NC State's and particularly the secondary had a rough game against Miami on Sept. 29. Hurricanes' quarterback Stephen Morris threw for an ACC-record 566 yards in the 44-37, so the defensive backs were intent on turning around that performance in the next week.
They successfully rebounded the next Saturday in the 17-16 win over No. 3 Florida State. The Seminoles were limited to 218 yards through the air, and redshirt freshman cornerback Juston Burris snared his first career interception in his first collegiate start. He also batted down the last pass of the game to preserve the victory.
"We just didn't want to play like we did in the last week," he said. "We wanted to come in against the No. 3 team in the nation and make a statement, 'this is our identity and this is how we're going to play the rest of the year.'
"We came out focused, ready to play and mentally prepared. When we come out prepared and focused, we can play with anybody in the nation. We've showed that against Florida State. That's what we're trying to do every game; we're trying to come out with the same mentality and play hard."
Thanks to that preparation, Burris knew what was coming on the pass play where he collected the first pick of his career.
"It's great to have guys like Earl [Wolff] and Brandan [Bishop] back there, talking me through stuff," he said. "On my pick, we communicated that pre-snap. They were in a twin set and we had practiced that all week. We knew they were going to run the slant, so me, Dontae [Johnson] and Brandan were talking through that. We all saw that pre-snap, but that's why communication is key."
Communication is the main thing where Burris has said he has improved now that he has played in six games. In 165 snaps, he has collected 18 tackles, four pass breakups and the interception against Florida State, which he returned 11 yards.
"The first game, I wasn't really talking that much. Now that I've gotten my feet wet, I'm starting to call out routes and starting to talk to my safeties a lot more. I'm getting a lot more comfortable playing with these older guys, but they're still helping keep me up to speed and bringing me along.
"We're always a group. There's never one person getting beat, we're all getting beat. We've got to be a team and, when we succeed, we win as a team."
After the bye week, Burris and his fellow defensive backs have a new task at hand - stopping true freshman receiver Stefon Diggs. Coach Tom O'Brien called the rookie this year's version of Clemson star Sammy Watkins, and the young Terp ranks eighth in the ACC with 75.5 receiving yards per game, while he leads the league with an average of 168.8 all-purpose yards per game.
Burris said the defense gained confidence in their last game, and now they're trying to improve on that performance.
"We saw that we can play with the best in the nation," he said. "They were No. 3 in the nation and we came out in the second half and shut them down. It was a big confidence booster going into Maryland.
"The [interception] was big for my confidence - seeing that I can play on this level, seeing that I can play with the best guys in the ACC, guys that I came up watching when I was in high school. It was a big confidence booster for me. It was my first interception, so it was definitely big, but I want to build on it and get some bigger plays."
Burris knows what was at stake the last time the Pack traveled to Maryland, even though he wasn't on the team then. This time, he and his teammates are ready to make a statement.
"I know two years ago, they had a chance to go to the ACC Championship game, but they came up short against Maryland, the same team we're getting ready to play this year," he said. "This game is definitely big. We want to go out and let the ACC know that we're nothing to play with. We definitely want to win out and run the table.
"Maryland has speed, they've got some guys that can play and they've got some guys that will talk junk to you. No. 1 [Diggs] is a talent, he's only a freshman, but he's come in and done some things. I definitely know some receivers, Nigel King was at Wakefield, Marcus Leak played with me in an All-Star game. I know some of those guys, some of their talents. It's going to be a good match-up."