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September 28, 2013

Game breakdown: Central Michigan

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Keys To The Game

Don't let Clemson beat you twice: There were both good and bad things from last Thursday's tilt with Clemson, but NC State needs to move on. If the players use the negatives as motivation or build on the positives from the last game, that's fine, but the key is — and head coach Dave Doeren said it immediately after the loss — the Wolfpack can't let Clemson beat them twice.

Many fans are still hung up on whether redshirt junior receiver Bryan Underwood stepped out of bounds or not, but the players can't think like that. They don't need to look back any further than Sept. 7, when they squeaked one out over Richmond, to see the dangers of sloppy play and not being fully focused on the task at hand.

Play up to your own standard: NC State rose to the occasion last week against No. 3 Clemson despite its third different offensive line combination in three games and the absence of its starting quarterback, fullback and left tackle, while a starting cornerback and defensive end were both lost for significant time with injuries during the game.

However, it would not be a good thing if NC State played to the level of its competition this weekend. Central Michigan would be overmatched if healthy, but the Chippewas don't even enjoy that luxury. The coaching staff's philosophy in the first two non-conference games was that it was about the Wolfpack and not the other team, and that must be the approach this weekend.

Dominate: Simply put, NC State should dominate this game. A crucial part of the season looms with a road game at Wake Forest, where the Pack has lost seven of its last eight, and a home date with Syracuse before the real meat of the schedule begins. It would be best if State entered that stretch confident and clicking on all cylinders. This also might be the team's last chance to get some backups and younger guys some extended playing time in an actual game.

Get healthy, stay healthy: NC State started the year fairly healthy — fullback Logan Winkles was the only training camp casualty — but has been a little snake-bitten in the health department since the season opened. The offensive line has been shuffled and re-shuffled — the combination listed atop the depth chart for the season opener has logged only 40 snaps together, all of which came against Richmond. It's important for the line to start working together to develop some consistency and chemistry, but it's more important that the linemen are at full strength in the weeks following this one.

There were a few other injuries suffered in the most recent game, and there is no reason to rush any of those players back, either. Fifth-year senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop, a starter, and true freshman wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who leads the team with 201 receiving yards, were both called questionable for the contest by Doeren on Monday. It's time for others to step up if those players need more time to get healthy.

Game outlook: NC State has already had home non-conference tilts with Louisiana Tech and Richmond. Although Richmond is a Football Championship Subdivision competitor, the Spiders gave the Pack a scare. However, Central Michigan might be the worst team on the Wolfpack's schedule right now, especially given its health situation. This is almost like a recovery week for NC State, but the Pack doed need to get some momentum rolling once again and hit the rest of the schedule running.

Five Central Michigan Players To Watch

Senior outside linebacker Shamari Benton — The 6-0, 235-pounder ranks second on the team with 39 tackles, which is good for fifth in the Mid-American Conference, and he has five tackles for loss, one sack and one interception. He has had three straight games of at least 10 tackles, including 12 against New Hampshire and 11 at UNLV. Last year, Benton made 126 tackles, which ranked 24th nationally. He led the team in solo tackles (54) and was second in total tackles.

Junior middle linebacker Justin Cherocci — The 6-0, 231-pounder ranks No. 1 in the MAC and third in the NCAA with 46 tackles this season, to go along with five tackles for loss, two sacks and one fumble recovery. He tied his career high with 15 tackles in a 38-17 loss to Toledo last week. Cherocci has 10 career games with at least 10 tackles, and was CMU's Co-Defensive Player of the Year last year when he had 132 stops. He led the nation last year in assisted tackles (89), and was fifth in the MAC and 19th nationally in total tackles.

Senior safety Avery Cunningham — The 6-0, 203-pounder leads the MAC with 25 solo stops through four weeks this season. He has 36 total tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Cunningham has 254 career tackles in 41 games, plus 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up.

Junior wide receiver Titus Davis — The 6-2, 190-pounder leads the team with 21 catches for 404 yards and three scores this season. Davis ranks third in the MAC in receiving yards per game (101.2) and ninth nationally with 404. He caught five passes for 76 yards against Toledo, helping him move into eighth place in CMU history with 2,015 career yards. He is tied for third in school history with 19 career touchdowns, including a 97-yarder this season against New Hampshire, and has 104 career receptions.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush — The 6-3, 216-pound signal-caller has started the last two games, but his best game was when he came off the bench against New Hampshire and completed 19 of 32 passes for 326 yards with three touchdowns in a 24-21 victory. He has connected on 56 of 102 throws for 805 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions so far this season.

Three Matchups To Watch

1. Central Michigan's starting wide receivers might not scare opposing teams in the same fashion Clemson's do, but juniors Titus Davis and Courtney Williams both have big-play speed and are proven commodities.

