HUNTINGTON — Doc Holliday last coached at North Carolina State 13 years ago, so any sentimentality of his return is muted by time.
But not erased completely. The eighth-year Marshall coach still speaks fondly of those who played there, such as quarterback Phillip Rivers.
And this week, he named some really good defensive front personnel from his time in Raleigh — Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo. “They had three first-rounders on that defensive front, which is what their guys look like this year.”
As the Thundering Herd prepares for the Wolfpack, it will face a defensive front considered one of the very best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Herd offensive line will be sternly tested when it takes on N.C. State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Thundering Herd quarterback Chase Litton offered his endorsement of the Wolfpack front in no uncertain terms.
“They have four guys who will play at the next level, and that’s just on the D-line,” Litton said. “They have a guy who could go top 10 this year, they have a guy who’s probably a first-rounder. It will be the best competition, best situation we’ll face all season, and that’s no disrespect to the other teams we play … They can change a game with just those front four.”
Marshall protected Litton well last week, but didn’t run the ball effectively. If the Wolfpack front four gains the upper hand over the MU line, that presents Litton the extra trouble of facing seven defenders in coverage.
Don’t let N.C. State’s 35-28 loss to South Carolina last week fool you — the defense played well enough to win. The Wolfpack gave up 31 rushing yards, 246 total.
But the Gamecocks scored on a kickoff return to begin the game, and later scored on drives of 51, 40 and 13 yards.
“I thought N.C. State played outstanding on defense,” said Bill Legg, MU’s offensive coordinator. “But there was a couple of blown assignments that allowed for huge plays that, in many cases, were touchdowns.”
Indeed, the Gamecocks scored on pass plays of 34 and 39 yards, with a 26-yard pass setting up another touchdown. The Gamecocks’ last five possessions ended in two punts, an interception and two more punts.
“The quarterback from South Carolina ran around a couple of times and found a man open, extended the play,” Legg said. “You take four or five or six plays out of that game, and you’d think N.C. State had a great game defensively.”
The marquee instigator on the Wolfpack line is No. 9, Bradley Chubb. Big for a defensive end at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he is called one of the “best combinations of pass-rusher and run defender in the country” by Pro Football Focus. NFL Draft Scout lists him as the top senior at the position.
He had five tackles, one for a loss, and a pass breakup last week. His 22 tackles for loss last year was the second-best mark in school history, only behind Williams — remember, Williams was the top overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.
Chubb is a senior, along with end Kentavius Street, nose tackle B.J. Hill and tackle Justin Jones. NFL Draft Scout calls Street a fourth- to fifth-round pick, with Hill and Jones possibly sneaking into the seventh round.
Street, Hill and Jones aren’t small — 287, 315 and 312 pounds, respectively. But Legg isn’t as worried about the size of these guys as he is about their athleticism.
“To be honest, Miami’s defense was pretty thick, for the most part,” Legg said. “Where you see probably more of a difference is the quickness, the twitch, just the athleticism.
“Their No. 9 [Chubb] is a little bigger, but he’s also a little more athletic.”
So what has Litton seen from these guys on the video?
“What haven’t I seen?” he said. “Their two guys just like to bull-rush you, close the pocket, and their ends can get so fast upfield, the pocket will collapse on you within seconds.”