RALEIGH — There were positives for N.C. States defense to build on from last weeks loss to Clemson.
That much sophomore linebacker M.J. Salahuddin knows, but the more he watched the film from the Wolfpacks 26-14 loss to the third-ranked Tigers, the more a different emotion started to boil to the surface.
Actually, it made me personally mad because I felt like we could be doing this all along, said Salahuddin, who had 10 tackles in the game.
Given the quality of the opponent, and the fight N.C. States defense showed, there was more to like than to be mad about for Salahuddin.
The Wolfpack (2-1, 0-1 ACC) allowed the Tigers to throw for 244 yards, a 56-yard improvement from their previous game against Richmond.
N.C. States defense also made 13 tackles behind Clemsons line of scrimmage, including four by middle linebacker Robert Caldwell.
There were plenty of question marks about N.C. States defense before the season. With only four regular starters back, the Wolfpack underwent almost a complete overhaul in the secondary and at linebacker, where Caldwell and Salahuddin have stepped up in new roles for first-year coach Dave Doeren and new coordinator Dave Huxtable.
Richmonds Michael Strauss threw for 300 yards in the Wolfpacks 23-21 win Sept. 7. The Spiders also picked up 24 first downs. After a shaky first-half effort against Richmond, there was a concern going into the Clemson game that the Tigers might repeat last years 62-point outburst.
But Clemsons Tajh Boyd finished Thursdays game with 244 yards on 24 of 37 attempts and with three touchdowns. He ran 13 times for 38 yards. The Tigers quarterback had 426 yards last year against the Wolfpack with five touchdowns and 103 rushing yards.
The Wolfpack held the Tigers to 22 first downs. Even after N.C. State fell behind 26-7 in the fourth quarter, Doeren was encouraged by his teams effort.
They just played until the last second was on the clock, Doeren said.
Ive got a club of guys that fight and theyre tough and they dont quit and I think that is something I can build a program around.
It wasnt until sophomore cornerback Juston Burris was knocked out of the game in the third quarter that Boyd really got the Tigers downfield passing game going.
Burris was knocked groggy, according to Doeren, at 5 minutes, 53 seconds of the third quarter and was replaced by redshirt freshman Niles Clark. Boyd immediately picked on Clark, finding receiver Martavis Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown.
Doeren said Bryants first touchdown was the result of a busted coverage by Clark. Bryants second score, a 15-yarder in the fourth quarter, was just a great catch by a bigger receiver, Doeren said, but it also was over Burris replacement.
The good news for N.C. State, which will host Central Michigan on Saturday, is Burris returned to practice Sunday. Doeren said the medical staff wanted to hold Burris out of the second half as a precaution for a possible head injury.
Hes fine, Doeren said. Actually he practiced (Sunday) and hes been cleared, so hes doing great.
Even without Burris, the Wolfpack gave up only six plays of 20 yards or more to Clemsons explosive offense. Open-field tackling, Doeren said, was a key for the defense.
We limited their explosive plays and tackled really well in space, Doeren said.
If N.C. States defense can keep Clemsons offense in check, even during a loss, theres confidence to be gained, Salahuddin said.
I think it was a good start, Salahuddin said. Thats what were trying to build on.