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NC State Football

Dave Doeren: "We Need To Focus On Our Fundamentals"

September 20, 2021

NC State will look to pick up a major upset win this week by trying to beat Clemson for the first time since 2011 – and the first time of head coach Dave Doeren’s tenure. 

Doeren spoke to the media about the upcoming matchup at his weekly press conference Monday; here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say: 

Opening Statement

Starting with the recap of our game with Furman, first I just want to say thank you again to our students and the band, the donors, our fans, the recruits, and everyone that came and supported our team and our staff, all the players’ families. It was a great night. 

A lot of times when you play an FCS team, your fan base doesn’t support that. I thought that it was awesome that they just embraced the opportunity to come and support the Wolfpack players. It was a great environment. It was loud. It was fun. Thank you for that, and I look forward to the next opportunity to play at home this weekend here with you. 

We came out of the game healthy. We were able to play a lot of guys and get valuable reps, which is always really important for the development of your roster. It gives us a chance to see guys when the bullets are flying and see how they are going to play. 

I thought we played complementary football very well, something we didn’t do the week before. It’s something we really want to be able to do. What I mean by that is that the offense is playing off of what the defense does for them, and vice versa. The special teams setting up that side of the ball. The fourth phase of that is the energy that your sideline brings your team. I felt like our sideline had really good passion. The guys were into the game, they were watching the players that play their positions and communicating with them when they came off the field. 

It’s a four-phase thing. It’s offense, defense, kicking game and that sideline passion. I’m thankful that we got to see that. There were eight sequential series in the game where I felt like the defense set up the offense, or special teams play set up the offense and we scored on those drives. 

As a team we had three penalties, two pre-snap and one blindside block, that we can’t have. Both of the pre-snap penalties were foolish penalties that we need to eliminate. We are better in these areas than we’ve been, but we want to be perfect in these areas, the things that we control and the things we can work on. 

On offense, just the positives of the game, I thought Devin [Leary] managed the game well. He was very accurate. He spread the ball around. He made some plays on his feet. It was good to see him do that, to extend some drives with his feet. I thought we connected on the deep balls. It was good to see him and Anthony Smith get one down the field. 

We moved our tight end around a lot, and all of the tight ends played and played physical football for us. I was super excited to see Dylan Parham get his first touchdown. He’s a guy that’s been here six years and means a lot to us in the run game. He’s always been a really physical component, and so I was glad to see him get a touchdown. It was awesome for him. 

I felt like the perimeter was very physical. Some of our receivers who have been in and out of blocking well, I think competed and battled and fought for each other. We did a good job, with the exception of two times in the game, of throwing it out there when we should, using the numbers to our advantage. I thought we caught the ball well as a team and made plays that we need to make. 

The running backs, it was good to see those guys not just run well but block well. I thought Ricky [Person] had two really good blocks when he was in the game, not just on the run play where he had a nice cut block when Bam [Knight] got the ball on a sweep, but he also had some really good pass protection. 

I really liked the score before the half, getting the touchdown there and getting the ball back and using our timeouts the right way. In the red zone I felt like we played better football offensively. They were a team that blitzed a lot, and obviously we’re going to see a ton of that here this week. We limited them to only one play in our backfield, gave up zero sacks. Really the play that we gave them, if Devin reads it right we throw the ball out to our field screen that we have and it doesn’t matter how many guys were in the box. 

Negatives, we fumbled again, and we can’t do that. I think that’s something that Bam will fix, and obviously he did a great job after that drive of protecting the ball. When our backups came in on offense, I felt like we stalled a couple times and could be cleaner there. 

Defensively, I’m just really proud of the way they played. It’s hard on defense in today’s world. You play Mike Leach the second week and then the next week you play the triple option. That’s a lot on these guys in a four-day window where you are getting them ready. We had seven straight three-and-outs. They had nobody rush for 100 yards, they were at less than 3 yards per carry. Guys were playing fundamental football. They were very disciplined. They didn’t give up any tough option passes that you could see. 

