September 29, 2010

Nate Irving moving on from big game, focused on VT

When senior linebacker Nate Irving was asked how he felt after practice on Tuesday, he answered, "sore." That's about how one would expect the star middle linebacker to feel just days after going against Georgia Tech and their powerful triple option attack.

Irving was all over the field, tallying a career-high 16 tackles, and helping the defense hold the Yellow Jackets to 96 yards below their season rushing average entering the game. According to Iving, it was made possible because of the four big men who put their hand in the dirt and play in front of the Pack's linebackers. Even more impressive is the fact that the Pack liberally rotated their defensive line, the starters notched 40 snaps while the second-team members were each on the field for 26 plays.

"It starts with the front four, those guys got penetration," he said. "They couldn't really establish the fullback, and that's what the option is all about. Our front four did a good job of keeping them in hand.

"We just executed our assignments. Our coach told us everybody wasn't going to be able to be a star, and this had to be a team defensive effort. I think everybody understood that and we executed the defense as called."

One of the reasons there weren't many other defensive stars on the day was due to Irving hogging the spotlight. One of the biggest keys to stopping the triple option is taking away the dive and that is exactly what the Pack's front seven did.

"That's the first thing you got to do because the dive gets that offense rolling," he said. "Once you stop the dive, they have to go to the perimeter and start pitching the ball and running with the quarterback."

In addition to setting a new career best in tackles, Irving tallied 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. For his efforts, he was named as the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week and the Walter Camp Foundation also named him as their National Defensive Player of the Week. It was the breakout game fans have been waiting for from Irving since he returned from a fatal car accident last spring. The defensive star wasn't even aware of how big of a contest he had against the Yellow Jackets until after the game when the media relations staff told him about his final statistics.

The team captain mentioned that it was a really physical game for the entire defense, but he is confident the defense is ready for their next challenge, stopping Virginia Tech and star quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

"Our coaches make sure we do a good job of getting in and recovering, getting our bodies ready," Irving said. "[The key] is just playing assignment football again, like we did last week. We have to kow they are coming right at us and we have to contain the quarterback."

The two teams definitely find themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum four weeks into the 2010 campaign. While the Hokies continued their nearly-annual tradition of being tabbed as the ACC favorites before the season began, the Pack was held in very low regard. However, the Pack is currently 4-0 and ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll while the unranked Hokies stumble into Raleigh coming off of their first win of the season, a 19-0 effort over Boston College. Frank Beamer's team has lost to Boise State and FCS competitor James Madison this year.

However, Irving insists that the Pack knows the dangers their conference foe presents and that the team will not be fooled by the Hokie's record. Irving is confident that the mobile quarterbacks the Pack has seen in the each of last three contests has the defense prepared for their next challenge, although he calls Taylor the best yet.

"He's a good passer, and he's an even better runner so we have to keep contain," he said. "You have to be aware when he breaks containment and stay with the receiver because that's when he gets all the big plays throwing down the field.

"[The last three quarterbacks] helps the defense, especially the kid from Central Florida [Jeffrey Godfrey], he might have been the fastest quarterback we played this year. Playing against that might give oyu a sense of what to do. So far, [Taylor] is probably one of the best quarterbacks we've had to face."

The 2008 All-ACC honorable mention selection said that beating Georgia Tech in Atlanta provides a big confidence boost for the Pack, but the team is not resting on its early season accomplishments. Irving currently leads the Pack with 27 tackles and five tackles for loss and the team is 13-4 when Irving is in the starting lineup.

"[The last win] feels good because they are the defending ACC CHampionns and we want to be the champions. To be the champions, you have to beat the champions and I think we're on the right path now."

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