Redshirt freshman Audie Cole, N.C. State’s latest answer to problems with its struggling back seven on defense, said he is ready for his new assignment as the starter at weak side linebacker.
“I don’t have that much experience, but I’m confident,” he said Tuesday evening, his jersey drenched after practice.
Cole is listed as the starter because Nate Irving is trying to come back from an ankle injury but his status is uncertain for Saturday’s game at Duke. Freshman Dwayne Maddox, who had been Irving’s replacement, hasn’t performed as well as N.C. State’s coaches had hoped.
Coach Tom O’Brien inserted Cole into the lineup in the second half of a 27-24 loss on Oct. 25 at Maryland.
“The first drive was really rough,” Cole said. “It seemed like I was on the ground more than I was on my feet. But after the first drive I got used to it. At first the speed was a whole different thing, but it seemed to slow down as the game went on.”
The defense continued to falter, giving up a late drive for a winning field goal in the final minute. O’Brien went into last week’s open date vowing to evaluate personnel in hopes of improving the defense.
Elevating Cole was the most noticeable change. Like Maddox, though, Cole is young. He’s just 15 months removed from his “welcome to college football moment,” which occurred on one of the first days of practice last fall.
Fullback Pat Bedics leveled him with a crushing block that he didn’t see coming. All Cole remembers is being flat on his back, looking up at the sky.
His teammates told him every player receives a rude introduction like that.
“Well, I got mine,” he said he replied. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
O’Brien was hoping N.C. State wouldn’t be a poor rushing defense again, but the Wolfpack is giving up 170.1 yards per game on the ground. He hopes Cole, despite his inexperience, can be part of the answer to that problem.