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"I think the defense is going to be kind of the base of the team this year," Cole said. "I think we’re going to be good. I hope we’re there for the offense to rely on us. … I remember a couple of years ago that we were the dogs of this team."

YPP Allowed Overall (rank) YPP Allowed In Conf. Games
2007 5.2 (50) 5.4
2008 5.7 (88) 5.7
2009 5.7 (77) 6.4
2010 5.3 (47) 5.3


(YPP = yards per play)

For us especially, it's important to note that there are omens and then there are things that only look like omens. Remember the first defensive possession of the 2010 season? Western Carolina put together a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive, and there were 57,000 people in the stands pulling hair from various places at the thought of another 2009. But everything turned out all right. It'll do that from time to time, we just tend to forget.

State's defense actually proved much better than all right, better even than its 1.1 yard-per-play improvement in conference play suggested. The biggest gains were made in terms of defensive efficiency--State's three-and-out rate was solid, and the unit was among the nation's best at limiting both explosive and methodical drives. After three years and 3,698 injuries, Tom O'Brien finally had his defense.

They were making their own luck and doing crazy stuff like forcing five turnovers in a single game. It helped immensely to have Nate Irving back healthy, but that group was going to turn a corner regardless. With experience on their side, and no real red flags to speak of, the defense is a pretty safe bet in 2011. Let's just hope we don't have to lean on those guys too hard.

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