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NC State Football

Dave Doeren: “It's an opportunity to get better”

September 28, 2020

NC State football head coach Dave Doeren is focused on getting his team right after Saturday’s 45-24 loss to Virginia Tech. 

Doeren spoke to the media Monday ahead of this week’s game against Pitt, here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say:

Opening Statement

Going back to the game Saturday night, I’d like to start by saying that Khalid Martin is back with us today. I’m very happy that he was back. He was in our team meeting. It was a very scary moment, obviously. For Khalid to be back with us, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, but all the scans, all the X-rays, all the imaging have been positive. Now it’s just a matter of returning and how long that takes. I’m thankful to God and all the health, safety and medical teams that were a part of that situation. We say thanks to them and Virginia Tech’s staff. 

As you know, Teshaun Smith is now out for the year with his other shoulder. Teshaun will help us in practice and be a part of what we’re doing as far as helping the guys mentally. We do expect to have Payton Wilson back with us full go, and with Tanner Ingle we’re hopeful. 

As far as the game goes, it always starts with me. We did not perform the way that we thought we would. I’ve got to do a better job preparing our team. We knew it would be a game of adjustments, not knowing with all the things that were out there, who might play, who might coach. We knew they had a new defensive coordinator, so not having film on them would be a first quarter where we needed to hang in there and get used to what they were going to do and adjust accordingly. 

It didn’t feel like we did a good job there as a staff, or the guys even handling some of that. 

For me, it’s an opportunity to learn from that situation. It’s a loss for sure, but it’s also an opportunity to get better. 

As a staff, as a team, we knew it was a game where we needed to win on the road with turnover margin and be like we were on the line of scrimmage the previous week. We were not. Virginia Tech beat us up front. With six sacks in our backfield, and we turned the football over twice at quarterback. Because of that we had a tough start. 

Defensively, we did not stop the run. For us to be good on defense we need to be disruptive. We need to be in the backfield. We need to create the takeaways, and those things did not take place, obviously, in the game. I thought our specialists, Chris Dunn had his career long, hit a 53-yard field goal. It was great for him to get that. Everything about it; the snap, hold, protection and kick. Trenton Gill had a 47 yard net. Thayer Thomas had a good punt return for us. Those were good things that happened in the game. 

As a staff, it’s obviously an opportunity with this football team to learn, to grow and to continue to fight and grow from an experience that obviously we don’t want to relive. We’ll do that. These are experienced coaches. They’re great young men. They’re prideful young men. They care about each other in this university. We all hate losing. More than that it’s about giving ourselves an opportunity to win and being physical and going out there and competing for four quarters and being coachable and doing a good job with adjustments.  

This week, it’s all about overcoming what we just went through, moving on and having a great day. We did this morning with our meetings. Guys have had a good workout, and we look forward to getting in there with our trainers and seeing where we are at, and then prepare for our practices that will start tomorrow. It’s a long season and there’s a lot of opportunities in front of us. I know this team has been through a lot, and they’ll fight and stick together and fight even harder. 

Offensively, I do think we ran the football efficiently. I thought our backs were physical. We had one negative play in the backfield in the running game. The rest of them were very efficient runs, some explosive runs. Our red-zone offense continues to score. I thought Devin [Leary] came in off the bench and moved our offense and scored a couple of drives for us. 

On defense, our third-down defense was something we wanted to improve and did, but it starts with stopping the run. That’s an area where not having Payton and Tanner hurts, but schematically we’ve got to do a better job with players just shedding blocks and holding edges and tackling. So, there’s a lot to work on, and we look at it as a great opportunity to do that. 

We head into this week against Pitt. Pat Narduzzi does a really good job with his football team. He’s got an experienced staff. They’re a very physical, experienced football team. They play complimentary football. 

Offensively, Mark Whipple is a really good football coach. I’ve known him a while. I’ve coached against him. He is very creative. He uses a lot of formations; tackle-over formations, motions. He has good receivers, good backs. I think their quarterback, Kenny Pickett, is a really good football player, a 66 percent completion rate. He’s played a lot, a 31-game starter, very accurate and mobile. I think he’s a very underrated quarterback. He has a very good receiving corps. The freshman, [Jordan Addison], is electric with 21 catches. 

They have a bunch of backs they bring in, the Davises and their freshman, who played a lot in the last game. He’s a physical guy. I think they are all different from each other, and they do a good job behind the offensive line and probably the best center in the conference, if not the country, in [Jimmy Morrissey] leading their offensive line. They’ve only given up two sacks. 

Their defense is fast. They’re disruptive. They pressure, press coverage. They’re only giving up 10 points per game and 177 yards per game, 17 sacks in three games and 34 tackles for loss. They’ve created six interceptions. They’ve got a lot of defensive linemen. Charlie Partridge coaches them, and he does a great job with those guys. Whether it’s [Patrick Jones] or [Rashad Weaver] or [Calijah Kancey], this year [Deslin Alexander], [Devin Danielson], they’ve got a crew that they rotate that are disruptive. 

