Last year was the healthiest NC State has been during Tom O’Brien’s tenure, and it showed in the final results, as the Wolfpack finished with nine wins and ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
This year? It seems like you could field an entire starting lineup with the players who are sidelined, but the defense has been hit the hardest. It could be a factor once again on Thursday night as the Pack prepares to travel to Cincinnati. The Bearcats have the No. 4 scoring offense in the country with 51.33 points per game, but many of the numbers have come against inferior opponents. Still, NC State’s depleted defense will be tested.
NC State has opened the past two games without two starting defensive linemen and finished the South Alabama game with four starters on the bench. Senior captain J.R. Sweezy suffered a broken foot in preseason practice and is still in a walking boot. Redshirt freshman Thomas Teal took Sweezy’s place, but suffered the exact same injury in the first game and has joined the walking boot club.
Prior to facing Wake Forest, starting end Jeff Rieskamp was sidelined with a shoulder injury. The Cincinnati native has missed the last two games and his status is still unknown for Thursday night. Redshirt freshman Art Norman has been starting in his place, but he left the South Alabama game with an injury and did not return.
NC State’s defense took another big hit in Saturday’s game when weakside linebacker Terrell Manning injured his knee in the first half and did not return. He was operated on earlier this week.
“It’s been a tough season to play defense,” O’Brien said. “We lost a corner to start the year, we lost our captain and best defensive lineman, we lost the next-best defensive lineman, we lost the back-up middle linebacker, lost a corner, lost a linebacker.
“Dwayne Maddox has some experience, he’s been around and is going to have to step up and make some plays right now. Certainly we’re down seven guys off the top 15 that we had going in the first of August. There are 15 left from the top 22. It’s been a difficult year to play defense around here.”
O’Brien said the staff would try to get Rieskamp ready to face his hometown team, but even if he is cleared to play, he won’t have had much practice time.
“We’re trying to get him ready for Cincinnati, but if that doesn’t work then we’ll try for Georgia Tech,” O’Brien said. “It’s week-to-week trying to get guys back and get them healthy.”