College Football Nation: Mike Archer
Here’s a look at how the conference pecking order shakes out after yet another disastrous weekend in the ACC:
1. Miami (1-1, last week: No. 1): At least the Hurricanes lost to the No. 2 team in the country on the road. It wasn’t pretty, though. Quarterback Jacory Harris threw four interceptions and Ohio State’s defense had the Canes looking dazed and confused. Miami is the lone team representing the ACC in this week’s Top 25.
2. Clemson (2-0, LW: No. 6): The Tigers will have their chance on the national stage this weekend when ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew travels to Auburn. Clemson has yet to be tested in routs of North Texas and Presbyterian, but the defending Atlantic Division champs also haven’t done anything yet to screw up.
3. NC State (2-0, LW: No. 7): It’s the first 2-0 start for the Wolfpack since 2002, when the team won its first nine games behind quarterback Philip Rivers. If Mike Archer’s defense continues to create turnovers and stifle the run, NC State could make a run at the division title and a bowl game.
4. Florida State (1-1, LW: No. 3): The Seminoles’ caliber of opponent plays a factor here, as does the fact they faced the Sooners on the road, where Oklahoma boasts the nation’s longest home winning streak. Still, in order for FSU to remain in the upper half of the rankings, it will have to show significant improvement.
5. Boston College (2-0, LW: No. 8): The Eagles are undefeated, but there’s nothing there worth bragging about in home wins over Weber State and Kent State. Quarterback Dave Shinskie still frustrates coach Frank Spaziani, but the Eagles have a bye week to prepare for a 0-2 Virginia Tech team.
6. Wake Forest (2-0, LW: No. 11): The Deacs took a huge jump from last week because they won the first conference game of the season. The defense, though, is suspect after allowing 487 yards to Duke.
7. Maryland (2-0, LW: No. 9): The Terps are right where they should be heading into a tough trip to West Virginia -- the best team in the state after wins over Navy and Morgan State. The road trip to Morgantown suddenly looks more manageable after the way West Virginia played in a narrow overtime win against Marshall.
8. Virginia (1-1, LW: No. 12): If Mike London’s team plays with the effort it did against USC (minus the mistakes), there’s no reason the Cavaliers can’t get to a bowl game this year, or at the very least play the role of spoiler. This team can win if it doesn’t beat itself, as evidenced by a 17-14 loss to USC. And yeah, their win over an FCS team is enough to push them ahead of the Hokies -- for now.
9. Georgia Tech (1-1, LW: No. 4): What to make of the Jackets? They lost to a struggling Kansas program that was riding an eight-game losing streak, including a season-opening loss to an FCS opponent. The defense struggled like it did last year, the blocking and tackling were poor and the passing game stuttered.
10. Virginia Tech (0-2, LW: No. 2): The Hokies aren’t this bad, but they’ve got to earn their way back to the top. As Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, Virginia Tech let Boise State beat it twice. The Hokies can’t let those losses snowball, because the schedule doesn’t get any easier than an FCS team.
11. North Carolina (0-1, LW: No. 5): The Tar Heels didn’t drop in the rankings because they had a bye week, they dropped because another layer of the NCAA investigation was peeled back and revealed more problems that are likely to lead to more problems. Things are getting ugly for Butch Davis.
12. Duke (1-1, LW: No. 10): The Blue Devils couldn’t stop Wake Forest, and now they’re tasked with stopping the No. 1 team in the nation? David Cutcliffe could beat Alabama, but I’m not sure his team can. Duke’s bowl hopes to a significant hit with the loss to Wake Forest.
Irving, who fell asleep at the wheel, can remember passing an 18-wheel truck, and then nothing else until the light in the hall of the emergency room.
“Where am I at?” he said he remembered thinking. “After I found out, I was real scared. I had a neck brace on and tubes in me. … I was fortunate enough to come out alive.”
And now he’s fortunate enough to have been given a second chance to play football.
After months of painstaking rehab to repair the open fibia and tibia fractures in his left leg, the punctured lung, the broken rib and the separated AC joint in his left shoulder, NC State’s best player has returned to the field in full capacity. As Irving eases his way back into the game this spring, he does so with a newfound perspective and maturity that can only benefit him and the players around him. The Wolfpack not only need him to be the playmaker he was in 2008, when he led the team with four interceptions, they need him to be a leader to a defense that struggled mightily without him last year.
“That’s something I embrace,” Irving said. “Last year we missed a little bit of that. This year I think I can provide that.”
Archer has already witnessed it.
“Just from an emotional standpoint and a psychological standpoint, I see a difference around our team,” Archer said. “Just seeing him around the players, to see his eyes light up, and he’s got his weight back up, he’s around the players knowing he’s going to be a participant now, as opposed to last fall, he was rehabbing, he was in the training room, but he wasn’t the same Nate. It was the Nate Irving who was injured. Now it’s the Nate Irving who has to become a leader and a guy who our young players look up to.”
Irving’s three-day stay in the hospital and inability to contribute on the field last year helped change his priorities. Because of the severity of his injuries, Irving wasn’t even allowed on the sideline for the majority of the season. He was extremely limited in what he could do in the trainer’s room until about November, and lost 20 pounds during that stretch. He couldn’t even walk on his leg. It wasn’t until the final two road games of the season that coach Tom O’Brien welcomed Irving back to the sideline.
