In a previous article, I raised the question, “Is the 2017 NC State Defensive Line the Best in Wolfpack History?” (https://www.backingthepack.com/nc-state-football/2017/7/30/16063014/best-d-line-in-wolfpack-history-nc-state-football). Throughout this season, my goal is to cumulatively track by week the stats of both lines during the seasons under consideration with my analysis. Then at season’s end, the BTP community hopefully will have enough information and insight to make the final determination.
Heading into the 2005 season, we all knew the defensive line would be a strength, but there were few if any historical comparisons. They did their job with brutal precision . . . and it wasn’t until afterwards – perhaps years afterwards – before we began to appreciate they held a special place in our history . . . the de facto greatest defensive line in Pack history.
The 2017 d-line is now chasing a ghost – 2005 stat lines and an intangible reputation that has grown with time.
Round 1 of the competition may be remembered more for what the 2017 line didn’t do, as opposed to the solid but undistinguished performance it turned in. The Gamecocks offensive line – a weak point in 2016 – gave up 41 sacks last year (see Steven’s 8/15/17 article entitled, “South Carolina’s offensive line needs a speedy reversal from 2016”). Coupled with our potentially all-time great D-Line, the game appeared to be primed for a sack-fest. Observers suspected (I expected) State’s D-Line would have multiple sacks with the Pack faithful looking for, if the game was close near the end, a coup de grâce strip-sack, game-winning / game-saving turnover.
What materialized was not a single sack from the defensive line . . . count them . . . zero, null, void, empty, nada, zippo, none, cero, etc. I’ll return to this significant stat in my summary.
Let’s look at the stat line:
Best D-Line Week 1 Individual
The 2005 line had 22 total tackles and one sack compared to 12 total tackles and zero sacks recorded by 2017. On South Carolina’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Chubb made a tackle for loss (TFL) – I thought this would be a frequent result. Instead, Chubb only had one more the rest of the game.
The 2017 line did end up with 3.5 TFL, while the 2005 line had 3.0.
Best D-Line Week 1 Team
The 2017 line also gave up less yards per carry then 2005 (2.90 v 3.02), while both gave up one rushing TD.
Any number of variables will affect the stats, and so – in a game as complex as football – it is impossible to make a fully defensible “apples-to-apples” comparison. For example, South Carolina opted, especially in the first half, to run their offense via quick, short passes – successfully mitigating our pass rush.
Yes, the 2005 line had 10 more tackles in their opener, but Va Tech ran the ball 20 more times than South Carolina, so they had more opportunities for tackles.
Based on the stats, I would overall call the opener a draw, with the 2005 version receiving the tie-breaker vote as the Round 1 winner. 2005 had significantly more tackles and at least accomplished one sack; 2017 had 0.5 more TFL and gave up slightly less yards per carry (2.90 v 3.02).
At the end of the day, it usually all comes down to Ws and Ls – but in this case, it’s a push, as State lost both openers.
The main reason I give 2005 the victory is the quality of the opponent. Although we do not as yet know how 2017 will turn out for South Carolina, at least at this point they clearly appear to be a second-tier SEC team at best.
On the other hand, Va Tech was ranked #7 or #8, depending on the poll you trust most when we played them. They were coming off a 10-win season as ACC Champions and would go on to an 11-win 2005 campaign, losing in the ACC Championship game to FSU, then beating a Top 20 Louisville team in the Gator Bowl.
The other reason I give the nod to 2005 is that whole “expectation / perception” thing . . . in my estimation, the sack is a somewhat overrated metric. If it is a strip-sack leading to a possession change, or unfortunately injures the opposing quarterback, it becomes a big deal. However, it only successfully stops one play – no more and no less than a pass breakup sans the yardage.
But O the perception of it all . . . our 2017 d-line . . . crazy strong and athletic, fast and experienced, the Pride of the Pack . . . potentially the greatest in school history . . .
. . . not one solitary sack . . . that’s what I’ll remember . . . that, and I can’t believe our Team let this totally winnable game pile on another loss, detracting from what might have been . . . like so many games have done previously, stretching back through all the days of our lives.