NC State has played well in certain situations, especially on third down, and has already forced more turnovers (19 through eight games) in 2010 than it did all of last season. Those turnovers have resulted in short fields for the NC State offense, which more often than not has taken advantage.
Another area of improvement, most notably in the back seven of the defense, has been tackling. While there have been issues late in games, the overall performance has improved. Wolfpack defenders are making plays and getting opponents on the ground in the open field.
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer said last year proved to be an invaluable teaching tool NC State defense and has been the most important factor in the improved play in 2010.
A WELCOMED MATURATION
Archer said another benefit of maturing players comes in the film room and on the practice field. He said the 2010 defense is a much better prepared unit than at any point during the 2009 season.
"At this time last year if you asked our guys that were playing for the first time, they really didn't know," he said. "They didn't know what it took, they thought they understood football, they thought they understood the gameplan.
"But now, when we talk to them about fundamental things about formation, identification and what people do out of it, they understand. In the game Thursday night Florida State comes out in a set and you can see our guys pointing. When they ran the reverse No. 26 came in the game and that was an alert and we had nine guys point here comes the reverse. That to me is the biggest difference. They've grown up and they understand how to prepare."
One of the last pieces Archer said he's starting to see from the 2010 defense is the ability to close out games late. State has struggled in the fourth quarter, most notably in the Virginia Tech game, and at times has looked tired.
In its win over Florida State Thursday, the Wolfpack defense took advantage of the opportunity to make a game-winning play when Christian Ponder fumbled. It's those types of plays Archer expects to see more of from this unit.
"We're still learning how to finish people off. We're still learning how to win," he said. "We're at that phase where we are finding out ways but you have to have that killer instinct.
"When you have someone down 31-7 you have to bury them, and we haven't done that yet. We've got to get the killer instinct, and I think that comes with maturation too and understanding what you have to do."