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NC State Football

Dave Doeren: "Our Guys Showed Great Leadership and Maturity"

September 26, 2022

No. 10 NC State head coach Dave Doeren met with the media via Zoom to discuss the Wolfpack’s 41-10 win over Connecticut as well as the upcoming matchup versus No. 5 Clemson.

NOTE: Click on the video in the player above to watch Doeren’s press conference.

Opening Statement

I just want to start off just saying thanks to the fans, parents, students, and recruits that came to the game the other night. It was another great home atmosphere. I especially want to shout out the fans who stayed the entire game. I appreciate your commitment to our kids and our players. It was great to see the light show and the entertainment that’s going on in the stadium: the fireworks, the music, the fourth quarter, the “Wagon Wheel,” the whole thing, man. It was awesome, and they always continue to make this thing better. Our student section’s really, really getting to be a lot of fun. It wasn’t like that when I got here. It’s gotten so much better over time, and I want to thank you guys for that. Going into the game against UConn, I was really proud of our team. I thought we played really hard. We were prepared. We challenged our guys throughout the week to be in the moment and to work on us, not overlook an opponent and not let our guard down, to be present and own the opportunity that we had to become a better football team. Obviously, we knew that the conference schedule was looming, and the matchup we have this week was in the background. I thought our guys showed good leadership and maturity. There’s a lot of teams — we all watch college football — we know some teams don’t do that. Our team showed maturity which was something that we needed to do. I also think our Texas Tech win looks even more impressive now, seeing what they did. Congrats to Coach [Joey] McGuire on his win over Texas. For us, guys are getting better. That’s the challenge we have each week; we want to be a better version of ourselves than we were the previous Saturday. We wanted to be better in the UConn game than we were in the Texas Tech game. From an offensive standpoint, we started fast. I don’t know if you can start faster than that. It was a great throw from Devin [Leary] to Thayer Thomas. One of the goals we had was to be better after the catch, better after contact. We wanted more YAC, yards after contact, yards after catches. Devin Carter answered that, [as did] Thayer Thomas, Keyon Lesane, [and] Demie [Sumo-Karngbaye]. Michael Allen and Delbert Mimms got in the mix there, so it was a lot of guys who took that to heart. I thought Devin Leary played fast. He made quick decisions, distributed the ball. He was accurate. He obviously had one that he would like to have back there which was a turnover before the half. He’ll learn from that. It’s nice when you don’t have to punt. I don’t know if I’ve had a game like that as the head coach, so that was really nice to be able to end every possession without having to punt the football. One thing we did a great job of was manage third downs. We had manageable down-and-distances which means you did well on first and second, but that’s your down-and-distance management. When you do that the right way, it makes coach [Tim] Beck’s job easier, and the kids performed better in third-and-one, third-and-two, and third-and-three. Negatively, we had some penalties: two pre-snap on guys and one on our staff [with] 12 men on the field trying to substitute a guy out, and we didn’t get that done in a fast enough fashion for the officials. We had two sacks we probably could have avoided with throwaways, and we had two drops that were probably catchable. Defensively, we had eight three-and-outs and two fourth-down stops. We stopped the run. They had zero explosive plays in their pass game, and I thought we tackled well with the ones and twos. It got sloppy at the end of the game where we put in a bunch of young guys, and they looked like they were young guys. It was good to get them that game experience, but the product wasn’t very good. That’s something that they’ll learn a lot from and hopefully be better for the next time they get out there. On special teams, Chris Dunn continues to be very, very good for us, and I was happy with Collin Smith with his kickoffs. It was nice for him to get in and play a little bit as our kicker, too. He had a nice field goal and kicked off well. I think our punt return scheme could have blocked better for Thayer. We had one opportunity, and I feel like we need to do a better job there. The fake field goal, I’ll take the credit for that. UConn did a nice job. It wasn’t what we thought we were going to get. It wasn’t what they showed us. They did a nice job of not rushing off the edge that they had been the entire game. Kudos to them for that. As far as this week, I’m excited for the game. It’s a great matchup against a very talented group with an experienced, talented staff. I’ve got great respect for Coach [Dabo] Swinney and his program. It’s two top-10 teams competing on a national stage, and that’s why we do this. The kids have worked hard. The staff has worked hard, and we expected to be in this position. We expected to be 4-0 going to Clemson. We look forward to playing a great team. We’ll continue to focus on us. I think the path that has gotten us here is the path that we’ll continue to stay on. It’s individual and collective improvement through great practice, great meetings, and taking care of business. We will focus on our opponent and know those guys, but more importantly, we need to know what we need to get better at and get it done. We’re playing at a great venue. It’s the longest home winning streak in college football. We know the crowd will be into it. It'll be loud. When you talk about them, to me, it starts with their defensive front. I think they’re really, really talented. They’ve got a great rotation on the D-line. They’re skilled. They’re big. They’re really good football players on that defensive front. They’ve done a nice job of recruiting those types of guys, developing them, and coaching them, and they put them in positions to be successful. At linebacker, Trenton Simpson, 22, is a really good football player. He’s a sideline-to-sideline guy and a really, really good player. They’ve played a lot of guys in the secondary. I know they’ve had some injuries there. They have good length at corner. You can see that they’re not doing a ton of things. They’re probably less multiple than they’ve been, and guys are playing hard. I know they just had a tough game against Wake [Forest], but I have a lot of respect for Mike Reed and I know he’ll have his guys ready. Offensively, their offensive line has stayed healthy. They’ve played the same five guys in all four games. They’re better than they were a year ago. I think their quarterback [D.J. Uiagalelei] is maybe the most improved part of their offense. He’s playing with more poise. He’s accurate. He’s definitely giving his guys a chance on deep balls. His receivers, he’s got two guys who are long and making plays for him. [Beaux Collins] has gotten four touchdowns, and it’s not surprising to see [Will] Shipley playing the way that he is. I have great respect for Will. He’s competitive, he’s talented, and he’s got a lot of great spirit and demeanor. It’s a great matchup. I’m excited to get to work, get into the game planning today, and start our practice. I love our team and our mindset, and I’m excited for them with this opportunity. 

