N.C. State defensive coordinator Mike Archer was as blunt as he could be when asked what went wrong Saturday with the Wolfpack's defense against Florida State.
"Most everything," Archer said. "Seriously."
The problems evident in last week's 34-0 loss at Florida State have been percolating all season for a Wolfpack defense that seemed to turn a corner last season, only to get thrown off track by injuries and mental mistakes this season.
"There were assignment errors," Archer said. "We didn't tackle very well. They killed us on the perimeter with their speed."
Archer, in his fifth season with head coach Tom O'Brien, kept going, but he had already made his point. The opportunistic defense that helped the Wolfpack win nine games last season is still sorting through the same problems it had in the first week of the season.
Across the board, N.C. State has seen a drop in its defensive rankings this season. The Wolfpack's scoring defense is allowing an average of 28.6 points per game, taking its ranking from 29th nationally in 2010 to 82nd this year. Against the run, N.C. State's average of 160.1 rushing yards against per game has dropped from 14th last year to 66th this season.
Injuries have contributed to the Wolfpack's problems on defense. Six starters and three key backups have missed significant time, including senior captain J.R. Sweezy and senior end Jeff Rieskamp on the defensive line.
N.C. State also had to replace Nate Irving, one of the best linebackers in the ACC last year, and four regulars from its defensive front.
Against the Seminoles, the Wolfpack was missing just two starters and a backup defensive tackle and produced, what linebacker Terrell Manning called, a "very, very poor" effort. Florida State finished the game with 321 passing yards and 444 total yards and seemed to score at will while building a 24-0 first-half lead. It was the sixth time this season the Wolfpack have given up more than 400 yards.
"We have to forget about Saturday and keep moving," Manning said.
"We had too many missed tackles to count," senior linebacker Audie Cole said.
Cole agreed with Manning: the defense needs to forget the Florida State game. Film from last year's 29-25 win over North Carolina shows what N.C. State's blitzing defense can do.
Against the Tar Heels last year, N.C. State sacked quarterback T.J. Yates seven times, once for a safety on the UNC's last possession, and held UNC to minus-7 yards rushing.
Yates, who threw for 411 yards, left the game with a broken bone in his left hand and a broken rib.
"They were like minnows in a bucket running around everywhere," Yates said after last year's game.
But N.C. State's defense hasn't had a complete, swarming effort like that this season. Archer pointed to the 28-14 win over Virginia on Oct. 22 as the team's best defensive effort of the season.
The Wolfpack forced four turnovers and held Virginia to 249 total yards, the fewest it has allowed this year.
The Wolfpack has given up 395.7 yards per game, which is about 57 yards more per game than last year.
The Wolfpack is still causing turnovers, though. It's tied for fifth nationally with 23 take-aways, after finishing with 29 in 13 games last year.
It has added up to a 4-4 record with four games to go. Cole, one of two players in N.C. State's front seven that hasn't missed a game due to injury, hopes the defense can salvage the season.
"We have to play a good game," Cole said. "Last week, we didn't play a great game, and the score showed it. We have to play our best game of the year on Saturday."