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NC State football coach Dave Doeren called Saturday's ACC Atlantic battle at Boston College "an old school game in the trenches."

Defensive tackle Larrell Murchison had a much more descriptive characterization of the matchup pitting the one of the ACC's best rushing offenses against the top defense in the league against the run.

"It's big boy football," Murchison said. "We're just ready to go. We're ready to play."

Saturday's game in Chestnut Hill represents the most challenging assignment of the season to date for a defensive unit that has carried the Wolfpack while its offense struggles to find an identity -- and a quarterback.

It's a classic matchup of strengths.

State has limited its opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground in five of its six games and leads the ACC with an average of 66.7 rushing yards allowed. 

BC, by contrast, is rolling up 253.2 yards per game on the ground, second in the league only to Clemson, while running back A.J. Dillon is tops in the conference at 124.2 yards per game.

The Wolfpack is fully aware of what Dillon is capable of doing with the ball in his hands.

Although he missed last year's game in Raleigh with an ankle injury, the 245-pound junior set a BC single-game freshman record by running for 196 yards in State's 17-14 win at BC in 2017.

State's ability to keep him in check on Saturday will go a long way toward determining the outcome of a game both teams need to build momentum for the second half of the season.

"That’s absolutely a motivation," Doeren said. "These guys want to play well every week. If you can hold a back that’s as good as (Dillon) to less than he’s used to having, then that says a lot for our guys.

"Any time you play a guy that’s as good as him, and he had a great game against us two years ago, you want to try to do your best not to let that happen."

Dillon's importance to the Eagles only figures to increase now that starting quarterback Anthony Brown has been lost for the season with a knee injury suffered against Louisville two weeks ago.

Although Doeren had praise for replacement Dennis Grosel, who has had a full week to prepare for his first career start with BC coming off an open date, it goes without saying that the Wolfpack's chances improve greatly the more the former walkon has to throw.

Grosel passed for three touchdowns in relief of Brown against Louisville, but was only 9 of 24 passing with an interception.

One way to rattle the sophomore quarterback is to keep constant pressure on him, something State has done well over its past two games. Its 16 sacks against Florida State and Syracuse are the most in school history in consecutive games.

But continuing that trend might be easier said than done against a BC offensive line that has allowed only three sacks all season.

"We understand what kind of team we're playing," co-defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. "Their tight ends, big offensive line and the quarterback does a good job of getting the ball out quick.

"Is it going to be there for us? I don't know. We're going to have to hold up in coverage and make the quarterback hold onto it so we can get the pass rush on him."

One thing the Wolfpack defense has going for it is the variety of pass rushers it can send at Grosel. In addition to Murchison, who leads the ACC with eight sacks -- five of which have come in the past two weeks -- 11 other players have been credited with at least a half a sack this season.

That includes five blitzing linebackers and nickels, led by Louis Acceus with four.

But as important as pressuring the inexperienced quarterback will be, defensive tackle Alim McNeill and his teammates know that the most important battle on Saturday will be won or lost on the ground, not in the air.

"They like running downhill, not too many pass plays. You get a play action here and there, but you're talking about smashmouth football, an old school football team. We definitely think it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a war zone down there, but it's nothing we can't handle."