Doeren: Wolfpack is Playing Like it Practices

Brett Friedlander

College football coaches are famous for saying that games aren't won on Saturdays, they're won and lost during the week at practice.

And that's held true for NC State.

Coach Dave Doeren lamented that his team's preparation -- or lack thereof -- played a major role in its only loss of the season, in Week 2 at Virginia Tech. Since then, the Wolfpack has remained focused and on point and it hasn't lost since. 

While practicing well doesn't guarantee victory, it gives teams more of a chance to win than the alternative.

Here's what Doeren said Thursday about playing like you practice and several other subjects during his final meeting with the media before Saturday's rivalry game at North Carolina:

"I think the standard has been set. Our job is to try and raise it. So this week it was ‘Let’s have the best Tuesday we’ve had all year. Let’s have the best Wednesday’ and so on. It’s just trying to do one thing better than you did the last time you had an opportunity. That’s kind of the mantra that we have right now. It’s all about being the 22 guys in the two-deep on each side of the ball just being a little bit better each day of the week that they go out there."

Not only is Doeren happy with the way his team is practicing, he's even more thrilled about the way his linebacking corps is playing ...

"It’s a fun group to watch. I think they feed off each other’s energy. They’re active. They understand the scheme. They are playing fast, and they are very talented. It’s been fun watching that group this year. I don’t expect it to slow down. 

"The way these guys are playing, the way they are picking things up right now, it’s a lot of fun to see Payton (Wilson) and Drake (Thomas) and Isaiah (Moore) just feed off of each other. Then Levi (Jones) with what he’s been doing on third down, too."

Doeren was asked about the role Bailey Hockman might play in State's ground game on Saturday, given UNC's trouble defending running quarterbacks over the past two weeks.

"We’ll just have to see on Saturday. We definitely need to be able to run the ball to help Bailey. I think the run game is a big part of his success being in there, just because the play actions and the nakeds and full protections you can do with downfield play action.

"All that stuff is better when you are able to run the football. Whether it’s a tailback run or a quarterback run or a receiver run with some of our jets that we do, we’ve got to be able to run the football in this game."

As important as it is to run the ball, Doeren said that it's even more important to stop the run -- something the Wolfpack has done well in each of the past three wins ...

"I think stopping the run is a collective thing. The way that college football is now with so many perimeter plays, it always starts inside out with your nose guard, and we are getting very good nose guard play. Then it goes to the leverage on the edges of your defense, and we’ve been sound in those areas for the most part. And then it is pursuing the football.

"I think all of it just kind of ties together. If you’re soft in the middle, then you’ve got no chance. If you don’t leverage the ball in pursuit, then it doesn’t matter. I think our guys just understand the 11-man approach that we are taking and whose job it is to do what, and then just be a guy that’s not going to be blocked by a single person and just get extra people there."

Doeren was asked about the progress of backup quarterback Ben Finley, who is not only one play away from going into a game for the first time.

"During training camp when we lost Devin (Leary) to the contact tracing thing, we were able to soak Ben and Bailey at that time. Ben’s done a really good job understanding the offense. 

"We do developmental practice every Friday where he gets to run our skellys. He hasn’t really looked like a guy that hasn’t practiced. He’s had a very good week. He’s ready to play if called upon. I think he’s done a really good job of preparing himself for his moment when it comes."

And finally, he was asked about how dangerous UNC's passing game is, especially against a depleted Wolfpack secondary.

"I think when I watch them, first of all, they are very skilled -- running back, wideout, tight end and quarterback. The biggest thing you see this year is the quarterback, Sam (Howell), gets out of trouble and extends plays, not by running down the field but by letting his receivers get open as he scrambles. There’s a lot of explosive plays that way in their offense. 

"You’ve got to tackle their quick game, tackle their hitches, tackle their screens and all that. That’s every week. But he is really, really good at getting out of trouble and extending plays. We’ve got to be disciplined, one in keeping him in the pocket, but two staying on our guys in coverage."

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