Dave Doeren: “We Have A Lot To Play For”

NC State head coach Dave Doeren met with the media to recap the Wake Forest loss and preview Saturday’s matchup against Syracuse.

NOTE: Click the video above to watch the press conference.

Opening Statement…
Games like that hurt your heart, anytime you lose a one-possession game, one that you played so hard in. I was proud of our team for fighting and playing as hard as they did and taking it down to the last second to decide the game. I think if we would have gotten that onside kick with two timeouts left, we’d have gone down the field and scored and won. I think everybody on our sideline believed the same. It’s just a game of inches.

Down 11 points with three minutes and I said it on the sideline, we’re gonna score, we’re gonna get the two-point conversion, we’re gonna kick an onside and we’re gonna go win the game, and we came close.

Obviously that doesn’t matter in the outcome, but I’m proud of the guys for believing and fighting. We were right there. I think there’s always regretful moments, regretful play calls, decisions, plays themselves when you look at a game like that. They change the game, and there’s a lot of plays when you go back and study it that we left out there that could have had a different outcome. And I’m sure they’d say the same, that they left plays out there. But when you compare the whole thing and break it all down, third down is really what tilted the game their way. We’ve been tremendous on third down defensively all year and in this game we weren’t enough.

Offensively, one of our goals was to stay on the field on third down and keep their offense on the sideline, and we didn’t do that. So credit to them, and we have to be better there. But I think that’s the complimentary football that we needed and didn’t have. There were other things we did very well.

Defensively, getting takeaways to offset their takeaways. Special teams setting us up and scoring. So there were several things that were complimentary and several things that weren’t. It just wasn’t enough. We’re down enough players on defense now, there were seven when [Shyheim Battle] went out with the targeting penalty, that were starters that weren’t playing, where it’s hard to play a hundred-play game on defense with that kind of depth reduction. So, that’s the game. Both teams had three turnovers, both teams had explosive plays in the special teams return game. When you have to play as many snaps as we did, I felt like our ability to rotate and stay fresh defensively, which we’ve been able to do, and we haven’t had to play that many snaps in a game all year. Really in the end we just couldn’t make enough plays there. In the first half we played 50 snaps, and obviously we kept the score down to a manageable differential and then our offense got hot, but it just wasn’t enough.

Some positive things, offensively, we ran the ball for 4.1 yards per carry. Obviously we’d like to be able to run it more, but the game didn’t dictate that. Threw for 400 yards, four touchdowns. We had 60 passing attempts, which obviously is too many, but only gave up two sacks in those 60 attempts. I thought that was good. Negatives, we can’t turn the football over three times. When they get a return out of one of them, Devin [Carter]’s fumbling, and then the ball at the plus five-yard line, that’s challenging defensively. And just some layup things, we had three drops that were all catchable. We were in the red zone four times and only got two touchdowns, had a field goal and missed a chip shot which we needed, losing by three and missing a 33-yarder. And on third down we didn’t get it done.

Positives on defense, we had to defend 18 possessions and in those 18 possessions, we had seven three-and-outs and three takeaways and stopped the run. They were less than three yards per carry. There were a lot of positives in those possessions. The negatives were, when they got in the red zone, we didn’t stop them. They were five for five down there for touchdowns. And then on 3rd-and-long, where we’re normally really, really good, we just didn’t get it done enough. Whether they completed it or there was a penalty, there was a holding penalty or a pass interference penalty, we had four of those that extended their drives and kept them on the field. I think the special teams were kind of a two-sided thing.

The return game was excellent, it was outstanding. Best kickoff return game that we’ve had here in one day. And then obviously their returner had two plays that hurt us. I think Trent Gill has done a phenomenal job all year, and the one time he punts one without hang time is the one time we needed hang time. Unfortunately, that hurt us with that punt return at the end.

The squib kick is on me. You use your experiences, and when you’re kicking into the wind, they had a good returner, you’re just hopeful that we bounce it multiple times back there to throw off the timing of their return. In the past, I’ve kicked into the wind and gave up a big return and you’re like ‘why didn’t you squib it?’, so it’s just one of those things where it’s great to sit here after the game and say I wish I would have done this, I wish I would have done that. I made the decision and it didn’t work, so I have to own that, before the half, giving them field position and they got three points out of it. Bottom line is, we still had a chance to contain that guy at the 25-yard line and get him down, and we didn’t get it done. We need to kick the ball in the end zone. Obviously I wish I would have done that, but at the same time we need to execute the coverage and get people on the ground.

