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NC State Football

Dave Doeren: " It's On Me To Get These Guys Ready To Play"

September 13, 2021

Coming off last week’s disappointing 24-10 loss at Mississippi State, NC State football is looking to get back on track with a home game against Furman this week. It’ll have to do so minus two key players on defense, as linebacker Payton Wilson and safety Cyrus Fagan are both out for the season with injuries. 

Head coach Dave Doeren spoke to the media on Monday about last week’s game the preparation for Furman, and here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say: 

Opening Statement

I’ll start with just a few things from the game. Being down there and playing the way that we did, we didn’t deserve to win that game flat out. It started with the opening kick. I was proud that we battled back and didn’t allow that to snowball. It was 7-3 in the second quarter and the guys were playing.

But offensively, we did not score points. We got in the red zone three times and came out with zero. Obviously when you lose by two scores and you’re playing on the road and in a great environment like that, we have to maximize our opportunities, and we didn’t. It comes down to 11 guys playing together with great technique and effort. There’s a lot to learn from in that game for our football team.  It is definitely a wake-up call.

As the head coach it’s on me to get these guys ready to play. We did have a good week of practice, so it wasn’t something I anticipated or saw coming. But at the same time, we’ve got a lot of players that expect to play better than that. They took it to heart today. They were great in the meetings. I thought on defense we battled. It kept us in the game. We did some really good things, but we can still play better. 

You’ve got to give their fans and their game day credit. I thought it was a really good environment. We walked the campus before the game. Just seeing their tailgate scene and the number of people that welcomed us to their stadium, the way they supported their team. It was awesome to play in that environment. I look forward to coming home and being a part of our environment. We missed that last year. We missed the fanfare and the college game day experience. 

I do like the way that our team battled back in the fourth quarter and scored and got an onside-kick recovery. When you look at the game itself, we had a tough, tough lesson to learn on the road. We had a very candid meeting this morning to discuss what we need to do better from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint. 

As always, we win and lose as one unit. I’m the head coach of a team that didn’t play well enough to win, and that’s on me. There are players that need to play better, and I’m the coach that needs to coach better. I own that. I look at it as a great opportunity to make our team better. There’s a lot of football left for us to be excited about. It starts this week. 

From the game, I just wanted to make a couple of announcements. Payton Wilson and Cyrus Fagan both had season-ending injuries in that game. I’m not going to get into the details. Both will recover fully, but both will require surgery. It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. Two guys that obviously are great players, but are great people that worked hard. It’s the ugly part of football. The good news is that both of them will be fine post surgery with recovery and have a chance to continue their careers. But I just want to make sure everyone is aware of that. Jaylon Scott will step up and start at our Will linebacker position. Drake Thomas will assume captain duties on defense with Isaiah Moore in Payton’s absence. 

When you talk about the game, there’s really not a lot from a positive standpoint offensively. We were all over the place. We moved the ball and did not score. We had some good throws and some good catches, we missed some guys. There’s throws that Devin [Leary] wishes he had back. We didn’t protect him well enough. We missed a couple blitzes. Really all around it’s about consistency. It’s about execution. It’s not about how many good players you have. It’s about how well you play together. I didn’t feel like the crowd noise was the reason that happened. 

Defensively, we didn’t give up any big plays. I thought we matched the routes. We tackled very well in space until the fourth quarter, a couple of times they got away from us. I thought the guys battled. We didn’t have any takeaways, and we had one sack. On 50 pass opportunities you would like to see a couple of interceptions and sack-fumble type plays to help us. 

I thought our special teams were not up to par in that game. From the opening kick, we were trying to cross kick and kick it in the right corner, and we kicked it in the middle of the field. Our hangtime on our punts needs to be better, and I know Trenton Gill will fix that. Our punt return team forced their punter, and they shanked some punts and gave us some good field position that unfortunately we didn’t get points out of. We didn’t have a returnable ball in our kickoff return. We’ve got to cover kicks. I think the hangtime of kicks and the way you cover kicks, we’ve got to be better. I look forward to coach Goebbel fixing that this week with the guys. 