How significant is it to have this team in the top 10 for the first time in 20 years?

It’s not for me. It’s significant for our team. It’s for our university and our alumni. It’s great. We’ve worked really hard to move ourselves up in the national footprint of this sport. It’s taken a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears, and commitment from a lot of people. I know that it’s not a stationary spot either. You go up and down based on your performance, but you still have to get to that spot, and we’ve worked hard to get there. We’re going to embrace the opportunity being there. We know a lot comes with it, so I think it’s something to celebrate for sure. It’s not something to say ‘we’ve arrived’ yet because the rankings at the end of the season matter a lot more than they do at the end of the fourth week, but 20 years is a long time. I think it’s something that should be noted. I think it’s something that people should be excited about. I’m proud of our players. Three years ago, we were 4-8. These guys have worked really hard to get our football team where it is right now

What type of preparation will you do this week to prepare for a potential hurricane and for the atmosphere at Clemson Memorial Stadium?

There’s a lot. We consider crowd noise, so we’ll have the noise going. We’re going to have to have wet balls. I’ve been through the hurricane situation before. I hope we don’t have to play in something like the Notre Dame game [in 2016]. That was nuts. We’ll be prepared if it is raining. Hopefully, it won’t be one of those things that has devastation that comes with it either. Sometimes, these things fizzle out. Sometimes, they get pretty strong, so we’ll just have to see where it goes. We’ll plan for the worst and hope for the best. 

How big of a component will third-down play be this weekend?

It’s big. I think third down on both sides of the ball is going to be a huge thing. Last year, when we won this game, we had roughly 42 minutes of time of possession, and that’s because we were successful on defense on third down, and we were successful on offense on third down. Those things lead to time of possession which is a big deal when you are playing an explosive offense like Clemson’s. We’ve got to manage third downs on offense. We’ve got to win third down on defense, and how do you do that? Execution, obviously, but also giving yourself favorable down-and-distances on both sides of the ball. It’s trying to get them behind the chains and us trying to keep ourselves from being behind the chains. It’s going to be a huge part of the game.