[Paris Ford] and [Jason Pinnock] and [Damar Hamlin] have played a lot of football for them in the secondary. Their linebackers and nickels all do a good job, and they’re used in their blitz game. They do a good job of disguising. They’re going to put a lot of guys in the box. They’re going to force you to throw against press coverage. 

Special teams wise, they’ve got a very experienced special teams coordinator who’s been there a long time with Pat. Their punter is averaging 43 yards and does a nice job there. A great challenge for us, and a great opportunity just to get back on the field and get better. I look forward to that. 

Are you excited to see how this team bounces back in the maturation process from its first loss?

Yeah, it is for sure. It’s a team we knew, like I’ve told many times, the youth, we’re still very young on defense, the youth of our team blending back in with the returners. In some cases those returners are back. You see C.J. Riley having an impact. Tyrone Riley is playing a lot of football on offense. But defensively, we didn’t have some of those guys back. You’ve gotten to see some guys playing. [Rakeim Ashford] played a lot and then had to come out. 

Khalid went in and got hurt and then Devan Boykin was playing. We’re still going through the growing part of the chemistry, but I do think handling a win in week one and now handling a loss in week two are two different opportunities. They are two totally different scenarios, and you’re getting a lot of different feedback as a player publicly and privately about those things. And how do you handle that? For us, it’s an opportunity to face adversity here early in the season, and I look forward to seeing how they respond. 

How did the team respond to losses last year?

Last year I think guys were just trying to play. They were just ‘what plays are we running? How do I do that?’ It was a different lineup every game. There were so many guys that were just out of high school on the field, and they didn’t have a lot of game experience to draw from. 

You do see Malik Dunlap playing so much better than he played a year ago because of all those games he had. He’s playing with more confidence. You’re seeing that growth in players like him. Jordan Houston, Bam Knight, guys that played a lot last year, and once we get Payton back out there. Drake [Thomas] is playing hard. You see those guys playing with more confidence. Last year, they’ll tell you, they were just trying to understand what to do. Now it is more that they know the defense or the offense, and they are just trying to play fast. 

How much progress has Devin Leary made and what stood out in his and Bailey Hockman’s performances? 

I think Devin has worked hard. He was disappointed with the circumstances he had. He understood it and battled back through it. He prepared well last week, practiced well and got in the game. I thought he threw the football well. He was decisive. He operated the offense the way coach Beck would like him to do it. He was into the game. We got into a situation where Bailey had thrown his second interception, and you could tell he just wasn’t in it. 

Nothing against him. He battles. He’s tough, all those things, but sometimes it’s just not going your way. We needed that spark for the offense, and we thought Devin gave us the opportunity there to see how he was and where he was at. Like I said last week, we need them both. They’re both going to get reps this week, and we’ll see who is the most ready to lead our team this weekend. 

Rakeim Ashford wasn’t listed on the depth chart. Do you have any update on his status? 

That’s a day-to-day thing, so we’ll just have to see where he ends up. But if we were to play today, he would not go. So we’re just going to have to see how he responds. He’s had his shoulder [issue] since back in junior college and sometimes it bothers him, sometimes it doesn’t. So we’re just going to have to see where he ends up. I know he’s rehabbing and doing everything he can. 

What have Devan Boykin and Aydan White done to earn their roles? 

Both of them are mature. They come to work everyday with a great attitude. They’re consistent. They learn well. Devan’s learned multiple positions, strong and free. I think both of them have really bright futures here. Aydan was starting on our punt return unit at corner last week. He did a really nice job. He’s made plays in practice. He was our fifth corner going into the first game. Obviously with Teshaun Smith out and Chris Ingram out, that just elevates him that way. He’s a guy we’re excited about. I think being consistent every day for a freshman is a hard thing. It’s just such a transition from high school to college. Those two guys have been able to do that. They’ve come in and every single day, they’re organized. They pay attention, they work hard. You know what you’re going to get. With the guys like that, you can continue to help them get better each day. 

Last week you talked about how a lot of the problems on defense were correctable. How disappointed were you that a lot of them were still made this week and how big of a fix is this?

I think the problems we had were different. I didn’t feel like the run game in this game was external on the edges, and that’s where the problems were in the first week. We were out of our gaps at times inside. As coaches, we’ve got to do a really good job of helping our guys. We got a little bit less diverse in what we do in that game. Because we didn’t know with the quarterback scenario, what were they going to be. They were very different from what they were a year ago with all the motions and things.

We worked so hard on all these jet motions and all the things that they were going to be doing, and it wasn’t that. It was a lot more quarterback-based run game, just straight ahead at you. We’ve just got to do a good job of settling in with the guys. Coach Gibson’s defense is about being versatile. It’s about moving guys, it’s about blitzing. We got away from that. I think Tony would tell you he’s disappointed in what he did in the game. I know he wants to pressure more, he wants to move the guys around more. We got a little bit of just be where you’re at, and that wasn’t good for our guys. We’ve got to help them more. I think that falls on me and the staff first and then the kids have just got to do a good job executing what we call.

Are they in a better situation this week and moving forward to execute knowing what they’re going to face?

