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Explosive plays and secondary remain problems for NC State’s defense

This all seems familiar.

Old Dominion v North Carolina State Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

NC State spent the offseason searching for ways to improve on the defensive side of the ball, but with no changes to the defensive staff, the solution basically boiled down to “we trust our personnel will get better.” And some guys have gotten better. With the same scheme in place, though, the personality of this unit hasn’t changed.

Let’s have a look at a few key advanced metrics to get a better idea of what’s going on:

Statistical Category NCSU Defense's National Rank
Pts Allowed per drive inside 40 95
Running Play IsoPPP 82
Passing Play IsoPPP 72
Standard Downs IsoPPP 63
Passing Downs IsoPPP 89
Overall Havoc Rate 30
DL Havoc Rate 5
LB Havoc Rate 44
DB Havoc Rate 125
PD to INC 109

IsoPPP is a points-per-play metric that is a means of measuring explosiveness. Havoc rate is simple: the percentage of plays the defense (or unit) recorded a TFL, defensed a pass (PBU or INT), or forced a fumble. “PD-to-INC” is the percentage of opponents’ incompletions that were picked off or broken up.

NC State’s defensive profile is difficult to reconcile in some ways, since, for example, the Wolfpack has actually been pretty efficient overall. It ranks 28th in success rate (basically the rate at which a team keeps the opposing offense behind schedule), which to me implies better numbers in some of the above subcategories.

But clearly State is again having problems keeping offenses contained consistently. Like maybe four or five plays on a drive are good, low-output plays but the sixth is a breakdown that flips the field or leads directly to points.

The Pack’s overall havoc rate is well above average—this has been, in general, a disruptive unit, led obviously by the defensive line. Pretty much the same story as last year. Then when you get down to those last two categories, which speak a bit to style in addition to substance, it turns ugly. The secondary is dead last in FBS in havoc rate.

And once again, NC State is struggling to force turnovers. The Pack managed only 22 in 13 games last season (1.7 per game) and is on pace for 16 in 12 games this year (1.3 per game). This partly explains why State has been so bad at ending drives inside its own 40. Wolfpack opponents are averaging 5.3 points per drive inside the 40, more than half a point above the national average.

How much of all of this is State’s style of play, and how much is personnel? That’s always the difficult part to figure, what with all these moving parts. Based on this defense’s track record under Dave Huxtable, it seems unlikely that this defense’s personality will change much moving forward. A blessing from the turnover gods would sure help mask some of the deficiencies for State, but don’t hold your breath on that one.