Who will monitor hurricane conditions leading up to the game?

We’ve already started talking to meteorologists at one of the local spots here. I’m not sure who it was, but Adam Clark from my staff has been in communication with them. I know Boo Corrigan is following it, and we do have to have plans on travel. If we can’t fly, then how are we going to get there? There’s a lot of things that we’re having to be ready for in case it gets like that.

Do you get the sense that everything you want to achieve this season is in front of you?

Yeah, I think all of us that are playing our first conference game are undefeated in the conference right now. There’s a couple of teams that have played one. At this point in the season, there’s a lot of hope for everybody. I think you’ve got to just handle your business if you want to control your own destiny, and right now, that’s our goal: just take it one week at a time. If you look at what’s in front of us, we’ve got a lot of challenges waiting for us here. It’s week after week after week. The Atlantic Division is real. There’s a lot of really good football teams on this side of the [conference] right now.

How do you evaluate your team’s performance running the tempo versus UConn?

We’ve varied tempos throughout the year. I think you’re right; I think we did mix it up a little bit more. Some of that is just a game flow thing for Coach Beck, too. When he sees the defense is tired and he wants to step on them that way, then he’ll do that. Some of it is our defense. Like if we’re playing a lot of snaps, we’ve got to be smart. You don’t want to go out there and run tempo for three plays and go three-and-out when your defense is tired. It’s complementary football. We’ve been basically going three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out on defense. They were rested. Tim knew he could play at whatever tempo he wanted. We’ve got to fit those things together so that we’re working to protect both sides of the ball.

Has Sumo exceeded your expectations through this point in the season?

No, I think he’s right where I'd hoped he was going to be. You’ve heard me talk about it for a year, so I don’t need to repeat it all. Until you get into live games, you don’t know. This is what I thought we would have watching him and how he played in practice. He’s very talented. He’s hard to tackle. He’s got good vision, and he’s patient. He can catch. He’s tough. He’s in a good spot. We’ve just got to keep him growing. He’s still learning. Each week, he gets a little bit better.

How important are experienced players like Leary, Isaiah Moore, and Drake Thomas coming into a game like this?

I can’t make a guy have 47 starts. That’s something that takes time to accumulate for players. You need guys like that linebacking group in particular, some of the D-linemen, our receivers Thayer and [Carter]. We’ve got a lot of guys that have played football. That’s good. They’ve been in big games. They’ve won big games. They bring a calmness to the locker room. They’re talking the right way. These are things they believe, and they can talk to their teammates and show good leadership. They can be calm in the midst of a storm and get guys to settle down if they need to. That experience is something that I value a lot because I’ve had teams that were the opposite. You’ve just got to, when you have it, ride the wave with it.

How have you seen the all-New Jersey backfield of Leary and Sumo develop? Does it help having guys from a similar area playing together?

I think there’s a pride about it. I’ve really never thought about it until you just said it. There’s a pride about that for them. They’re Jersey tough, as they would say. They’ve had a good relationship before the season, so that’s not new, but I think there’s some of pride of being where you are from, for sure.

Is this the biggest game you’ve coached at NC State and the biggest game in program history?

I don’t know. I’ll let you guys figure that out. I haven’t studied 35 years of games, so I don’t want to speak out of turn on that. In my 10 years, I would say probably so. As far as the history, that’s a long time. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with that answer. It’s a great opportunity against a great team in a great venue. It’s everything you want as a coach and a player, and we’re excited for the opportunity. 

How big of a plus is it having guys that can handle the pageantry and hype before the game even starts?

