TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For Jimbo Fisher, studying North Carolina State’s defensive game film comes with a heavy dose of déjà vu.
Every single member of NC State’s front seven – four defensive linemen and three linebackers – is either a senior or fifth-year senior. (The Wolfpack often uses a five-defensive back alignment, but, even then, the team’s nickel back is also a senior.)
The group has three players with at least 22 career starts and, as a whole, has combined for 137 career starts.
So when Fisher flips through the Wolfpack’s cut-ups, he sees plenty of familiar faces and jersey numbers.
“They’ve been there forever,” Fisher said with a smile. “I go back over film from two, three, four years (ago), it’s the same dudes.”
Those dudes aren’t just experienced, but they’re also talented, productive and planning on spoiling the party at Florida State’s home opener against the Wolfpack on Saturday.
“It’s similar to Alabama,” FSU tight end Ryan Izzo said. “During the week, we’re really focused on helping out our tackles because their ends are really explosive and really talented.”
With defensive end Bradley Chubb leading the way, the Wolfpack is surrendering just 88.3 rushing yards per game – the 11th-fewest in the country – and have logged six sacks in three games.
Chubb, the younger brother of Detroit Lions linebacker Brandon Chubb and cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb, posted 10 sacks a year ago, has 1.5 sacks through three games in 2017 and projects as a likely first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
“(He is) athletic, long, relentless, can rush the passer,” Fisher said. “Great two-way, go guy. Not afraid to beat you.”
It doesn’t stop with Chubb.
Plus-sized tackles B.J. Hill (6-4, 300 pounds) and Justin Jones (6-2, 312) clog the middle and funnel plays outside, where the likes of Chubb and fellow end Kentavius Street are often waiting.
“They’ve got a whole bunch of them, now,” Fisher said. “Street, we recruited the heck out of him. He’s powerful. Can play the edge, can play the run. Hill is big inside, can maul you inside.
“Jones is another one, big and physical inside. They’ve got depth at those positions. … They’re really good players across the board.”
Fisher doesn’t need to dig deep to find evidence of NC State’s defensive prowess. The film from his own team’s visit to Raleigh, N.C., last year will do just fine.
In that game, the Wolfpack corralled FSU’s rushing attack to the tune of just 63 yards on 24 attempts, good for only 2.6 yards per carry.
It took an extra effort from FSU’s passing game – 330 passing yards from Deondre Francois and a breakout effort by Nyqwan Murray – to escape with a 24-20 victory.
A similar script could be in store on Saturday. While the Wolfpack has been stout against the run, opponents have found success through the air. NC State ranks 91st nationally in pass defense and surrenders more than 250 passing yards per game.
Complicating matters, though, is that FSU won’t have Francois under center. After three weeks of waiting, freshman James Blackman is finally set to make his debut against the Wolfpack. And, as any coach would, NC State’s Dave Doeren said he plans to use that front seven to make Blackman as uncomfortable as possible.
“That would be ideal,” Doeren said. “We don’t want him to get in a rhythm. We don’t want him to stand back there and feel good and feel like he’s got a lot of time. Because they’ve got excellent receivers and you can’t give him that much time to throw it down the field.
“Any game we play is going to always come down to that. We have four senior D-linemen that need to play at a high level all year for us, and they know that.”