RALEIGH — A group of NC State students lined the front row at Carter-Finley Stadium on Thursday adorned in body paint spelling out the words “Chubb For Heisman.”
Considering that no defensive lineman has ever won the award and only two have finished as high as second in the 80 years it has been presented, it’s not likely that Wolfpack star Bradley Chubb has much chance at winning college football’s most prestigious award.
But he sure made life miserable for someone who already has a Heisman on his mantle.
Chubb set the tone on an electric night at State by sacking Louisville’s Lamar Jackson on the second play of the nationally televised game. His Wolfpack teammates followed his lead by keeping the pressure on the Cardinals quarterback before finally sealing the deal with a pick six that put an exclamation point on a 39-25 victory.
“As a leader of the defense, my team looks to me to make a play,” Chubb said of his early meet-and-greet with Jackson. “So I just try to do that and set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Chubb’s 22nd-and-a-half career sack did just that against the 17th-ranked Cardinals.
Not only did it help the 24th-ranked Wolfpack produce a three-and-out on the game’s first possession, but it also helped shed some of Jackson’s Heisman mystique for others on the defensive line. It said, ‘Yes he’s a great playmaker, but he’s not invincible.”
A year ago in Louisville, Jackson embarrassed State by torching it for 355 passing yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a 55-14 rout that was effectively over by halftime.
Although he passed for an almost identical 354 yards this time, he wasn’t nearly as effective because of the pounding he took from Chubb and his friends. The Wolfpack sacked Jackson four times, hit or hurried him on numerous other occasions and forced him into a so-so 26 of 47 passing performance.
The coup de gras came with 2:52 remaining and State clinging to a 32-25 lead. Safety Shawn Boone put a hit on Cardinal receiver Traveon Samuel, deflecting the ball into the air, where linebacker Germaine Pratt retrieved it and returned the interception 25 yards for the clinching touchdown.
It was as symbolic a play as it was significant, since just one year earlier on the same end of the field, Boone dropped a sure interception in the end zone against Florida State that prevented the Wolfpack from finishing off an emotional win against a nationally ranked opponent.
“That was a missed opportunity by Shawn Boone, but he’s worked hard every day and he seized the moment,” Pratt said. “We have a big emphasis this year on finishing and making plays.”
Aside from Pratt, no one made more of them Thursday than Chubb, who finished with six tackles, that sack and two quarterback hurries to go along with a blocked extra point.
“I just (thank) God he’s on our team,” State quarterback Ryan Finley said. “He’s playing unbelievable … just wreaking havoc.”
Louisville’s offensive line had to pay so much attention to Chubb that it opened the door for others to have big nights as well. Among them was sophomore Eurndraus Bryant, who had a game he can tell his future grandchildren about by recording his first two career sacks. Against the reigning Heisman winner, no less.
“That’s definitely something I can carry with me,” the 6-foot-1, 325-pound defensive tackle said. “We know how dangerous (Jackson) can be, especially if he gets out of the pocket, but it doesn’t matter who it was. To me, it was just a matter of executing the game plan and doing my job.”
He was one of many on the Wolfpack defense to accomplish that goal, a fact that didn’t come as a surprise to coach Dave Doeren — who said that Thursday’s performance and the five-game winning streak his team is now on is the fruition of a process that began with the arrival of this year’s senior leaders.
It’s a group that includes Chubb, fellow end Kentavius Street, tackle B.J. Hill, linebackers Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore and defensive backs Mike Stevens and Shawn Boone.
“We recruited them four years ago and fed them a lot of food and (strength coach Dantonio “Thunder” Burnette) has done a good job, and now we have four NFL D-linemen,” Doeren said. “We’re playing against one of the electric quarterbacks in college football since Michael Vick, so it took a great effort from a bunch of guys. Anytime you sack the quarterback it’s great. It’s a party in the backfield.”
It’s just that kind of celebration — along with the one that came after the big win — that Doeren sold to Chubb last winter when the All-American end was considering an early departure to the NFL draft.
He ultimately decided to return for his final college season to “finish what we started” with the Wolfpack (5-1, 3-0). Thursday’s performance and the win it helped bring about was a major step in that direction.
“The sky’s the limit for this team, I sincerely believe that,” Chubb said. “That’s the main reason I came back.”
The adulation of his fellow students in the front row promoting him for college football’s biggest honor didn’t hurt either.
“When I first saw it, I thought they were talking about my cousin,” Chubb said, referring to Georgia running back Nick Chubb. “But it definitely felt good. The support was amazing. We’re just looking to build on that and keep it going.”