It’s one of the things I talked to the team about yesterday: Enjoy the moment, enjoy the stage, and enjoy the opportunity that’s in front of you, but that’s now what this week is about. This week's about winning a game, and how do you win a game? By having the best Tuesday practice of the season, and then getting the right food in your body, getting treatment, going to class, getting rest, and having a great Wednesday. We have to stack things on top of each other all week. We need to win the game way before the game is played with our players and our staff. That’s what we’re focusing on, and don’t spend your time on your phone reading about how great the game is going to be. Let’s focus on watching film. Let’s focus on first down, second down, third down and red zone, all the things that we have to be good at. Let’s focus on the game plan. We’ve already discussed that, and I think the guys understand that there are a lot of things that can get you distracted in a week like this. We’re trying not to look at it as that. It’s more of an opportunity to talk about two great programs.

Has Thayer Thomas’ career exceeded your expectations?

There’s no way I could have sat there in that game and told you that he was going to have the career he has had. I thought he’d be a good player. I knew he would help us. I had no idea. At that time, he weighed like 150 pounds. You couldn’t have predicted what he is now. You have to give Thayer the credit. The guy is the hardest working player on this football team. He does everything right off the field. He spends so much time on his body. He was just in the training room now. He’s always doing things to be in peak condition. He eats right. He sleeps right. He watches extra film. He practices as hard as any guy in that locker room, if not harder. It’s not a surprise that he’s successful when you think about all the things he does right. I’m glad he came back because I think he’s really putting an exclamation point on what was already a good career right now.

Does his ascension mirror the Wolfpack’s growth from a team with losing record to a top-10 team?

I can see why you say that. I think we’ve grown together [as] coaches and players. Thayer is a great representation of who we are. He’s blue collar, man. He works. He’s a grinder. He’s an overachiever, and he’s talented. He's definitely an incredible representative of the DNA of our program.

What did you take away from the 2016 game against Notre Dame that can help you prepare for this kind of unusual weather?

There’s a lot of little things we did in preparation, even in the game plan. We prepared for if we weren’t gonna be able to throw a pass, thinking, “How were we gonna win?" We talked about things like that. We practiced with wet balls. We’re just going to have to do similarly to be ready for that and those conditions. I hope it’s not like that. That was terrible. We were standing in water that was calf-deep on the sideline with sideways rain. I hope we don’t have a similar situation.

Can you go back and look at last year’s tape that much considering the Tigers’ coaching changes?

Yeah, I watched last year’s game. I think, offensively, it’s the same. Coach [Brandon] Streeter is very similar to what they were. Their personnel is very similar on offense, so you can look at last year’s game on that side of the ball. Defensively, I think they’ve changed more than they have offensively, but player-wise, it helps to go back and see who gave us problems and how they attacked us. I know they’re going to study that as well, so it’s an important piece, but you do have to base more of it on the four games this year when you are looking at the defense.

Was it important to give Shyheim Battle reps against UConn going into this game?

Yeah, we wanted to get him back in there. It was good to see him. He had a great fourth-down stop when he came in. We had a rotation with all four corners. We only played 42 snaps on defense. Those guys all played 20-something each. It was good to get them all in there. Teshaun Smith got some good reps in that game as well. I think that’s a healthy rotation for us. 

What growth have you seen out of Uiagalelei looking at his four games this season?

He’s endured a lot of criticism. His completion rate is up. He’s throwing good deep balls. A lot of times a year ago, he was overthrowing guys, and now guys have chances to make plays. You can see that his chemistry is good with his receivers. He’s throwing them deep. He’s throwing back-shoulder to guys, and his guys are making better plays for him, too. That’s part of this that gets lost sometimes. Quarterbacks take the heat, but there’s guys dropping passes all over the field that could have changed the game. That changes the quarterback, too. A lot has been said about his body transformation. Until I’m right there with him, it will be hard for me to comment on that, but they say that he’s lost weight, and he's more mobile. He’s playing good. He’s got people hanging all over him. That two-point play last week was a huge play that he made. There was a play in the Georgia Tech game on third down that was in a similar situation. He finds the back and shovels it to him with people hanging all over him. It was a critical play in that game that kind of busted the game open.

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