We have not reached our full potential."
"That [ranking] means nothing. It just means we've given up less yards than everybody else," echoed Aughtry-Lindsay. "We still have to work hard, because Coach always says it only takes on game for us to be 75th in the nation. So we've just to got to keep working hard.
"We'll see how we place at the end of the year, and then we'll be able to talk about it."
In the meantime, the Pack defense has given fans, reporters and talk-show hosts plenty to talk about -- and created many a long night for opposing coaches and players preparing to face the new Red Terrors.