The onside kick at the end of the game was really well done, it was well-executed. I think if [the referees] would have called it our way, they probably couldn’t have overturned it. It was one of those where you probably don’t have conclusive evidence either way. They made a judgement call on the field and unfortunately it wasn’t in our favor. I thought it was a good kick by Chris [Dunn], he played it right on the 10-yard mark with Ricky [Person], and I couldn’t see a good enough replay of it to tell you one way or the other if it was a good or a bad call. I just know it was a call that probably didn’t have conclusive evidence either way based on how they called it on the field.

Wake deserves congrats, and coach [Dave] Clawson and their team.

For us, we’ve got a lot to play for and it starts with this game with Syracuse. Very physical team. They’re a very good defensive team, they’re in the top 20 in a couple categories and top 3 in our league in several. Good rushing defense, they pressure a lot, they’ve got a good defensive line that’s very productive. They’re number one in the conference in rushing offense and have one of the top running backs, statistically, in the league, and their quarterback rushes the ball well and is a North Carolina native.

They embrace [coach Dino Baber]’s mentality. He’s a very aggressive coach, he’s a sound football coach, he’s done a great job for many years. I have a lot of respect for him. You can see that they’ve changed a lot. He’s playing to his personnel. They’ve got a good back, they’ve got a running quarterback, got a good offensive line. Their DBs run around, their linebackers are really active, they’ve recruited well on the defensive line. In their 10 games, they’ve rushed the football for over 200 yards seven times and over 300 yards twice, and that’s against good people. 300 yards against Wake, 300 yards against Virginia Tech.

So we’ve got a great opportunity for a challenge with their rushing attack. And for us, it’s just changing the narrative. Instead of talking about Charlotte and controlling our own destiny, that’s out of our control now.

Obviously, Wake has to go on the road and play at Clemson, at Boston College, and however that plays out, it plays out. The only thing we control is what we do the next 11 days. We’ve got two games in 11 games and both of them are at home. Great opportunities against great opponents.

This one’s military appreciation week, and it’s an awesome setting in our stadium. Our fans have always done a great job of coming out and supporting the military during this. The flyover, the flag on the field. It’s a special night, and a big thank you to our military personnel, active and inactive, for what they do and what they’ve done for our nation. It’s a great opportunity just to celebrate them in a game night.

So, looking forward to that. And then after that game, we get a rivalry game on senior day, no less. So two great opportunities to write a great ending. It’s the same approach here. Let’s find a way to get better, let’s find a way to get healthy, we’ve got some guys banged up. We’re using some industrial duct tape on a few guys right now, and they’re playing with a lot of heart. I love coaching these guys, so I look forward to seeing how we can finish and get up off the canvas. It’s always hard when you lose a tough game, but as you’ve seen with this football team, they’ve responded every time they’ve had to and I expect them to do the same again. 

Are you planning on cross-training any members of the secondary due to all the injuries?We’ll have to see what the injury report says today. There’s a lot of guys that can play out there, and I think that is something that probably will be discussed at some point. We feel pretty good about how Derek Pitts is playing. There was a rotation already at that position between the other guys, so we’ll just have to see where we end up with that.

My biggest concern isn’t really missing [Battle] for the first half, obviously we will, and that [targeting] rule, I really hope they look hard at that rule, losing a whole half in the next game. There’s a bunch of guys on that side of the ball that need to heal quickly for us. Good thing is, we’re not playing a team that tries to get a hundred plays in a game. They’re more of a ball control team. I think that’s good for us. 

