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September 27, 2012

Mike Archer: Defense must stop Miami running backs



NC State rolled over The Citadel, 52-14 last week, and a large part of that was limiting the powerful triple option offense to just 199 yards on the ground. If the Bulldogs' 65-yard scoring run in the first quarter is taken out of the equation, the Wolfpack limited their opponents to 3.27 yards per carry, which was half of their average entering the game.

"It was OK," defensive coordinator Mike Archer said of the unit's effort. "The big run is a great example of not doing your job on one play, and you give up a 65-yard run. Maybe it took that to wake us up and make sure we understood what we were supposed to do. After that, we seemed to execute the defense pretty good.

"The problem is you practice [against the triple option] for a week and now you go back to regular football, so you've got to get the rust off."

However, one of the defense's keys on Saturday is going to be limiting the ground attack once again. Miami boasts true freshman star Duke Johnson, who leads the country with 838 all-purpose yards and averages eight yards per carry, while senior Mike James is a 220 pound grinder who is averaging better than five yards per carry.

"James is older, and he's bigger," Archer noted. "He's a complete back, he's very physical; he'll run you over and he'll run around you. He'll block you on blitzes and they use him in a lot of different ways.

"Johnson is the real deal. He's 5-foot-9, 188 [pounds] and he's hard to find. He's explosive, and he's very prominent in the return game. As I told the defense on Tuesday, these two guys are the two best tailbacks we've played up to this point, and it's not even close."

Both backs will make plays in the passing game, and Johnson is actually tied for the second-best receiving statistics on the squad.

"They're going to get into some formations when they're both in there," the coach said. "They use them as a fullback and tailback tandem. When they're both in there, they try to get them the football. When you see No. 8 [Johnson] and No. 5 [James] in the game, they're trying to get the ball in the passing game to one of those two guys."

Although Archer is weary of the one-punch punch in the backfield, he knows the unit possesses more than just two weapons. The Hurricanes are averaging 33.5 points and 428 yards per game, and their offense is the reason why they are 2-0 in the ACC, despite allowing a combined total of 68 points in the two road contests.

"The receiving corps in young, but they're very talented; they can run and they are very explosive guys," he explained. "The offensive line is very young, very big; they've played a lot of people up front there and moved people in and out. Playing at noon, depth is going to be an issue.

"Some games, they have been very, very good, and obviously in the Kansas State game [Miami lost 52-13], they weren't. Last week, they threw the ball up and down the field; they made Georgia Tech look very bad. Against this football team, you can't give up explosive plays, and they have explosive playmakers. If you make them keep snapping the ball, you've got a chance. They're very talented, they're very young, but you can see them getting better."

In last week's thrilling 42-36 overtime win over Georgia Tech, junior quarterback Stephen Morris threw for a career-high 436 yards, which ranks as the fifth-most in school history. Although this is his first year as a full-time starter, Morris is a veteran of 15 games, and he is starting to come into his own.

"Number one, he doesn't take a lot of sacks," Archer said. "He knows what to do with the football. When it's not there, he's going to throw it in the ground or throw it up in the stands.

"When he's hot, he's really impressive. We've got to do a good job disrupting the routes, getting pressure on him and getting him out of his rhythm because when he's on his rhythm, he's real good."

One factor that should work in the favor of NC State's pass defense is the return of three-year starter C.J. Wilson at cornerback. The fifth-year senior was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season and makes an experienced secondary even better.

"We'll use him in the sub package," Archer said. "Dontae [Johnson] will continue to start in the base package, Dontae's earned that."

The Pack has allowed just 28 total points in the last three games, and they have been stellar on third down, which is always a great indicator of defensive success. State's last three opponents have converted on just four of their 32 third down attempts, but the Miami offense will provide a far greater challenge than the last three units.

"I think the biggest thing is we've gotten [opponents] in some long yardage situations," Archer said. "They have to throw the ball ten yards down the field, and they have to throw it in 1.5 or two seconds. It gives us a chance to attack their protections, and we've been very good at attacking their protections, getting people isolated on the back.

"If you look at our sacks, we have a lot of people that have sacks - it's defensive linemen, it's the secondary guys, it's the linebackers. There's a lot of different people and that's good because you don't want one guy to do it all."


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