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September 27, 2013

NC State's defense focused on improvement



Central Michigan's offense was expected to be led by a trio of All-MAC candidates, but only one remains.

NC State first-year coach Dave Doeren played against CMU last year while at Northern Illinois, winning 55-24. Some of the same key players are back, while others have been lost to injury, or in the case of star tackle Eric Fisher, who ended up being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chippewas lost star running back Zurlon Tipton in the season opener against Michigan with a season-ending ankle injury. Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, and was a bigger back with speed at 6-foot and 221 pounds. He finished last year with seven straight games with at least 100 yards.

Compounding matters, junior starting quarterback Cody Kater broke his collarbone in his first college start against the Wolverines. Senior left tackle Jake Olson suffered a season-ending wrist injury during the win over New Hampshire in the second game of the season, causing another hole coupled with Fisher's graduation.

The new offensive weapons include redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush and sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii. The duo is complemented by the one original standby - star junior wide receiver Titus Davis, who has 21 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns this season. Davis caught 43 passes for 860 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, and has accumulated 19 scores in his Chippewas career.

The revamped offense has averaged 17.8 points, 109.8 rushing yards and 239 passing yards per game for the 1-3 Chippewas.

"They've had some injuries and we've suffered some injuries," NCSU defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. "It's the next step in our season and they are the next opponent. That is the way we are moving forward after last week. It's more about us than about the opponent.

"He [Davis] is an excellent football player. He has good size, good range and is a good athlete. He has tremendous speed and good hands. Each week, we'll play against good skill people, but we have good players too."

NC State's defense showed improvement in the 26-14 loss to Clemson on Sept. 19, even if it didn't result in a win. The secondary helped hold CU star receiver Sammy Watkins to just two catches after halftime. Huxtable said defense comes down to execution of the basics, fundaments and techniques.

"There was some progress but 26 points is too many to me and we lost the football game," Huxtable said. "We did battle hard and played hard for four quarters. We are continuing to take steps to the direction we want to go in.

"He [Watkins] had some catches in the first half, but we talked about having more awereness of where he is at."


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