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In the lead up to Saturday’s game, pundits everywhere gushed about the strength of NC State’s defensive front. Matched up against South Carolina’s offensive line, a weakness of last year’s squad, it figured to be a major advantage for the Wolfpack.
While expectations have been higher in offensive line coach Eric Wolford’s first year on the job, few expected the South Carolina line to hold its own.
The unit answered the call.
During a game that the Wolfpack defensive line was supposed to dominate, Jake Bentley was consistently given time to throw. On his 36 dropbacks, the sophomore was hit just four times, three of which came on jailbreak blitzes.
The offensive line which struggled so mightily last season held its own, frustrating the Wolfpack front seven and keeping the Gamecocks in the game.
The Wolfpack racked up just seven tackles for loss and two sacks against a unit that finished last in the SEC in those categories last season. Bentley was only pressured on six other passes during the game, scrambling for positive yardage on three of those.
Senior Zack Bailey made the move from left guard to right tackle in the offseason, allowing junior Donell Stanley to move into the left tackle position. The unit is overall healthier this season as center Alan Knott and right guard Cory Helms are playing at full-strength, unlike a year ago when each played through season-long injuries.
At least through one game, the move seems to have helped the line.
“Before the game, butterflies kicked in,” Bailey said. “The team, the line got together and we said, ‘We got this.’”
The Wolfpack loaded the box to take away the run, limiting the Gamecocks to just 31 yards on 21 carries, still the line did enough to protect Bentley and keep the team in the game.
Against a top five defensive line, that’s just about all that can be asked of them. Still, there’s room for improvement.
“It sets the standard for us,” Bailey said. “We have to keep improving. Tomorrow we’ll come in and watch the film, learn from our mistakes and try to be the best we can.”
Going forward, the Gamecocks will have to establish the run. They’ll have the opportunity to do just that next week against a Missouri team that allowed Missouri State’s Calan Crowder to rush for over 100 yards on just 11 carries.
As the season progresses, so should the offensive line. Through one game though, as Bailey said, the unit has set a standard. If the unit can play to that standard week in and week out, the Gamecock offense should be every bit as good as advertised.