I thought our D-line did a good job of gap control. They played on their feet. They beat cut blocks. They were disruptive. We were very good on third down. The biggest thing was just the maturity, the adjustments. There’s a lot of things that they did that they did not put on tape prior to our game. We had to adjust and use our rules. Guys did that, and that’s the sign of a mature football team. 

Negatives, we gave up a touchdown in the red zone on a skinny post route that we shouldn’t have given up. We should be inside leverage on that play and not allow that to happen. And we missed some opportunities. We had two dropped interceptions and a ball on the ground that Savion [Jackson] was close to recovering and didn’t. Those are things as a team that we’ve got to embrace and take advantage of. You don’t get many in a game where the quarterback throws it and you can catch it, and we’ve got to cash them in. 

On special teams, I was really proud of how Trent Gill bounced back with his kickoff locations and distances. He had good hangtime on his punts. Joe Shimko, our long snapper, had his second open-field tackle of the season. That’s hard to do, to snap a ball 14 yards, protect at times, cover, and then tackle a guy in space. It says a lot about him. I think he’s really, really a very good player at his position, if not the best player in the country as a long snapper. Chris Dunn was automatic. There’s room to improve. I think our punt return did some good things with Thayer [Thomas] and guys setting up blocks for him. If we eliminate the penalty then we are over 100 yards in the game on punt-return yards. Our kickoff return, we had one opportunity and it could have been a house call. We had two guys not get their job done. You don’t get the what ifs or almosts in special teams. You get one snap and it better be right on the money if you want to make a good play. That’ll be good film for us to learn from. 

Now we get to play the best team in our league over my period here at NC State. We all know that they’ve done a great job. Dabo [Swinney] and his staff have built a dominant program. They are well coached. They do it right on and off the field. They are bringing one of the top-five defenses in football to Carter-Finley. 

They’ve only given up seven points a game, and their defensive front is very, very tough. They’re impressive, good players. They’re a good rotation of players. They’re physical. They bring a lot of pressure. They mix up their front looks. They are running probably more line stunts than I’ve seen them run in run downs to kind of chop it up in the run game. 

Offensively, they’ve got good size and speed. Their receivers are big guys that can run. Their tailbacks, they’ve got a good rotation there. Their quarterback is a big dude. He’s got a live arm, and you can see that he’s not afraid to run the football and use his body. They use him in short yardage. They use him in the red zone. 

In games like this a lot can be made of the matchups. To me, this is more about us in this game. We just need to do what we did last week and the first week against much, much, much better competition. But we need to focus on doing our job.

We need to focus on our fundamentals. We need to focus on our eyes, on our strain, on our finish, respecting the game of football and playing it one play at a time. Not letting the momentum swings in the game bother us. Just managing our opportunities and responding to adversity when it happens. And creating more plays than they create. At the end of the day, that’s how you win these games. It’s one play or one player that has to step up in key moments. I’m excited for the opportunity. Anytime you get to play a team like this that’s been the gold standard in our league, it’s a great opportunity for your football team. I look forward to it, and more than anything just being a part of what our team is doing. They’re really focused in on playing one rep at a time right now. 

Aside from the game, this is Pack United week for our student-athletes and our campus. It’s a really, really important part of what is going on, not just at NC State but in our country. I’m really proud of our student-athletes and Isaiah [Moore] and Grant [Gibson] when this began a year ago and the things that they’ve taught me, taught our staff and brought our team closer together. We’re celebrating our diversity, celebrating our differences and loving each other for them. I’m very proud that these guys are doing that this week, and I look forward to that being a part of what happens on our campus throughout the week. 

How important of a week is this for a guy like Grant Gibson to make sure he’s seeing everything on the line and calling out assignments against Clemson’s defensive front?

