Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer hasn’t exactly been sleeping too well these days, and he knows he’s not winning the People’s Choice award right now in Raleigh. But he’s working tirelessly nonetheless to improve NC State’s defense. He’s certain the problem isn’t effort. Long story short, it’s a combination of injuries, inexperience and, at this point, a lack of confidence.
NC State’s defense has given up an average of 482 yards of total defense in its four ACC games, the worst mark in the league by almost 30 yards. In conference games, the Wolfpack ranks last in the league in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense and ranks 11th in rushing defense. The only position on defense that has started the same unit in every game is the defensive line.
Here are the highlights of our recent conversation:
Man, another tough year for the D.
Mike Archer: It is what it is. You and I talked this summer, we got off to a rough start with what happened to Nate [Irving]. And then Dominique [Ellis] left the team and Jimmaul Simmons left the team, and Javon Walker, who started five games for us in 2007, and got injured in the Miami game, we were very hopeful he would be back for this year. We were counting on him being one of the safeties and he’s done with football.
You take those four guys, and three of them played on one side of the field, it’s been tough. But it’s part of the game. No one feels sorry for us. Everybody has injuries. It’s been frustrating and it’s been hard. The way we started, the South Carolina game, we played very well and held them to seven points, but realistically they weren’t quite sure of what we were going to do. We played with a true freshman corner and a redshirt freshman corner in that game, and we played a lot of Cover 2. But as the year goes on and that film goes out, people find them. When we were in Tallahassee, I look out there Saturday and we have a true freshman corner, a true freshman safety, a redshirt freshman safety and a junior corner on the field with two freshman linebackers.
It is what it is. You’re not going to be just stoning people when you’re playing young kids. We have to understand that and continue to move forward and keep improving. That’s our job as players and as coaches.
I remember last year when the defense was struggling, you challenged them. Remember that? It was a pretty public thing. Have you guys had a talk like that, or is this not the case for it?
MA: I’ve thought about that and we’ve talked. During the open date after the BC game, we sat down and looked everything we’ve done and it really comes down to execution. We’ve got a good system in place when our guys execute it. When we have the right guys out there, we’re pretty good. We have to execute. That’s what’s been frustrating.
It started in the second half of the Wake Forest game. We were not very good on third downs against Riley Skinner and it ended up costing us the game. The following week at Duke, third downs just killed us. They were 13-of-19 and could not get off the field on third down and picked us apart. Those two quarterbacks are awfully good. They were smart. They went after our freshman corners and our freshman safety. That’s their job as coaches. They get paid, too. They’re on scholarship. But third down has not been what it was early in the season. We were good in the South Carolina game, we were pretty good in the third down against Pitt. But we’ve lost our execution edge and the biggest thing in my opinion, we’ve lost confidence, obviously. It’s become mental.
On the bright side, I would think Willie Young has been one of the guys who has played consistently.
MA: Our front four kids, the four seniors, Alan- Michael Cash, Willie, Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess have really done a good job all year. All year. When you look at us on defense, there are four seniors and everyone else is freshmen and sophomores. There’s a big age gap there. They’ve done a good job of being positive leaders and keeping everyone’s chins up. Nobody feels sorry for us and we don’t want anybody to feel sorry for us. It is what it is. It’s part of sports. It’s like [head coach] Tom O'Brien] said, we’ve lost 11 guys this year for the year. We thought we had it bad last year. It’s worse this year.
Why? Why does that happen to you guys?
MA: If I knew, I wouldn’t be coaching. I’d be a doctor or a sports psychologist. I’d have your job. ... Everyone says it’s a curse. It’s the way it is. I wish I knew so we could prevent it, but like Todd Rice says, if we knew, we’d prevent it.