Raleigh, NC – The 21st-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14 thumping at the hand of Cincinnati.
Plenty of excitement is swirling in Atlanta, as the Yellow Jackets are 4-0 for the first time since 1990. Moreover, the team learned a little more about its identity and character last weekend in a thrilling 35-28 win over North Carolina in the ACC opener, in which the Rambling Wreck held off a late Tar Heel surge to secure the conference win. It is the second consecutive week for Georgia Tech in the Top-25 poll, as the Yellow Jackets moved up four spots from No. 25 to No. 21 after the win over North Carolina.
NC State isn't exactly reeling after its disappointing loss to Cincinnati, but there is urgency for the Wolfpack to not start the conference season 0-2 after falling to Wake Forest on September 10. The team has been hampered by injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which makes this week's matchup even more difficult for the Wolfpack to prepare for in Georgia Tech's explosive triple- option offense.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series with NC State 17-10, but fell to the Wolfpack 48-45 last season in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech's offense is among one of the best in college football, with the triple-option running attack especially deadly. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in total offense with 630.5 yards per game, and average the most points in college football with 53.2 The unit ranks second in yards rushing per game, averaging 398.8 and has three players averaging more than 69 yards rushing per affair, led by running back Orwin Smith's 87.3 average. Synjyn Days is posting 71.3 yards rushing per game, and Davis Sims averages 69 yards rushing.
Quarterback Tevin Washington has completed 27-of-42 passes for 821 yards and eight touchdowns, and has added four scores on the ground. The offense has outscored opponents 66-to-14 in the first quarter, and is converting 68 percent of its third downs (34-of-50).
"This offense is always hard to play because it's so unique, but it's a great challenge for the team," said NC State head coach Tom O'Brien. "We're going to find out who's disciplined and who's mentally tough, because they force you to concentrate on your assignment each play. All it takes to get you beat is that one missed assignment."
The Yellow Jacket defense is allowing 334.2 yards per game, with 132.5 yards coming on the ground and 201.8 through the air. The unit has generated quality pressure through four games, posting 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, and has created eight turnovers (four interceptions and four fumbles).
Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu had three sacks last week against North Carolina, which was the highest output in two season by a Georgia Tech defender. Attaochu is tied for sixth in the nation in sacks with four, and is second on the team in tackles with 23. Julian Burnett leads the team with 36 stops, including three tackles for loss. More so than statistics is the discipline that Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is impressed with through four games.
"I think these kids are tough. They were tough last year," said Johnson. "I think that they are a little better at their craft than they were a year ago, they understand it a little better. I never question their toughness because we have tough kids."
Quarterback Mike Glennon leads the NC State offense, which averages 29.8 points per game and 364 yards of total offense. Glennon has thrown for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and is completing 65.6 percent of his passes. He has thrown three interceptions in 2011, including two costly picks that set up Cincinnati touchdowns in NC State's last game. One of NC State's primary weapons is wide receiver T.J. Graham, who is averaging 107 yards receiving per game and four touchdowns in four games. He has also been really productive in the kicking game, including a 24.2 yard average on punt returns with one touchdown.
The one facet of the Wolfpack's offense that has struggled to gain traction has been the running game, as NC State is only averaging 85 yards per outing at a clip of 2.8 yards per carry. The leading rusher has been Curtis Underwood, who is running for an average of 56.5 yards per game and has one touchdown. The starter against Georgia Tech will be James Washington, who has rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries this season.
The NC State defense is allowing 408.2 yards of total offense per game (139 rushing, 269.2 passing), but the unit has shown flashes with 12 turnovers (eight interceptions and four fumbles) and is holding teams to under 50 percent on third down (29-of-61). Corner Davis Amers has four interceptions, while safety Brandon Bishop has two. Linebacker Audie Cole leads the team with 45 tackles (eight TFL) and three sacks.
The troubling news is up front. NC State's defensive line has been plagued by injuries - each position on the line has changed starters due to injury, with one of those positions losing a backup starter to injury through four games. That includes starting senior defensive end Jeff Reiskamp, who suffered a shoulder injury against Wake Forest on September 10 and has been out of the lineup since. Starter Darryl Cato-Bishop will move from end to tackle this week and walk-on Jacob Kahut will be thrown into the fire as a backup at the tackle position.
"We only have two defensive tackles left to play this game," said O'Brien. "We moved Cato-Bishop inside, and we're going to play a walk-on inside, that's where we are. We're going to coach them up and get ready to play a football game."