Well, it’s a big week for our O-line, our tight ends, our backs, all those guys. They have to block this front. You line up with number 11 [Bryan Bresee] across from you and just watching that guy play, he’s a stud. And 13, Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas and Myles Murphy. They’ve got a good D-line, man. Those guys are really good. It’s going to be a battle in there. So yeah, our fundamentals are going to come into play. We’ve got to play very fundamentally sound. We’re not going to be perfect on every call. They’re going to have some things. They’re good at showing things on one side and bringing it on the other. They’re going to get us at times because they’re going to call good defenses. We’re going to get them at times. We’ve just got to manage the disruption. We’ve got to make sure we’re not putting ourselves in bad downs and distances as much as possible. Our O-line can’t try to be perfect. They just need to play fast and be physical. 

How good is Grant Gibson at processing things and relaying it to the rest of the offensive line?

He’s very smart. He understands football. He’s a student of the game. He communicates well with coach Garrison and coach Beck. He does his best to make sure he puts his guys in the best situation he can. I think sometimes he maybe tries to be too perfect, if you know what I mean. In a game like this, there’s a lot of looks when you play Clemson. There’s going to be looks that they don’t show, new looks for us. They do a good job of setting things up. He’s just got to understand the percentages and what we’re calling, now go play fast and play with great technique and strain.

What has your defense been doing right that’s gotten it off to such a great start?

I think it’s a combination of things. One, they’re playing for each other. You’re seeing 11 guys play unselfish football. They’re not concerned about the scheme. They’re not concerned about the play call. They’re concerned about playing hard for each other and playing with better technique than the guy across from them. And that usually equates to success. The second thing is that there’s game experience in that group. They’ve seen a lot on that field. That collective experience of playing and being beat on certain things in a game and understanding how a game flows and not pressing when things maybe are not going as expected, or they’re running plays that you didn’t practice because they put new stuff in and that freaks you out. They’re calm. They’re poised. They communicate well, and they take coaching on the  sideline. Our coaches are able to make adjustments. The kids listen and understand them and go to the field and it shows. 

Do you think Porter Rooks is a guy that can raise the ceiling of this offense with his skillset and speed?

Yeah, I do. We look at Porter as a starter. He’s one of our top receivers. Not to his fault, to our fault, he didn’t play enough in the Mississippi State game. We told him that after the game. Joker [Phillips] owned that right away. He’s earned that. Being in a rotation with him and Thayer in our 11 personnel stuff - three receivers, one tight end and one back - is something we’ve been doing. But getting him in the game with some 10 personnel where he and Thayer are in the slots and moving around, it just puts another stress on the defense and allows us to get another playmaker in the game. 

Watching Clemson in the first two Power Five games this year, they’ve been low scoring. How do you balance trying to make big plays with your offense but also taking care of the football, managing penalties, and things like that? 

You’ve got to be aggressive when you want to go make big plays. You can’t let them scare you out of trying to force the ball down the field some. I think sometimes that blitz package, that pass rush and the number of plays they make in their front can get you conservative. You’ve got to take the things that are there so you can stay in manageable situations, but you also have to take your shots when they present themselves, and you’ve got to make some plays. In games like this, you’ve got to make some special plays, you just do. I’m not saying trick plays, I’m saying guys going up and making a great catch with a body on a body or diving and laying out. You’ve got to make spectacular plays. You’ve got to make the routine plays routine, but we’re going to have to come up with a few plays, whether it’s a deep ball, or a run after the catch, a big run, you’ve got to make some of those plays happen with your ability. And we do have some guys with that ability on the perimeter, so we need them to step up and play well.

When you’re looking to get through adversity and bounce back quickly, how much easier is it to do that at home? 

I would say it’s got to be easier at home, you would think. You don’t have as many people in your ear maybe. I didn’t feel like Mississippi State’s crowd was a negative crowd towards our team. They were actually very respectful. They’re loud with the cowbells and all that, but there’s some places you go where you’re getting MFed from their sideline to your bench the whole game, and that’s not how that game was. So I don’t feel like that hurt us in that game. It was loud, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re at home, your fans are behind you and they’re encouraging your players, telling them to keep their heads up, that helps. That’s good to have for those guys’ psyche. 