Is it good that you have something to look forward to with a rivalry game next week coming up after the Wake Forest loss?
I think it’s the two home games. We’ve been gone so much. Four out of five on the road is a lot, with a lot of them being late at night and getting home late at night. I think the guys are just excited to be in town for two straight weeks. One of our goals here is to be undefeated at home, and that’s a realistic goal. We have two games at the Carter here to finish it up against two good opponents. As you said, one of them is a rivalry game and that’s Senior Day, all those things. We’re definitely not looking towards that game or past Syracuse. They’re impressive. I think Dino deserves a lot of credit. They were four wides and five wides and 100 plays a game max tempo. Now they are running the football and controlling the clock. He’s really shifted what they are doing up there. It’s helped them. They’re playing fewer plays on defense. They’re not giving up as many explosive plays. It’s going to be a challenging matchup here. 

Is your frustration with the targeting penalty with the penalty itself or the severity of the punishment?
No, I think the penalty is what it is. If you hit with the crown of your helmet then it is a penalty. I agree with that. We’re trying to be safer in our sport. I have no problems with that. They called what they saw, and I agree with what they saw. I think there was no intent on injuring anybody on that play. It wasn’t like he launched and speared a guy, none of that happened. For a guy to get kicked out of a game and the next game, I just think that that doesn’t make sense.

They really need to look hard at this rule. Whether it’s two different realms of targeting, or it’s like the rest of the penalties in college football where if you have two of them in a game you’re out. I just don’t like the way it punishes not just the player.

It punishes the team when you lose a player for a half of a game and half of the next game, particularly when it’s not a penalty that had intent. It’s one thing when a guy runs down a field on a punt and you see those plays where a punt returner is looking up and he just gets smoked. I agree with throwing that guy out of the game. That guy tried to hurt that player right there.

Most of these targeting penalties aren’t that. You see guys sliding on offense and the defensive guy has committed himself already, and now he is thrown out of the game. I just don’t think that’s what the intention of the rule was even for. 

So you kind of think the punishment is an overreaction?
I think everything you do has consequences. Some of those are unintended. I think what we are seeing now is unintended consequences to a good rule. I just think they need to re-look at it and try to get out of the rule what the rule was intended to do, and that’s protect players that are in positions where they are not protected. When a guy is running the football and clearly he chooses to slide and change where he’s going to be hit, that to me on defense is really, really hard. Really hard. 

How do you attack a defense that is so active like Syracuse’s?
You’ve got to be smart with how much you ask your guys to do. I think you’ve got to have good rules. Your guys have got to be able to play fast with them. You’ve got to know that they are going to make some plays. They’re going to commit a lot of guys to the box. They are going to stunt. They are going to blitz. They are a lot like us and Mississippi State and some of the other three-down teams that have active movement on their fronts. You can’t do too much. I think  the more you do, the more your guys think and the slower you play. All of a sudden that stuff starts getting in your backfield. That’s not good. We’ve just got to be good at what we do and make sure we’re doing things that our kids can handle. It’s hard to ID some of the stuff they do a lot, but the stuff that we can ID we’ve got to be smart about how we attack it. 

How much did Trent Pennix going down impact the game plan, and do you have an update on Pennix?
He’s got a sore shoulder. He’s a tough guy, man. He’s been playing with it. Unfortunately, he just got hit right on that spot. We’ll just have to see how it turns out with him.

As far as game planning, you have backups for him, but sometimes at that position maybe it’s not the bang for your buck that you would have gotten. Maybe you just go to a different set of things that you’re going to do.

For example, if we’re in 11 personnel and Trent is the tight end and we’ve got plays we like with Trent, Chris Toudle can run those plays. He can be in there and do that. I think some of it gets into what Tim [Beck] is seeing and what we are going to call. We ran a couple of plays while Trent was in the game to get him the ball and didn’t because they covered him. He threw the ball to Emeka [Emezie] on one of them. Sometimes he gets covered up.

But Trent Pennix has been a really valuable part of our offense this season. I know he’ll do everything he can to be back out there, and if he can’t we’ll make adjustments. 

How has Ikem Ekwonu grown and matured, and what is he like?
It’s an honor to coach a young man like him. He comes from a great family. He’s very respectful. He always handles his business in the classroom. In person, he’s very polite, outgoing, lively, energetic.

