What's wrong with N.C. State's David Amerson?

jgiglio@newsobserver.comOctober 6, 2012 

— Efland Amerson roasted while he sat in the south Florida sun for four hours watching a football game last Saturday, all the while thinking, "This can’t be real."

By the end of N.C. State’s loss to Miami, Amerson couldn’t tell if what he witnessed actually happened or if it was a heat-induced mirage.

Amerson watched his son, N.C. State All-American cornerback David Amerson, endure the worst game of his prolific career in a 44-37 loss and just about the worst possible scenario for any defensive back, let alone one ticketed for the top of the NFL draft.

Four of Miami’s passing touchdowns came at Amerson’s expense, and a fifth, with 18 seconds left in the game, came after the Miami receiver ran across the field and into Amerson’s area of the Wolfpack’s zone for a 62-yard touchdown.

And an offsides penalty by Amerson on a field goal attempt in the third quarter led to Miami’s other touchdown.

“It just didn’t look like David out there,” his father said.

Amerson’s lapses in coverage cost N.C. State in both of its losses this season, against Tennessee in the opener and last Saturday against Miami.

His father’s observation cuts to the Wolfpack’s most pressing question as it readies to host No. 3 Florida State on Saturday night: What’s wrong with David Amerson?

‘I take that responsibility’

Last season, Amerson led the country with 13 interceptions, which broke a 73-year-old school record and established an ACC record.

To put Amerson’s 2011 season in perspective, it was the most interceptions by a college football player since 1968.

He made the All-ACC team, ESPN’s All-American team and won the Jack Tatum award as the country’s top defensive back.

The question before this season was would anyone even attempt to throw on Amerson, who had moved up NFL draft projections over the summer to a top 10 pick?

Tennessee quickly provided the answer, beating Amerson with a 41-yard touchdown pass at 11:31 in the first quarter. Ten minutes later, Tennesse beat Amerson again with a 72-yard touchdown pass.

In the second game, Connecticut went right back at Amerson, who responded with an interception and a breakup of a critical fourth-down pass to preserve N.C. State’s 10-7 win.

Amerson, who has a rare combination of size (6-3 and 195 pounds) and speed for a cornerback, followed with another pick in each win over South Alabama and The Citadel.

Then N.C. State went to Miami, and it was like the Tennessee game all over again. Allen Hurns beat Amerson on a 14-yard touchdown, Phillip Dorsett scored on a 24-yard catch, followed by a 76-yard score for Rashawn Scott — which Amerson gave up on because of an offsides penalty — and then Scott caught a 13-yard TD that bounced off the facemask of safety Brandan Bishop.

When Amerson spoke with the media Wednesday, he didn’t hide from any of his mistakes. Just like after the Tennessee game, he didn’t make any excuses.

"A lot of that game was on me," Amerson said. "I take that responsibility."

But Miami quarterback Stephen Morris’ record-setting game, of 566 yards, wasn’t all Amerson’s fault, defensive coordinator Mike Archer said.

The front seven failed to consistently pressure Morris, Archer said, and replacing two linebackers, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning, who are in the NFL has been easier said than done.

"We’re all in this, the coaches, too," Archer said. "We have to accept that. We win as a team, we lose as a team."

Amerson attributed the coverage problems to a lack of fundamentals and a lack of focus. He called the offsides penalty on the field goal attempt, in which he was the only player to jump, a "stupid mistake, a costly mistake."

And Scott’s 76-yard touchdown, after he gave up on the play because of the early penalty flag, Amerson said: "It was a mental error and it cost us."

Bottom line, Amerson said: "It came down to not making plays."

Distractions part of issue

Efland Amerson is a psychologist for the Navy. When he talked to his son after the Miami game, it was as his father, not a psychologist, but there was an attempt to repair the cornerback’s psyche.

"Last year, everything went his way," Amerson’s father said. "I told him, this year, if anything’s off, you’re going to hear about it from the fans and the media.

"But I also said, you can’t have success without failure. I think he will learn from this and I know that he can rise to the occasion."

N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien has his own theory for Amerson’s struggles: fundamentals. Amerson has violated the basic principles of N.C. State’s zone coverage and tried to pass off a receiver to a safety, rather than running with him, on at least two of the touchdown passes he has allowed.

“He’s trying to make every play instead of doing his job,” O’Brien said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You have to do your job. If he does his job and a ton of other guys do their jobs, then we win the football game.

“I think he’s gotten away from fundamentals. He’s been stressed the last couple of weeks, but if it doesn’t hit home after last Saturday, it ain’t gonna hit home.”

The constant attention, from social media and mainstream media, has distracted Amerson, O’Brien said. Negative tweets aimed at Amerson poured in after the Miami game.

"I think there are too many things going on outside," O’Brien said. "There’s some things that he has to get focused on and that’s playing the way he can play.”

Amerson’s dad agrees that some of the "other drama" has been a distraction.

Twice, a sports agent blog has reported rumors of agents, or runners for agents, "shopping" Amerson for the next draft.

Amerson’s family refuted both reports, but his dad said the off-field distractions, even the positive attention, have taken a toll.

"It’s another factor that he has to deal with," Amerson’s father said. "We want his mind to be unadulterated and not have to deal with any of these distractions."

Not backing down

"Competitor" is the word teammates, coaches and family members commonly use to describe Amerson.

Amerson has always been competitive, his dad said, even in trivial contests. The two would compete when they played basketball in the driveway or shot pool.

They even had push-up contests. Efland, 48, said he won the last push-up contest with his son. Efland said he did about 90, while David got stuck in the 70s.

"He said I cheated, but I didn’t," Efland said. "He really doesn’t like losing in anything."

Efland, part dad and part psychologist, is counting on that. He plans on reminding his son of that before he faces the powerful Seminoles.

It’s a message his son already receptive to.

"I know what I’m capable of and I never lose confidence in myself," Amerson said. "So I’m not really worried about it."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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