NCF Nation: Leroy Burgess

Posted by’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.
 Tim Steadman/Icon SMI
 Willie Young has been one of the mainstays on the NC State defense this season.

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.

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

NC State is finally ahead of the game under coach Tom O’Brien.

Tim Steadman/Icon SMI
Tom O'Brien has told anyone who will listen that the Wolfpack are not yet a good football team.
For the past two seasons, the Wolfpack have started the season with a 1-2 record and didn’t win more than two games in their first four tries. NC State was forced to make a push late in the season to even have a chance at bowl eligibility the last two years. Now, after a 3-1 start that includes a win over a Pittsburgh team contending to win the Big East, the Pack seems in a much more comfortable position heading into conference play this Saturday at Wake Forest.

“The confidence level is way higher,” said defensive tackle Leroy Burgess. “It doesn’t seem like you’re digging out of a hole, you’re just maintaining what you have, keeping the positive energy and that drive to keep doing better.”

And everyone in the program -- starting with O’Brien -- is still waiting for this team to get better.

Not so fast with the applause, O’Brien has cautioned this week. Immediately following NC State’s win over Pitt, O’Brien delivered a very public and poignant message to his players -- they’re not a good football team. Not yet, anyway. O’Brien has downplayed about every achievement the Pack have accomplished this month, including the fact they’re ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense.

“It doesn’t really say anything” after four games, O’Brien said. “If we’re there after 12 games then I think it will say a lot about our defense.”

If O’Brien is trying to keep his players humble, it’s working.

“I believe we all agreed with him,” said tight end George Bryan. “I think that there was a lot that could be improved in that game. We also agreed with how he said we learned how to fight for 60 minutes.

There were more than 20 missed tackles in the win over Pitt and the loss to South Carolina. The Pack had 12 different penalties against Pitt, five of which were false starts.

“When you look at that, we were very happy to win the game, but we certainly aren’t a good football team if you’re doing it like that,” O’Brien said.

And about that 3-1 start?

“I think the schedule has something to do with it,” O’Brien said, referring to the Pack’s lopsided wins over Murray State and Gardner-Webb.

Despite O’Brien’s tempered enthusiasm, NC State has been one of the most consistent teams in the conference so far, winning three straight. The Wolfpack lead the ACC in scoring offense and total defense, are second in total offense, and are tops in rushing defense, pass defense and pass efficiency. And that’s with a depleted secondary and starting four different offensive lines in four games.

“The confidence level is definitely there,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We know that we have a great team this year, but we have a lot of improving to do, like coach O’Brien said right after the game -- we’re not good yet, and I agree. Everybody else on the team does as well. We have a lot of things we have to correct, a lot of things we can get better at and things that we can fix. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, it’s a positive thing that we can get better.”