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October 31, 2012

Pack defense must stop slow starts

There has been a clear trend on the defensive side of the ball in NC State's three losses this year. Tennessee tallied 22 points in the first quarter of their eventual 35-21 win, Miami scored 23 first quarter points in their 44-37 victory and the Wolfpack gave up 25 in the opening frame of their 43-35 loss to North Carolina.

The common thread between the three contests has been that those games came away from the friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium. Coach Tom O'Brien noted that no ACC team has played at home as few as NC State's three games in Raleigh so far this year. He expects the slow starts to change down the stretch, with three of the Pack's four final games at home.

"That's something we've talked about and we're going to emphasize," he said of getting off to a better start. "Sometimes it's easier to do it when you're at home.

"We have to be much more consistent on defense, up front. I think that's where we're getting off to the bad starts. When we lost five of the front seven from last year, all of the linebacker core and those two guys - [J.R.] Sweezy and [Markus] Kuhn - in the middle, we don't have the consistency on defense that we had. Sometimes we're really good and sometimes we're really bad. We have to play our techniques and be much more consistent. You just can't fall behind like 25-7, that's a big score, you just can't do it."

Once the defense has calmed down in each of the three losses, though, they have played pretty well. The key is getting the unit to play like that for all four quarters. The Pack have allowed 83 points in the opening frame of games this year - 70 of it in the three losses - compared to just 101 in the other three quarters combined.

"I don't know why it has happened, I wish I had that answer," defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "I'll give credit to our kids for fighting back. There were some wide-eyed looks on Saturday when it was 15-0 and 25-7. It took a while, but they settled down. After it was 25-14, we basically played pretty good in the second, third and half of the fourth quarter, until we didn't get it done late in the fourth quarter."

"We have to get it corrected," O'Brien agreed. "[The players] have to take accountability for their actions and get it done on the football field. Certainly, you don't want that to be going on.

"I have faith if we take it one game at a time and figure out how we can play the best that we can, we can achieve anything, so that's what we're going to do."

The next step for NC State comes on Saturday against Virginia. The Cavaliers are 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the ACC, but Archer and the defense are not taking their opponents lightly. Much like last year, the Cavs are powered by the one-two punch of running backs Kevin Parks, a redshirt sophomore, and senior Perry Jones.

Jones totaled 1,421 yards from scrimmage last year, while Parks added 791; the roles have seemingly reversed in 2012 with Parks as the go-to guy, but both have at least 580 all-purpose yards this season.

"The keys are the running backs, No. 25 [Parks] and No. 33 [Jones]," Archer said. "We played against them last year and they're going to feature them. They're going to get their hands on the balls in the running game and they're going to utilize them in the passing game.

"The main focus when they've been successful has been their ability to get the ball in the hands of the running backs. They're play makers in both the passing game and running game."

Virginia will also present a challenge that State has not seen much this year - a heavy does of two-back sets. It doesn't make much difference whether Parks or Jones is in the game because both are well-rounded runners who are listed at 5-foot-8 and can easily hide behind the Cavs' big offensive front.

UVa has also played two quarterbacks this year, with last year's starter, Michael Rocco, and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims both seeing time under center.

"With an open date, we're not sure who is going to be the quarterback," Archer said. "The offense does not change, but what they call is going to be a little bit different. Rocco started the year and we played against him last year. I believe Sims has started the last three games and then, in the Wake Forest game, Rocco came in at the end and got them back to 16-10.

"They're a little bit different [as quarterbacks], but the offense doesn't really change, formation wise and everything."

"As a team, we all want to get to the big goal - that's getting to the Conference championship," fifth-year senior cornerback C.J. Wilson said. "We had a minor setback last week, but our mindset right now is, 'win the next game and take it game-by-game.' I know it's cliche, but that's the key to success - taking it step-by-step, and the next step is Virginia."

N.C. State NEWS


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