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NC State’s defense needs to get better at limiting explosive plays, but can it?

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Big mistakes cost the team one game already.

NCAA Football: Furman at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This will come as a surprise to no one who has seen all three games this season, but NC State’s defense does not rate well when it comes to preventing its opponents from hitting on big plays. Through three games, State has given up nine plays of 30+ yards, which ranks 109th nationally.

The advanced metrics paint an even uglier picture of this performance: the Wolfpack defense ranks 121st in Bill Connelly’s explosiveness metric, which for the defense is a measure of big play prevention (That’s out of 130 teams, if you were wondering.)

The defense has been reasonably efficient overall (40th in that category) but has been routinely beaten for large chunk plays, which is kind of a big problem. It may not have mattered in the final accounting against Marshall or Furman, but it mattered against South Carolina, and it’s gonna matter the rest of the way.

In general, the defense has not been nearly as disruptive as it was a year ago, and the defensive line in particular has dropped off in terms of havoc rate. That’s part of the problem.

On standard downs (First downs, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer.), NC State has zero sacks—and opponents are throwing it on standard downs at a rate well above the national average—and has been exceptionally vulnerable to big plays.

On passing downs, State’s defense profiles quite a bit better. That’s not unusual, of course, since predictability is always going to be a defense’s friend.

Opposing offenses are just getting way, way too many chunk plays out of standard down situations. It’s one thing to be bad at preventing this stuff, but NC State has been downright awful. If they can’t figure out a way to at least slow down the rate at which those chunk gains have been hitting, conference play probably isn’t going to be pleasant.

Do they have the personnel to right the ship in this area, though? That’s the part that’s difficult to figure. The Pack does appear to be heading into this week a little bit healthier, which could make a difference. The secondary actually hasn’t been terrible in the eyes of the advanced metrics, so it’s almost as if there’s across-the-board mistakes that are leading to the big breakdowns.

Clearly there are some fundamental issues that go beyond personnel that need cleaning up in a hurry. Some of that is tied to inexperience in some places, but we have seen silly mistakes too. At least that stuff is definitely correctable. The season may end up defined by how much they can clean up and how fast they can do it.