But more than anything, the players have just got to understand that the play’s over. The next play’s what matters, that’s it. We have to embrace that. Everybody talks about being 1-0. 1-0 means next play. That’s it. Whether you did well or you didn’t do well, you’ve got to go to the next one. Not that you forget what happened, you learn from what happened, but you’ve got to know that on the next play you can change the game, and you can change it good or bad. It’s something that our guys have learned over time. Some players have to fail before they get it. Some players can learn through other players and watching them fail. That’s what we try to teach. We try to use a lot of teachable moments with our team so that you’re talking to one, you’re talking to all and guys can learn from each other on that. 

The defense has provided great pressure to the quarterback so far, but that pressure has only translated into two sacks. How important is it to translate some of that pressure into sacks this week? 

The sacks are great, especially sack fumbles. We’ll take as many of those as we can get. But the bottom line is we’re forcing incompletions, interceptions and three and outs, and those are good too. If we weren’t getting sacks and we weren’t getting off the field on third down and we were giving up a lot of points, I’d be really worried about it, but that’s not what’s happening. Quarterbacks are not having success throwing the football against our defense, or at least they haven’t. So is there pressure, are we forcing them to throw on time off schedule, are they inaccurate, all those things? You watch the game the other day, there were a lot of hits on the quarterback right when the ball was being thrown. Those add up too, those quarterback hurries, pressures or whatever you call them. But from a down and distance standpoint, those sacks are great, because it gets them behind the chains. Anytime you can have a backfield bomb go off, there’s going to be times where those turn into fumbles for us, so we’d love to get a view more of those. 

Did you watch any of the tape from Georgia Tech-Clemson, and if so did you take away anything that they did that you might be able to integrate?

There were a lot of similarities defensively. Georgia Tech played a 3-3-5 structure, which is what we play. They don’t normally do that, so I think they caught Clemson off guard a little bit. Their preparation was probably for four down, and they got into that game and played a lot of three-down, three-safety defense. So that film is obviously good film for us, because they’re similar schemes that are played. I thought Georgia Tech did a nice job. They hung in the game. They got off the field, they pressured the quarterback. They didn’t give up big plays. They were very competitive. They had a chance to tie the game at the end and [James Skalski] made a hell of a play on fourth down on the goal line to keep them from getting in on that little shovel play. 

But yeah, we watch every game. I went home from our game against Furman and turned on the Georgia Tech-Clemson TV copy to watch the game before I went to bed. That’s what we do, study film and learn everything we can about our opponents. 

Do you address the team differently with a wider range of ages with all the super seniors? 

When we have our older players talk during training camp at night, they’ll get up and give advice, talk about things they’ve learned over time. You’ve got guys like Dylan Parham that have been here six years, [Tyrone Riley] seven, C.J. Riley six, there’s wisdom in that, and those guys have been good about talking to their teammates. They’ve been very positive influences in our locker room. But yeah, it’s the most unique roster that you’ll have, not just here but across the country right now of what you’re talking about, age, experience, stories, probably, for you guys media wise. Usually a kid doesn’t stick around six or seven years if there wasn’t some adversity in his career. It created that. So there’s some good backstories there to what’s going on. 

Like I said with Dylan Parham, he’s been here a long time, he’s played a lot of football, for him to finally score a touchdown, in my opinion, that was why he came back. He wanted to have something like that happen. But yeah, it’s unique, and as far as I can tell, it’s hard to have another year like this, where you have that kind of experience on your roster. 

Do you do anything differently with how you address the team? 

