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NC State's defense had a meeting last Wednesday, and it was one in which the truth hurt. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer read his players the ACC statistics. He didn't yell at them, just presented the facts:
• The Wolfpack are last in total defense (412.8)
• Last in scoring defense (30.1)
• Last in rushing defense (170.1)
• Last in pass defense (242.6)
• Last in pass defense efficiency (131.8)
"I said, 'Now here we are, here's everybody else,'" Archer said. "I said, 'If you're just a fan out there, this is embarrassing to me and we're the laughing stock of the league. I'm challenging you. If you have any pride, you're going to do something about it the last four weeks.'"
It's not a staff that likes to sugarcoat things, and the message resonated.
"I think that kind of hit home, hit a lot of guys deep in the heart," said defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash, who missed three games because of knee surgery. "What we have to do on defense is we have to tackle better. As a defensive front we have to stay in our gaps and make plays."
The challenge begins this weekend in the Pack's renewed rivalry against Duke. The Blue Devils have one of the better quarterback-receiver tandems in the league in Thaddeus Lewis and Eron Riley, and aren't the pushover they used to be. Both teams have played better than their records indicate, and NC State might be in a different position if its defense had been more productive this season.
"We tried to be nice," said Archer, who has also accepted some of the blame. "We tried different things. I think honesty is sometimes the best thing."
Injuries have definitely been a factor, and even though Cash has been cleared to play since the Florida State game, he hasn't been 100 percent. And the team has missed linebacker Nate Irving almost as much as Wake Forest has missed kicker Sam Swank this season.
But some of the errors have been as fundamental as missed tackles.
"I'm kind of anxious to see what happens," Archer said. "As these guys know, they understand that when I quit talking to them and I quit challenging them, then I've given up on them."
It hasn't happened yet.