Still, Irving said he has no regrets about his decision to drive home in the wee hours of the morning.
The expectations for Irving this spring are tempered, but come fall, NC State will need him in top shape. NC State and Maryland tied for the worst scoring defense in the conference last year, allowing 31.2 points per game. Irving finished the 2008 season tied for third on the team with 84 tackles despite missing a third of the season with an injury. His four interceptions were the highest total ever by a Wolfpack linebacker. This year, he’ll be under the direction of first-year linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, and is working out at both middle and weakside linebacker this spring.
“In the times that I’ve talked to him, I’ve just said, ‘I just want you to be Nate,’” Archer said. “I want you to be the Nate Irving that I saw in 2008, the Nate Irving that Jon Tenuta sees when he watches film. I just want you to be that guy. If you’re not quite ready physically to be that guy in the spring, so be it. Get the rust off, get your legs under you and most important is by the time we play in September you’re as close to being the old Nate.’ Now, will he be? I don’t know. That’s a good question. He had a serious leg injury. Even if he’s not the old Nate, if he’s close, he’s still going to be awfully good.”
Irving said he isn’t sure how quickly he’ll be able to get back to his old form.
“I’ve lost some of my strength, and maybe some speed and quickness,” Irving said, “but I don’t think I’ve lost anything I can’t gain back.”
Instead, he’s added perspective.
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 ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Clemson -- The Tigers are expecting ACC leading rusher Da'Rel Scott to play, which will force defensive coordinator Vic Koenning to load more players at the line of scrimmage. That, of course, will open up the play-action passing game. Koenning is looking for some sacks to come from his ends in this game, as South Carolina State's tackles blocked them one-on-one last weekend and the sacks came from the interior linemen and the linebackers.
Maryland -- Backup quarterback Josh Portis is doing the best he can to put the team ahead of his frustration over a lack of significant playing time. Expect some wrinkles in the Terps' offense this week, but it's unclear if Portis will play more of a role in it. "I'm still waiting to help the team out a little more with my talents, but I'm a team guy and the bottom line is you got to win," he said. "Obviously I'm a little frustrated with what's going on, but I'm here for the team. ... I'm just rolling with the punches."
Duke -- Virginia's switch at quarterback from Peter Lalich to Marc Verica has caused a small tweak in the coaching staff's preparation. Not only isn't there a lot of film of Verica, who started his first game and saw his first significant playing time in this year's loss to UConn, but he's also a different quarterback than Lalich, which means the Cavaliers could switch up their offense. So David Cutcliffe and his staff have watched more 2007 film, thinking that Verica's mobility and athleticism is more similar to former starter Jameel Sewell.
Florida State -- Playmaker Preston Parker has been working more at receiver this week and less at tailback, and that's probably how he'll be used against Colorado. That could open an opportunity for freshman running back Jermaine Thomas, who played well in the first two games, but watched the Wake Forest game from the sidelines. The running game should also get a boost from the blocking of tight end Caz Piurowski, one of the formerly suspended players.
NC State -- Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is tasked with simplifying things for freshman Dwayne Maddox, who is taking over for injured starting weakside linebacker Nate Irving, while at the same time stopping South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. Archer is familiar with the Bulls from his time at Kentucky and said this will be the best offensive line the Wolfpack will have faced. He also said there is a misconception Grothe just throws it, and that he is a tough quarterback who gets hit, gets back up and scrambles. The good news is that after watching practice film, NC State coach Tom O'Brien told Archer that Maddox is "practicing like a starter now."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
But Bobby Bowden might not be.
Wow. Sounds like he really is sick of mediocrity. Bowden said Tuesday the Seminoles "have got to do better or I'm going to have to get out of here." Another 7-6 season just might be his breaking point, but Bowden said he was afraid to make such a statement because nailing down a bottom line would get "too much ink."
You better believe it would.
Nothing against Jimbo Fisher, but I wouldn't mind two more seasons with Bowden.
Of course, it's not going to be an easy year for him to make a comeback. Not with Tommy Bowden's loaded team on the schedule.
Then again, much of Clemson's success this season will be determined by how quickly the o-line comes together. Five days of practice hasn't quite done the trick. And David Smith is falling further and further behind.
Cullen Harper isn't the best player in the ACC, but he's the best quarterback, writes Caulton Tudor. Does that mean he should get the Player of the Year award at the end of the season? One thing's for sure -- it is a defensive league.
Just ask Virginia Tech. The Hokies have had one of the best defenses in the country in recent years. They've got a lot to replace on both sides of the ball, though, including their top four receivers.
Virginia Tech's not the only team with some work to do on defense.
NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer wants -- and needs -- to see vast improvement on his side of the ball this season. Nobody in the ACC had fewer turnovers than the Wolfpack and the rushing defense was the worst in the league. Can he fix it?
Of course, it wouldn't hurt for Tom O'Brien to find a quarterback, either.
Maryland needs to make a decision, too.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe already has one of the best in the ACC.
Still, he is recruiting the state of North Carolina hard to find future Blue Devils.
It looks like Virginia stole a kicker from the soccer team. Not the worst place to find one.
Is any of the shine coming off of Miami's No. 1-ranked recruiting class since so many players are missing? Randy Shannon says he's happy with the players he has on campus. Those are the guys who will make an impact this season anyway.
Wake Forest has a star.
Running back Josh Adams is only unassuming off the field.