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NC State Football

Bam Knight Compares Syracuse's Defense To Mississippi State

November 19, 2021

NC State running back Zonovan Knight met with the media to discuss the running game, Syracuse's defense, returning kicks, and much more with the media.

NOTE: Click the video above to watch the interview.

I'm just kind of curious how you guys internally manage the outward expectation for this team. I know the fanbase was really disappointed with the Wake Forest loss, but you guys still have the potential for a 10-win season. How do you just kind of keep your goals internally, and just sort of deal with some of the noise outside?
Yeah, we try not to look into stuff like that because we know some things... Like outside people are going to speak negative on the coaching staff, on the players' missed plays, and stuff like that. So we kind of fade away from looking at stuff like that.

We just keep a positive mindset. No matter what the outcome is at the end of the season, we all know that we want to put our best foot forward for the remaining two games and just leave it all out there.

Thayer said one of the reasons you guys have been able to bounce back after losses this year is because maybe unlike years in the past, you guys have been in every game... we should have won that game. So it's kind of easier to bounce back and come back strong next week. Can you kind of elaborate on that and talk about the mindset this year, as opposed to other years, after you guys took a loss?
Yeah, other years it was a reoccurring thing to miss plays, miss opportunities, people not buying in throughout the weeks, kind of going through the motions. This year, the difference is every day at practice, people are locked in. You could tell the difference between the motivation of the team this year and past years, so that kind of has that drive.

Even the games we've lost have been only a couple points. It's not like we're losing by 14, 21, like in the past. And I think when you go back at the film, it all comes down to a few missed opportunities, one or two plays that could have been a difference in the game.

Yeah, and I was going to ask you that. When you watch the film, is it a little bit more frustrating? Because it's only two or three plays that, dang, if we would've done this, it'd came out differently.
Yeah, it's always looking back on films like, “Man, if I would've read this the right way, that would've made a difference.” It's small details like that. Even Ricky, he shed light on the little screen pass where he ended up slipping, because we weren't used to turf and stuff like that.

That probably could have been a difference in the game, but you just have to move on from that, even in the game and after the game, you have to move on from that and just make sure it doesn't happen. Eliminate it off film.

I know you don't always get to return kicks; a lot of times you play games where there's not returnable balls. When you have the opportunity and you see that unfold and you know you're going to be able to return one, is that one of the more exciting things on the field when you see that and know that you're going to get the chance to run that?
Yeah, it's definitely exciting because, like you were just alluding to, it's a rare thing for a kick off return to open, especially the way they were open at Wake Forest.

Normally you have to make something happen, but those were just opening very wide. So it really wasn't much of... where I was going. I just want to give a shout to the kick return team; you could tell they kind of took to heart their assignments on the kick return and just did their best to get their job done.

Especially freshman Demie Sumo, we saw him pancaking a lot of people on kick return. That's a good thing to see from a freshman.

Thayer brought up that he felt like this was a skill that, if refined enough, could help him get to the NFL. Do you look at your ability as a kickoff returner in a similar way?
Yes, I definitely think that'll be a valuable thing that NFL scouts value at the next level. Just because, I don't know about too many other running backs in the college level, but I feel like nobody else is taking that step in the kick return.

I feel like mainly it's receivers or people who are typically faster on the other team. So I feel like that'll add another aspect of my game to kind of separate me from the other running backs.

You just shouted out Demie, and since fall camp, Coach Doeren's raved about him, Ricky raved about him, I've been hearing some other guys talk good things about him. What have you seen from him as a young guy?  What do you see of him throughout the week?
Demie, I could just say, he's going to be a great player whenever his opportunity comes to touch the field. As far as a running back, he's going to be a great player. He just has everything. He has the hands, he has the elusiveness in the backfield, has the strength, the power. He kind of brings everything to the table. I feel like once his name is called to be in the backfield, he's going to be a difference maker.

Did you see him kind of crush that guy on that touchdown return?
Not the kick return for a touchdown, but the first one that I got pushed out of bounds, I kind of saw him because there was one guy running free, straight at me. Then I just saw him fly out of the picture.

So when I went back on film and looked at it and saw it was Demie, I was like, “Yeah, he's taking his job seriously. He's taking his game to the next level.”

That comes with experiences, getting more experience, so it's kind of getting used to the speed of the game.

Syracuse is one of those teams you generally play every year. Last year with COVID you didn't play all the Atlantic teams, but you did play Syracuse. So I'm wondering when you go into a week like this, do you have familiarity from having played them now two years back-to-back? Or do you have to kind of really regroup and look at them again?
Oh, you have to regroup and look at them again cause every year it's different. At the end of the season, they're doing what we're doing, they looking at positive and negatives of the past season. So you have to look for the changes defensively and all that.

And this year, I'm not sure if it was last year as well, but this year, I know they're kind of similar, as far as defensive blitzes and stuff, they're similar to Mississippi State as far as what they do.

I've noticed that in the games you guys have lost this year, it's been the times where you've rushed the ball in the single digits. Is there ever a frustration... Is it like, “Hey, feed me, this works out well for the team.”
That's not something that I speak on and think about a lot on the sideline, just because I don't want to bring this negative aspect into my head. So it's something I try to keep a positive mindset about, just try to keep going.

Whenever my name is called, I go out there and play my fullest, because I'm a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. So if I'm getting four carries, feel like maybe that was God trying to remove me from a situation where something may happen, negative or something. Just keeping a positive mindset about that is probably the best thing.

Obviously you do the kickoff return, but did you return punts in high school?
Yes, I returned punts. I don't think I was... I can't remember, it's been a couple years.

I know I got back there. I got a couple punt returns for touchdowns in high school. I thought I'd have a chance at this level, but I came in and Thayer was already the return guy and the kick return spot was pretty much open. So I just kind of worked there.

And last year, like midseason, when we played Miami, I finally got my opportunity and went from there.

But having done it before, you do realize the challenges of this, fielding the ball, 11 guys running at you full speed, crowd going crazy.  Do you ever look at Thayer like, hey, that's all you, man. You got it on this level. Because that's tough.
Yeah, because high school is way different. You have more of a time to kind of group yourself, kind of time the ball, kind of let it bounce and recover. Especially at this level, you got guys running four threes, four fours, sprinting at you. You kind of have to glance, and kind of look, and kind of get the timing perfect.

So it's more of a frustrating look, especially the way they swarm people. At times, I was like, I don't know how Thayer caught it under pressure with guys in his face because I probably would've hesitated or something.

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