NC State cornerbacks Dontae Johnson, a senior, and Juston Burris, a redshirt sophomore, will once again have a challenge this week.

Both Davis and Williams played against NC State as true freshmen. Davis caught one pass for 50 yards while Williams notched three receptions for 63 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown, during the Chippewas' 38-24 loss to NC State on Oct. 8, 2011.

Davis has gone on to become one of the top receivers in Central Michigan history, and Williams has been solid. Davis has 104 receptions for 2,015 yards and 19 touchdowns in 28 career games. The 6-1, 212-pound Williams has caught 53 passes for 766 yards and seven touchdowns in 22 career contests.

2. NC State has been trying to establish a consistent ground game this season, but it has been a struggle with the various running backs. Sophomore Shadrach Thornton flashed his form with a 21-yard touchdown run and a 32-yard reception in the second quarter against Clemson last Thursday. Thornton went on to see action on 25 plays, but didn't touch the ball the rest of the way.

Central Michigan has three sound tacklers in junior middle linebacker Justin Cherocci, senior outside linebacker Shamari Benton and senior cornerback Avery Cunningham. However, the Chippewas are allowing 4.4 yards per carry this season.

NCSU plays Central Michigan, Wake Forest and Syracuse in the next three games. Thornton has a chance to solidify his role in the offense after an early one-game suspension, with the next three contests providing a great opportunity.

3. Central Michigan's anchor on the offensive line has gone down with a season-ending injury, which makes this an area that the Wolfpack defensive line can expose.

The Chippewas featured Eric Fisher — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft — last year, and hoped that 6-8, 305-pound senior Jake Olson would lead the way at left tackle this season. Olson missed all but two games in 2012 due to injury, and then he suffered a broken wrist in the 2013 season opener against Michigan.

The Chippewas now feature a redshirt freshman, three sophomores and a junior on the line going into Saturday's game, and all five are at least 6-3 and 300 pounds CMU has allowed 13 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in four games this season.

Three Questions With CMU Head Coach Dan Enos

What difference is there that you have coached against NC State head coach Dave Doeren in the past?

"I think there will be some similarities. Matt Canada is their offensive coordinator and who was with Dave a little while before he went to Wisconsin. They have a new defensive coordinator [Dave Huxtable], so that will be different. There is a little bit, but not much.

"You kind of have an idea of what they want to do here and there, but they are a different football program and different football team. They have different coaches on the sideline. He's an outstanding coach, Dave is, and always has his teams ready to play."

How do you keep the team from getting down following a string of key injuries?

"We just have to build on the positives. There was a lot of things we did well Saturday [in loss to Toledo]. We had a freshman quarterback that turned the ball over four times. At the end of the day, that was the difference in the game. They had a senior quarterback that is a four-year starter, and we have a guy that was inexperienced.

"We have to build on the things that we have done well. We have to continue to practice hard. Our senior leadership and junior leadership needs to come to the forefront right now. We just have to continue to be positive in the locker room with our players.

"We all know in this game, one quarter, one game can turn things around and turn momentum around. We just have to keep fighting until we hit that moment."

How close do you feel you are to turning the corner?

"I think we are real close. I thought we ran the ball [well versus Toledo]. We had 23 first downs on Saturday. We ran the ball very well and handled their front seven.

"At times on defense, we played well. Our kicking game was solid. I just think the turnovers kill you."

Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren

What are your thoughts about having your third of four non-conference games this Saturday with a program you are familiar with?

"We are excited to get back into game week here with Central Michigan coming into town. Obviously, I have played against them twice in the past two years and I know the coaching staff. To kind of lay the land there, they graduated some key players and have some players injured like a lot of us do at this point in the year.

"The Central Michigan staff has been together for four years now. They know their systems — they know their players, their coaches. When you play a team like that, they have a lot of things they can add in schematically. We have got to be ready. They have nothing to lose against us. We are going to have to get up for them."

What is your impression of Central Michigan's offense after losing its quarterback, running back and left tackle to serious injuries?

"Their backup quarterback is a redshirt freshman and we will learn a lot from the game he just played. I think they run the ball well, a team that is committed to run the football, and has a blue-collar mentality that way.

"One of the best players in the MAC is Titus Davis. He is a deep play guy that is really good when the ball is in the air and can do something with it after the catch. We will need to know where he is all the time."

How is Central Michigan on defense?

"They have a very sound defensive scheme. They don't do a whole lot, but they are very similar to Michigan State. Quarters team, plays a lot of press coverage, likes to bring some zone pressure up the middle and off the edges.

"They aren't afraid to play zero coverage at times and bring six or more. They are a team I am excited to play."

N.C. State NEWS


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