NC State returns just three full-time starters on a defense that yielded 17 points and 301 yards per game in 2002.
So far this season, the re-built unit has allowed 29 points and 305 yards per game.
Head coach Chuck Amato is a defensive-minded coach, but has his work cut out for him this year. Needless to say, with eight new starters, the strength of the team is not the defense.
But one area where the Wolfpack "D" takes a backseat to no one is team speed. Where the unit lacks in size and experience, it makes up for it with excellent speed across the board.
"Defensively, they have outstanding quickness, speed, and give you a lot of different looks," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "They try to make it difficult for you to block them from the standpoint of looping and stunning and blitzing and they play good, aggressive man coverage."
Tressel knows that a veteran like Amato will come in with a quality defensive game plan.
"When you have speed and you have know-how and you have a scheme that obviously coach Amato knows well - he coached that defense at Florida State for 18 years - they're a good defense and they'll have a good scheme."
Ohio State fullback Brandon Schnittker watched film on NC State on Monday and agrees with much of what Tressel said.
"It is an athletic defense - there's no doubt about it," Schnittker said. "They're strong and fast and they play hard. They like to throw a couple different defenses at you. But, I think the game is going to come down to who is more physical."
That is where the Buckeyes should have a major edge. NC State's defensive line has four new starters and it will be going up against a big/veteran Ohio State offensive line.
The starters on the Wolfpack D-line are: end Mario Williams (6-7, 254, Fr.), tackle Alan Halloway (6-2, 285, Sr.), tackle John McCargo (6-2, 286, Fr.) and end Renaldo Moses (6-6, 210, So.). All of them are first-year starters. Williams has the team's lone sack so far this year.
"The (defensive ends) are great pass rushers. Big, tall, quick guys," Tressel said. "Their (tackles) have great strength and power and good quickness."
Ohio State guard Adrien Clarke will be battling that defensive front on Saturday and thinks the Bucks will be put to the test.
"Their inside tackles, they pretty much have pretty good players; pretty good athletes," Clarke said. "Their defensive ends are pretty nice sized. We have a good challenge in front of us this coming Saturday."
Shifting to the linebackers, NC State has one returning starter: WLB Pat Thomas (6-2, 224, Jr.). He racked up 106 total tackles last year, including six tackles-for-loss and three sacks.
The other starters are SLB Freddie Aughtry-Lindsey (6-1, 224, Jr.) and MLB Oliver Hoyte (6-3, 230, So.). Lindsey actually started four games due to injuries last year and had 86 total tackles.
"Their linebackers are veterans, and they're in a lot of different places," Tressel said. "They give you a lot to think about."
The defensive backs are the strength of the defense with two starters returning to the lineup: ROV Andre Maddox (6-1, 191, Jr.) and CB LaMont Reid (6-0, 190, Jr.).
Maddox racked up 126 tackles last year with four sacks and one interception. So far this year, he leads the team with 20 tackles, including 18 solos.
Reid, who has 4.36 speed, had 40 tackles and nine pass break-ups last year.
The other starters in the secondary are: FS Troy Graham (6-3, 193, Jr.) and CB Greg Golden (5-11, 185 Jr.).
Graham is a converted receiver and Golden is a converted tailback. The latter started four games towards the end of the 2002 season at corner.
"They have excellent corners," Tressel said. "Number 28 (Reid) and No. 2 (Golden) played the bulk of it last week. No. 3 (freshman A.J. Davis) came in and played a lot in their game against Wake (Forest) as well.
"They have great patience in their man coverage and man coverage is a hairy thing for people. You're on that guy, and when guys struggle, it's because they aren't patient. They don't let it unfold. I think their corners do a great job from a patience standpoint."
Tressel has also been impressed with what he has seen from the safeties.
"They have veteran safeties," he said. "One (Maddox) was a starter a year ago; the other (Graham) was involved in a lot of the nickel schemes and so forth. They're always going to get one of those safeties involved; going to get one of those safeties involved down in the box."
NC State's defense was torched for over 200 rushing yards in a 38-24 loss to Wake Forest last week. Logic tells you that if the Demon Deacons could run on the Wolfpack, the Buckeyes will be able to as well.
But the OSU players are not taking anything for granted.
"We looked at them a little bit yesterday on film," tailback Maurice Hall said. "But they, even though they gave up 200, they still have a great defense and they do a lot of different kind of blitzes and slants with the defensive line. So we really can't go in there thinking that, you know, we can slight them. Just because Wake Forest did a great job, it's not going to be easy for us."
NC State will likely copy a blueprint that's been successful against the Buckeyes the last couple of years: play eight men in the box, blitz a lot and dare them to throw.
Receiver Michael Jenkins knows that the onus will be on OSU's passing game. The Bucks will need to exploit the middle of the field - more specifically the deep ball - to get out of the Horseshoe with a win.
"They're a fast group on defense," Jenkins said. "They are going to play hard. They play a lot of man coverage outside and keep seven, or eight, in the box. So, it's up to us as receivers to make big plays this weekend. We have to take advantages of our opportunities in the passing game."