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November 1, 2013
It isn't often that NC State's defense has had to concentrate on containing a tight end, but North Carolina junior Eric Ebron is one of the best in the country.
ESPN.com has Ebron slotted as the 12th best NFL Draft prospect this spring, and the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from Greensboro, N.C., leads the Tar Heels with 35 catches for 599 yards and three touchdowns.
NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said Ebron is a top priority for the Wolfpack defense going into rivalry game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
"No. 1, we have to know where he is at at all times," Huxtable said. "There are some things that we can do but I'm not going to give out any secrets. He's a tremendous player and you have to be conscious of where he is at, and play the plan."
Ebron helps give senior quarterback Bryn Renner a security blanket and a deep threat, which is a rare combination for a tight end. The three-year starting quarterback has passed for at least 297 yards in three of the six games he has played in, including a season-high 366 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-31 loss against East Carolina on Sept. 28.
NC State will also need to prepare for a second quarterback. UNC has been rotating in dual threat Marquise Williams, a sophomore from Charlotte, and he ended up passing and rushing for a touchdown in last week's 34-10 win over Boston College.
Knowing where Ebron is at all times and when Williams is behind center are major priorities for NC State's defense.
"Early, he [Williams] was just a runner in the run package," Huxtable said. "Now, they are mixing it up both running and throwing. You still have to be ready with the runs with him. We'll be conscious of him and communicating about it. Now, we just have to go out and defend it."
UNC rotates four different running backs — true freshmen T.J. Logan and Khris Francis, sophomore Romar Morris and senior A.J. Blue — and also use a litany of wide receivers led by sophomore Quinshad Davis, who leads the receivers with 30 catches for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Freshman Bug Howard has also been a factor in the red zone with four touchdowns, including two against Boston College.
With so many different running backs and wide receivers rotating into the game, it will make it harder for the defense to know exactly who is who each play.
"We've talked about who is who and where they are at, and some little things, but not matter who they are and where they are at, they have plenty of good players and have to defend them all," Huxtable said.
Senior left tackle James Hurst is a quality lineman and likely high-round NFL Draft pick, but the Tar Heels have struggled running the football this season, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. Blue and Morris have combined for 453 yards and four touchdowns.
NC State gave up 35 first-quarter points in Florida State's 49-17 win last Saturday. Learning from the mistakes and performing good habits in practice are the key defensively.
"What you do on the practice field is going to carry over to the game field," Huxtable said. "We are working really hard on that. We've had guys in position to make plays, and we just haven't made them. We are working hard to have that corrected. I want our guys to stay confident in what they are doing."
Huxtable is no stranger to the North Carolina-NC State rivalry. He was at UNC from 2001-2002, but is glad to be representing the red Saturday.
"I'm looking forward to the game," Huxtable said. "I'm a Wolfpack guy. I love these players here and love what we are doing in this program. I'm looking forward to continuing to work the process of where Coach [Dave] Doeren wants to take this football program too.
"It's huge and a big-time rivalry. We are excited to play the game."
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