The last time Central Florida and NC State squared off was in 2007 and ended with a 25-23 upset win for the visiting Golden Knights. The win propelled UCF to a Conference USA crown that season but things are much different entering the 2010 matchup.
Many of the players from that game who are still on their team's rosters were youngsters receiving their first college action three years ago. Now, they are senior leaders, including Knights' defensive end Bruce Miller, who is on track to set the school's all-time sack record, and linebacker Lawrence Young, who tallied an interception in his first college game. The Pack is led by a strong aerial attack in 2010, opposed to the running game the Daniel Evans-led Pack relied on during coach Tom O'Brien's debut season in Raleigh.
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer insists that the coaches will use that loss from three years ago as a lesson to this team going into their Saturday showdown in Orlando, Fla.
"It's going to be a physical fist fight, that's what they are going to make it," Archer said. "It was the same way here in 2007, they came up here, punched us in the mouth and we didn't respond so we've got to go down there and respond to the game, it will be a physical game."
Archer was mostly encouraged about his defense's performance against Western Carolina on Saturday. After an opening drive in which the Pack allowed their Football Championship Subdivision opponents to drive 87 yards for a touchdown, the defense tightened. Although Archer was far from happy with the defense's first impression, he was impressed with how the players responded.
"The thing that I was impressed with was when they came off to the sideline, there was no panic," he said. "I've been upstairs for [all] three years [at NC State] so this is my first experience with those guys. I looked them in the eye, explained to them what they were doing and what we had to get corrected. They listened, paid attention and then we went out there and did it, which is the most important thing because sometimes when you get a little rattled, you don't really listen to what you hear. That was encouraging."
Archer attributes the subpar start to four new starters along the defensive line and a young secondary, which led to problems in the back line's communication. He said the defense performed extremely well in the last two scrimmages but didn't carry it over on the first drive of the opener. He isn't worried heading into Orlando, although Central Florida is a much more dangerous offense than the Catamounts and boasts an intimidating front line.
"I think the most important thing is we got better as the game went on, which is what we are trying to do this year because we are young and we've got to get better as the season goes on," Archer said. "We did that as the game went on.
"[Central Florida] is a very, very good football team. Their offensive line may be one of the better ones that we play this year; they are all over 300 pounds. They are big, they are physical and I think they are all back except for the center, who is new."
The biggest area of concern for a lot of fans following the season opener, was the fact that star linebackers Nate Irving and Audie Cole were both shutout on the statistics sheet. Archer said it was actually an encouraging sign to him because he knows his two stars will produce as the season goes on and it may have revealed a third star in the making.
"[Nate and Audie] will get their tackles," he said. "That's just how it happened with the things that [Western Carolina] was running. Terrell Manning did a great job and made a lot of plays. We were able to get a lot of good, young guys in the game and get [them] some experience."
Archer and his defensive coaches did not expect Western Carolina to air the ball out and he was satisfied with how his young secondary defended, with the exception of a 23-yard touchdown pass on that opening drive's third down. With Central Florida's star running back, Brynn Harvey, out for the game due to an injury, Archer said the pressure is on the young defensive backs to put forth a strong repeat performance.
"We broke them down last year but they are a little different," he said. "They have a new quarterback and their star running back is injured right now, so he won't play against us. They've got some new people in there so there are subtle differences.
"[Kamar Aiken], [A.J. Guyton], [Quincy McDuffie], [Brian Watters] and [Jamar Newsome] are the guys [at wide receiver]. Guyton had eight catches [in the opener] so, obviously, that's the go-to guy for the quarterback. They've got good speed, many of those kids played up here as freshmen in 2007 so we are well aware of how quick and athletic they are."
Despite the loaded wide receiving corps and a back-up running back earning the starting nod, Archer insists that his biggest concern going into the game is still stopping the run, where Western Carolina had the most success against the Pack defense. The Knights' expected starter against the Pack, Jonathan Davis, ran for 108 yards in the Knights' season opener.
"We've got to stop the run," he said. "Some things were exposed on Saturday night
they are going to look at that film and say, 'OK, we can run this, this and this; Western Carolina did.' We've got to get that corrected."
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