I think you have to talk down to the youngest guy in the room all the time. Tyrone’s heard it a million times, but Anthony Smith hasn’t. I’ve got to talk to everybody that could play in the game. I know there’s monotony in that, but I promise you in NFL locker rooms, there’s 38-year-old guys that are hearing the same messages about ball security, leveraging the football and the lessons have to be taught. You can turn on games all the time, and I don’t care what level you’re at, you see bonehead things happen. Like, ‘How did that happen? What was that coach doing or how can that player not know that?’ That’s why we have these meetings where we talk about the basics over and over and over, because it’s not that basic when there’s 80,000 people screaming at you and the play can mean win or lose. There’s pressure that’s however big or however fast running at you to knock your head off while you do it. There’s a lot of things these guys have to be able to handle. So coaching them to the lowest denominator of experience in the room, I think, is very important. 

You mentioned Clemson’s quarterback [D.J. Uiagalelei], a big kid, 6-4, 250 who likes to run. How do you simulate that in practice? 

We’ll have quarterbacks back there that can throw it, but we don’t tackle our scout team quarterbacks anyway, so it wouldn’t matter how big the guy is on the scout team. The bottom line is we need to get the timing of their offense down to the best of our ability, we need to get those pictures and blocking schemes to our front, our backers and safeties, things like that, try to simulate the routes, the speed of their routes, that’s the harder part. Sometimes on your scout team, you won’t have receivers on it that can run like the team you’re about to play and then you cannot there and your guys are like ‘Woah, this guy’s fast.’ You want that speed to be on them throughout the week. So I think it’s more about that than it is anything. Aaron McLaughlin is a pretty big kid, he’ll come over and help us at times on the scout team, simulate some of the quarterback run game stuff that they do. 

Clemson has recruited at an elite level through the years, especially lately. Have you guys changed anything to try and keep up with them? Is it good for the ACC to try and catch up with those guys? 

We’re always competing. We want to compete with everybody, particularly a team that’s won the league as many times as they have. There’s certain things until you beat them that you’re not going to be able to compete against them with. They’ve got bragging rights. They’ve earned that. They’ve got their facilities the way they are. We have ours the way ours are. We’re going to constantly try to generate revenue and make our facilities as good as we can. But I think it’s more about us. They’re going to have what they have, have the coaches they have, the salaries they have, the fans that they have, all of it. Clemson is a very proud place and they should be. We’re going to celebrate who we are here, celebrate our fans and the city of Raleigh, what we have to talk about. I think sometimes you get too caught up in comparisons. The bottom line is we want to be the best we can be here, and to be the best NC State possible, we have to go out, not beat us and play as hard as we can for each other, see where that puts us. 

PFF has you guys rated with 21 missed tackles, which is one of the lower figures in the country. Is that something you can target when recruiting a player, or is it more coached? And how important is that going to be this game with their playmakers?

That seems like a lot of missed tackles to me. I know some of them are on special teams, too. But yeah, when you watch a kid play, body control is a big part of tackling. So if you see a guy that is an out of control guy, and I think that’s where these live evaluations are important. Last year we couldn’t go to a game and see a guy. Obviously they send you the highlights, but there’s no missed tackles on those. You’ve got to watch the game film. But getting out there and seeing them play in person, the live eval, you can’t get enough of that. Getting them in camp is huge, where you can put them in drills and see how they handle change of direction, skill work and reaction skills. Tackling, other than what a corner has to do and can he cover, tackling is the number one thing you look for from a fundamental standpoint with defensive players. Are they going to have the ability to be a good tackler? It’s not just do they like hitting because there’s a lot of guys that can hit that can’t come to balance and change direction. Can they handle the game in space? Can they handle the game in a phone booth? All the things that go into it. 

Is there a guy who pops out as a guy who was tackle-ready and had the form when you brought him to campus?

I’d say Drake Thomas was that way. He was a violent hitter in high school. I went and watched him play, and they played Sanderson in that game, he was knocking the living hell out of people. I was like ‘man, this guy is violent.’ He’s been that way since he got here. He is a contact football player, and he’s good in space. He can change direction. He’s under control, and he runs through people. He is one of the better fundamental linebackers that I’ve been around. 


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