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NC State Defense: Will Tony Gibson’s Unit Remain Elite?

NC State Defense

The NC State defense has been one of the best in the ACC and throughout the country over the past few seasons. Tony Gibson is the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the conference for good reason. In 2022, the Wolfpack defensive unit allowed only 19.2 points per game and had more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed. In addition, the defense limited opposing rushers to just over three yards per carry. The unit also only allowed 226 passing yards per game. Gibson and the NC State defense look to continue their success in 2023.

 Run Defense

Over the past two years, NC State has gained a reputation as a very difficult team to run the football against. The team limited opponents to just nine rushing touchdowns in the 2021 campaign. In 2022, the defense only allowed 100.7 rushing yards per game. NC State has sent a plethora of solid defensive linemen to the NFL in this span, most notably Alim Mcneil of the Detroit Lions. The Linebacker position has also been a “strength of the pack”, as key contributors Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas both ended up on NFL rosters.

In 2023, the Wolfpack run defense will rely heavily on the linebackers. Payton Wilson is returning after tallying 82 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss over 11 games in 2022. Wilson will be the leader and cornerstone of the NC State defense that loses its top three leading tacklers from last year. Defensive end Davin Vann is a high-motor player who had a big performance against rival UNC in 2022 with five tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Vann racked up 33 tackles and eight tackles for loss over the season and will need to improve upon those numbers this fall.

Outside of Wilson and Vann leading the run defense, the Wolfpack will need multiple young linebackers and defensive linemen to step up. Gibson is no stranger to developing defensive line talent, but he and the Wolfpack defense will have their work cut out for them in 2023.

 Pass Defense

Once considered the weakest link of the defense, the 2023 defensive back unit comes in as one of the strongest in recent memory. Cornerback Aydan White highlights this unit after winning 1st team All-ACC honors in 2022. White led the team and was second in the ACC with four interceptions. He also did not allow a single touchdown while in coverage. However, White missed spring practices while rehabbing from surgery. White is a phenomenal coverage corner and will have to have another big season against multiple stellar quarterbacks in the ACC.

Across the field from White, Shyheim Battle played great coverage in 2022 and the Wolfpack need him to take another step up. Battle caught two interceptions in 2022, and led the ACC in pass defenses with 10 in 2020. One of his 2022 interceptions was in the end zone as time expired against Florida State after quarterback Devin Leary suffered a season-ending injury. Outside of the two stellar corners, Safety Jakeen Harris will play a big role of both the pass and run defense. Harris also had two interceptions in 2022 and is the team’s starting Strong Safety.

As a unit, the Wolfpack are great in coverage but need some work when it comes to pressuring the quarterbacks. Only Devin Vann returns 10 or more quarterback hits. No returner amassed more than five sacks in 2022, so the pass rush will be a big concern for Gibson as the season approaches. White and Battle will be able to cover any opponent’s best receiver. However, the team may struggle if the rest of the unit can’t get to the quarterback.

2023 Outlook

Overall, the Wolfpack defense has key returners at all three levels of the defensive unit. The team’s biggest questions revolve around the pass rush. In addition, Gibson needs to find at least one more linebacker and safety that can hold down the fort, as the team’s depth behind its’ stars is cause for concern.

NC State has only lost four games in the past two seasons when the offense has scored at least 20 points. In 2023, the defense appears to be the strongest unit the team has, and the Wolfpack’s success will rely on limiting opponents to less than 21 points. The offense will be competitive, but NC State has shown that the team will win the majority of its games based on excellent defensive play.


NC State Defense

Photo Courtesy:  Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports


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