Defensive Keys To The Game: Miami

Darryl Cato-Bishop and the rest of NC State's defense will have their hands full with Miami. Here are some defensive keys to the game for the Wolfpack against the Hurricanes.

NC State Defense vs. Miami Offense

Miami has shown that they are going to throw the football. In all three wins, the Canes have attempted more passes (132) than rushes (95). In the lone loss, at Kansas State, the Canes had more rushes (29) than passes (28).

It all starts with the play of signal-caller Stephen Morris. The talented junior has started to become a legit threat, and he had a breakout game last Saturday against Georgia Tech. Morris passed 52 times, completing 31 for a career-high 436 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

What is even more impressive is that even with all the passing attempts, Morris wasn't sacked. Not once. In fact, through four games, Miami's offensive line has allowed just six sacks, a very good number given the offensive approach of the team. All six of those sacks came in the first two games, with five coming in the Kansas State loss.

NC State has to find a way to get to Morris and knock him down. They must be able to pressure him because Miami has skill guys who can make plays with the ball in their hands.

"We've got to do a good job of disrupting there routes, and getting pressure on him and getting him out of his rhythm," said Mike Archer. "When he's in rhythm, he's really good."

The Pack comes in averaging 2.75 sacks per game, and they need to have at least that many down in Miami if they are going to come away with the victory.

Few freshmen across the country have had the instant impact that Miami tailback Duke Johnson has had.

A five-star recruit out of Miami (FL) Norland High School, the true freshman burst on the scene with a scintillating 135-yard, two-touchdown performance against Boston College in the season opener and hasn't looked back.

What makes him so special is he can impact the game in a variety of ways. Not only is Johnson dangerous at tailback, but Miami lines him up in the slot, uses him in motion, and he is a dynamic player in the return game. He is currently third in the ACC in rushing (80 yards per game) and leads the COUNTRY in all-purpose yardage with 209 per game.

The NC State coaches know they have to be aware of where Johnson is at all times and you can't allow him to roam free in space because he is a threat to score whenever he touches the football.

"Johnson can fly," said Tom O'Brien. "Once he gets into the open field you're going to have a problem so we're going to have to keep him surrounded."

Even though he's only a freshman, Johnson will be the most dangerous player on the field. State can't let him explode.

It is going to be strength on strength when it comes to third down because both sides are very efficient on the most critical down in football.

Miami checks in at No. 20 nationally on third down, converting an impressive 51% of the time. However, NC State is No. 12 in the country in third down defense, as the Wolfpack has limited opponents to a conversion rate of just 25.5%.

State's been even better in the three consecutive wins, holding opponents to conversions on just four of 32 attempts (12.5%). The biggest difference for the Wolfpack has been the pressure on the quarterback and being able to put the opposing team in obvious passing situations on third down. At that point, Archer and his staff can dial up the blitzes.

"I think the whole thing on third down is to confuse quarterbacks," said O'Brien. "I think Mike Archer and Jon Tenuta are doing a good job of creating confusion, not only with coverage but with blitz schemes and everything else going on up front... confusing linemen up front and the backs and their protections.

"That's always the key, be disruptive and don't show the same things twice."

If State can consistently win on third down, they will probably leave Miami with a victory.

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