Not necessarily. I think week one, it wasn’t that we were in bad defenses. We had guys in the right gaps and with Wake Forest’s slow mesh offense, guys got impatient. If you watch that film, you’ll see a guy on the edge, he thinks the ball’s going inside and he ducks inside, and the ball goes out. It wasn’t a function of what we were calling, it was more a function of the patience and the discipline required to defend what they do. Last week’s game, I felt the other way around. I felt like we were just kind of playing catch up the whole game. When we did get them in third down, we stopped them.

But there were just too many explosive runs. You can’t give up 300 yards rushing and win a football game. It’s impossible when you turn it over like we did. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on. I think getting Payton Wilson back is a helpful part of that. Our top two tacklers are Payton and Tanner Ingle and we missed them in a run-heavy game. So the personnel piece does function into that. But the guys that are in there have to be able to make the plays and we have to put them in position to make the plays first. 

A lot of coaches have talked about lost reps, conditioning and training from the offseason, how much is that a concern for you guys? 

The conditioning is really per player. So the guys that missed a lot of time are the guys that you worry about. The guys that didn’t are in good shape. So it’s more along the lines of who was out for 14 days, 20 days, whatever the case may be. When it comes to missing practice time and missing reps and all that, it matters a lot when you have a young football team. Every rep is a critical rep. You don’t know what that one rep is that’s going to make something click. When it comes to muscle memory, it takes a lot of repetitive days of work to get that muscle memory. It is an impact. I think if you’re a veteran team, it’s easier. Those guys have banked reps, they have game experience. It’s easier to overcome it. Still, as a coach, you would like to have that time with those guys. But when you’re talking about a freshman compared to a redshirt junior, that’s a lot of reps that are not there. So every rep you miss in those situations is a rep that hurts.

With the guys that are a little bit behind, how do you balance trying to make that up but keeping them fresh at the same time?

If you have a rotation, that’s how you manage it. You rotate those guys and keep them fresh. If you don’t, it’s a lot more challenging. The practice piece is important, that you’re seeing the volume that they have at practice because you don’t want to burn the candle at both ends and then you have a soft tissue injury. And so you have to rotate. You have to, if you have that luxury. You have to be able to rotate guys.

How do you balance between correcting your own stuff before moving onto your next opponent?

Normally we’d play on a Saturday and the guys would come in on a Sunday afternoon. We would go through the game with them as a team, go through the special teams with them and then offense, defense, we’d talk to them as units and go through those things. We’d walk through the film and then go through the connections that need to be made. And then the next day they’re off and we start the next team. Within the individual sections of practice, if there’s things that carry over, then you’re working on those corrections continued through your individual and trying to make an action plan. 

With us not getting home until almost 5 a.m. from Virginia Tech the other night, Sunday was their off day. So we did those things this morning, and then tomorrow we’ll move onto Pitt.

Have you ever been to a point where you have to spend an extra day on correcting mistakes?

I think there’s plays that happen. I think everyone in this business copycats things, and if there’s things you’re not doing well, it’s going to show up in the next game if you don’t correct it. So you’ll cart those plays and run them, even though Pitt may not run a play that Virginia Tech ran. We’ll run them again and just make sure the guys have got that fixed. You have to understand that your problems don’t just eliminate themselves in one film session. If it’s a schematic thing, you’re spending your time on it from a scheme standpoint, if it’s a fundamental thing, you’re drilling those fundamentals. If it’s an 11-on-11 play where everyone needs to be a part of it, then you’re running that play against the offense or defense to make sure they’ve got it.

With this being the COVID-19 age and you guys having your first true road game last week, what did you learn about traveling?

This is a different trip from the last one. We bussed. And so on a bus trip, you’re taking eight buses to spread out 80 players and staff so that we had enough space between us on the bus and sitting within the bus with guys that would not contact trace you out, so whoever your roommate might be and different things like that. This is a flight, so this one will be different in that way in how we go. This will be our first flight of this period so we’ll have to see. But there really isn’t a lot of carryover on the travel piece, just because we’re going a different way. 

What did you see from the offensive line Saturday?

I think in this game we had seven different offensive linemen play. Each of them lost a pass rush that ended up being a quarterback pressure or a sack. Some of it is just pass rush fundamentals. They did have a scheme on one of their blitzes where we did not have a linebacker picked up, and he scraped over the top and made a nice play. So schematically, they got us on a play. And then there’s times where the quarterback’s hot, and there’s going to be an unblocked player and you have to get rid of the football.

So just looking at what we need to do, each guy just got beat as you guys know, that other team is on scholarship to and sometimes they win. We’ve got to do everything we can to play with better fundamentals, whether it’s a speed rush or you over set, or you’re too aggressive, there’s just little things that happen. Pittsburgh’s got a really good defensive line and their linebackers come hard, their nickels, their corners. It’s going to be an opportunity to face a really good defense. I know our offensive linemen take a lot of pride in protecting the quarterback, so they’ll work really hard this week to shore that up and face the challenge that we’re going to have.


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