On the field, he’s dominating. He’s one of those guys who puts the helmet on and changes. He wants to finish people. He takes a lot of pride in improving. I think he’s improved as much as any guy on our team. When you look at what he wanted to be better at this year, it was his pass pro. He’s done a tremendous job with that. He’s worked hard in the weight room to improve, not just his strength, which you guys see, but his flexibility and things like that.

He’s everything that you want on the offensive line. He can play multiple positions. He’s a very durable guy. You can depend on him. He’s not a guy who makes mistakes. He understands what coach Garrison wants. Usually when you look at his grades there’s very few what we call MAs, missed assignments, on there. 

Did some players step up after the Wake Forest loss, or was it just as normal with guys doing what they do?
No, they will. They’ll step up. Each position group has guys that are more vocal. You guys know who they are by now. The thing that has had to happen because of the injuries is that certain guys have had to take on more. Drake [Thomas] has taken on more in the linebacker room. After the game, there were a lot of hurt young men, as you would expect. Hurt coaches.

We came in yesterday and kind of set a new narrative on what’s left. We got them re-engaged to the 13 days we had at that time in that meeting and what our plan of attack would be for these last 13 days and to all of the things we have to play for. We have a lot to play for here. Being undefeated at home was a huge goal for us, one that I haven’t accomplished since I’ve been here. That would be a great goal to have. A rivalry win. Getting to nine wins with a chance to win 10 and get to double digits.

The guys were all understanding of what it is. We know there’s an outside chance that things could not go the way they are supposed to in games across the league. We all watch college football. People are getting upset every week. Every week somebody goes down. So, who knows what’s going to happen? All we can do is control our final two games and see where that puts us. 

Do the guys realize how rare double-digit win seasons have been at NC State, and have you had to tell them?
I think some of them do because we talked about it a couple years ago when we had back-to-back nine-win seasons. We had talked about it back then, and there’s a few guys, oldheads, that are still here from that. But you’re right, there’s a lot of guys that aren’t. I’ll have to do a good job of continuing, which we did on Sunday, to talk about what’s in front of us and what our opportunities are.

So, there’s been an 11-win team. There’s been several nine-win teams. There hasn’t been a 10-win team. This is an opportunity as a senior class from a legacy standpoint to have something to talk about if we can do that. As you know, it won’t happen if we don’t win the next one. That’s where we’ve got to put all of our eggs right now. 

Do you become the biggest Clemson and Boston College fan the next two weeks?
I mean, I’m not going to wish ill will on anybody. I’m going to cheer for us, and cheering for us means we want everyone to lose that needs to lose. I have to focus on what we control on this side of it. Lord knows we’ve had enough bad luck throughout the years, so it’d be good to have a little good luck down the stretch here. We’re going to do that on our side, and then say our prayers and light our candles and do all the different ritual things we can to see if we can get some luck down the stretch. 

On if he got the sense Emezie was really in a groove Saturday and was wanting to funnel stuff to him.
From the get, they had injuries at corner, and we knew that. That was part of our game plan, as you saw. The first play we ended up throwing to Emeka, and the second play we threw deep to Devin [Carter]. We wanted to attack their corners. Unfortunately we didn’t get enough points doing that early, but as the game went on we did.

Emeka played a really good football game. He made some really great catches, which he always does. He made his routine catches. He had some good runs after the catch. It was great to see him play that way in his last time playing that team. We all know how his career started against that team. It was great to see him play that way against Wake. 

On if he watches film specifically of the teams who have had a lot of success moving the ball against Syracuse…
We watch every film. You’re going to look at the statistics of every game on both sides of the football and special teams. Who did well, who didn’t do well and why did that happen? So, we’re definitely going to do that as part of breaking down the team and see who does things similar to us and were those things successful or not successful. And then it’s looking at the personnel matchups. Where are we going to have our hands full? Like number 18 [Cody Roscoe] for them has 20 tackles in the backfield. Eight sacks and 23 TFLs. He’s a really good player. Kingsley [Jonathan] has been there forever. I think that guy’s been there for eight years, the other defensive end number 9. That guy makes a ton of plays. They’ve got a good defensive line. I think it’s really important, and coach Garrison and coach Beck will do this and coach Roper, what part of the blocking schemes for the protections and play actions and run game fit best. Who’s had similar pictures we can study to see if our ideas are good ideas?

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