More than anything, it’s back to basics. It’s back to fundamentals and getting back to work and being excited about fighting against adversity.

We get to play against Furman this week. It’s a very disciplined football team. It’s a team offensively that does a lot. They are an option team. They are a spread team. They’ll get in the pistol and run downhill at you. Their quarterback can run and throw. Their tight end is a first-team All-American and 20-yard per catch guy. They’ve got nine starters back, and defensively they are going to be where they are supposed to be. They’re very sound. They’re coached well . They’ve got good blitzes that they discuss. They try to stop the run. They put a lot of people in the box, whether in quarters or zone-blitz Cover-3. 

It’s a defense like when you play Wake Forest. They’re going to be sound. They’re not going to beat themselves, and they are going to play hard. We have to execute at a higher level. But more than anything, it’s about us. We need to go execute and do it over and over and over, one play at a time and enjoy the game of football. 

I think perspective and lessons are a big deal in life. When you have two players of the caliber of Payton and Cyrus that can’t play that really want to play, I think it’s a lesson for a lot of these guys. I look forward to the opportunity to get back on the grass with them tomorrow.

What are some of the things you do as a coach after a tough loss like that when you first bring your guys back for meetings?

You speak from the heart. You don’t lie to them. It starts with, like I said, it starts with me. I have to own the things that I wish I could have done better for them. I ask them to do the same. We’re a family here, and we need to be able to have tough family discussions. We definitely had one of those today. It’s not that I’m screaming at them and using bad language at them. That’s not what it is. It’s ‘hey, here’s the things that we can’t be if we want to be great.’ Point them out. Ask them to have thick skin. Ask them to be owners of what they had a part in. Ask them to fix their part, and then ask our staff to fix theirs. Then move forward. It’s one of those things that’s not fun. We don’t come into this sport to lose games. You come to compete and win. I think through a loss you can get a lot of really valuable lessons, and maybe we needed that. Maybe we needed to get punched in the mouth. We read our press clippings too much after the opener maybe, I don’t know. But we did not play the way we are supposed to play on the road in all three phases.  

Do you have some guys on your team that you lean to help reinforce what your coaches are trying to say? 

Yeah, we have great locker-room leadership, and you guys know who they are. They do a good job talking to each other and explaining things, because they’ve heard me talk for a number of years, the guys that are in the leadership roles, and they can put it into their own languages, make sure things are clear and it’s interesting, because most of these guys, before I met with them today, I talked to several players one on one or through text, and we’re on the same page.

I know it’s only been a couple of games, but what are some positives you’ve seen from your team and maybe a couple negatives? 

Positives, defense, I really feel like those guys are flying around, I think we’re playing fast on defense. We’re tackling well. Like I said, we didn’t have interceptions, but you’re saying pass breakups on deep balls. Tanner Ingle had a couple really nice plays on deep balls on the sideline whereas maybe a year ago he’s ejected for playing those balls the wrong way. So that side of the ball, we kind of picked up where we left off. The negatives on that side of the ball, we just need to get a few more sacks. Sometimes it’s hard with how fast people throw the ball, but we’ve got to be able to get to the quarterback a little bit more. 

On offense, I thought we were really physical in the first game. I loved how we mixed things up in the run game, we caught the ball well. I thought our perimeter players blocked hard and were physical. I thought it was almost the opposite in this second game. We were very inconsistent. We made some catches and had some drops that we can make. We picked up blitzes and then didn’t pick up blitzes. We were just inconsistent. It’s a tough way to live that way. 

Offensive football, one guy makes a mistake and the play is not going to work. On defense, if one guy makes a mistake, the linebacker can fix it or the safety can fix it. Offensive football has got to be consistently executed. The positives over there, there’s great leadership. They know it, they’re going to fix it, they’re all about it. Nobody’s fighting each other on it and we’ll move forward. 

When you have these kind of injuries to two important players and emotional leaders, is it possible for something like this to bring your team even closer together? 

I know there was a genuine, heartfelt emotion in there about those two guys. We love those guys, man. And we feel for them. We know what the game and the team means to them. And so yeah, I think that pain that we all suffer for them can help us play hard for them. I know they will. It’s just challenging for anyone. We’re going to all take the same mentality of it’s the next man’s opportunity, and I know Jaylon Scott will do everything he can and Rakeim Ashford will do everything he can in Cyrus’ stead. That’s kind of what you have to do do. It’s not just part of football, it’s part of life. We all lose things that we expect to have on a day-to-day basis. How you step up around them, you do it as a family. I think that’s what we have to do as a team. 

Is it good to get back home or would it be one of those deals where it would be nice to go on the road again? 

Since it’s a night game, I’ll tell you I’d rather be at home. Traveling home, we got home at three in the morning. That can take its toll on you. So for that reason, I’m happy to be home. To be honest, I just want to play. I want to get back on the grass with the guys and play a game, but since we’re playing at night, I’d much rather be in the home environment than have to travel home in the middle of the night. 

Evaluating Devin Leary in that environment, having a chance to watch the game back, how did you feel like he did? 

Devin battled. He did some good things. He made some good throws. I wish he was a little more accurate in that game on a few of the deep throws. We had Anthony Smith behind them three times and couldn’t connect, overthrew him, underthrew him, we’ve got to get them on the same page. But he was not rattled one bit. I thought he had a good demeanor. The guys around him need to help him a little bit more. I think that’s one thing as an offense. We’ve got to help our quarterback, protect him, keep him up, don’t let people touch him and that’s one thing that we’ll do better. It’ll be a great film for everybody, Devin included. I know if you talk to him, he’s very hard on himself. There’s plays he wishes he had back. 

What were the conversations like with the receivers? There were several dropped passes Saturday. 

They’ve got to make the plays for the quarterback, bottom line, if you want to be an elite group. A lot’s been written about their experience, and they’ve got to be consistent. It’s got to come at the moments that we need them in the game. Nobody’s trying to drop balls. It’s a focus thing, relaxing your hands, seeing the ball into your hands, seeing the catch and the process of doing that. So expect those guys to make those types of plays. They’re those types of players, they should. I know they feel the same way. 

What are your expectations for your offense going into this weekend? 

I just want them to be consistent and to execute. We need to eliminate mental mistakes. There’s too many of those. I just want to see 11 guys doing what the play caller asks them to do as hard as they can do it. That’s it. It’s really nothing more magical than that. If those guys will do that, we have good enough talent to score a lot of touchdowns. 

Last year, you had a loss in game two but had a big finish and won eight games.  Did that come up this morning?

It did. Last year, we got punched in the mouth at Virginia Tech, came home, regrouped and went on the road and beat a very good Pitt team. So we talked about that, talked about the lessons that were learned in that game last year. Our defense gave up like 300 yards rushing and bounced back, really shut down Pitt’s offense. On offense, we had a great game. Devin had a 400-yard game. So I think we’ll learn a lot. Sometimes you need to get punched in the mouth. Sometimes you need to realize that winning is really hard. It takes elite focus, communication, discipline, all the things we talk about. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s how you play. I don’t care what team we’re playing the rest of the season, it’s going to be about us. That’s what our focus has to be. Our focus has to be on not beating NC State, being the best NC State we can be. 

Terrell Dawkins played a snap in the last game; is getting him back something that can help the pass rush? 

I hope so. Terrell’s been out. Last week was his first week of practice. He actually was on the scout team all week just so we could get him a lot of reps and get him healthy. We got into the game and felt like he might be able to give us a little bit of a pass rush because of his speed. But he’s back now and we hope to get him into the flow of things. He missed spring ball and fall camp, so he needs to catch up fundamentally. It’ll probably take some time to get him back to where he was rep wise a year ago, but his impact can be felt when he’s ready. 

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