If one guy says it, it sounds like coach talk. Maybe it’s something he’s saying just to get the team’s attention.
If the head coach and the defensive coordinator each say it, moments apart, then there might be something to it.
No. 23 N.C. State (3-1) prepares for its final non-conference contest, hosting Louisiana Tech (2-2) this weekend at Carter-Finley Stadium. Don’t let the Bulldogs .500 record fool anyone — Louisiana Tech has the full attention of the Wolfpack coaching staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Through the first four games the N.C. State defense has been solid, one of the tops in the nation and the ACC. But this week is no time to rest on what they’ve done so far.
“This is probably the best offense we’ve played up to this point,” N.C. State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson told the News & Observer.
Come again? Not Mississippi State and the air raid? Not Clemson and it’s offense full of five-stars. Clearly, Gibson is being a bit extra, right?
“This is probably the best offense we’ve played,” Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren echoed just moments later. “They are really good on offense.”
Led by former East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz, the Bulldogs come into Raleigh with an offense averaging 35 points per contest. The most points N.C. State has given up all season was 24 to Mississippi State in week two. Six of those points came on the opening kickoff return. The defense played 15 quarters before giving up its first rushing touchdown of the year. One thing the Pack has done really well this season is get off the field. Through 49 possessions from the opposition, N.C. State has forced 27 three-and-outs. Against No. 9 Clemson, the Wolfpack defense forced seven straight three-and-outs.
So what’s keeping them up at night about Louisiana Tech?
Familiar face at QB
On Tuesdays each week, the N.C. State defense returns to practice and gets the first scouting report of their opponent.
Gibson starts breaking down film on Sunday and gets his game plan together by Monday. One thing that’s troubling about the Bulldogs is they’ve used three different quarterbacks this season. Austin Kendall started the first three games, then missed last week’s win over North Texas due to medical reasons.
Gibson isn’t sure if Kendall is back this week, so he’ll have his unit ready for all three.
“The good thing is we got to see two of them on film last week,” Gibson said. “And then, obviously, Kendall has played a bunch the previous games for them.”
If the name Kendall sounds familiar to Wolfpack fans, there’s a reason for that. He’s a North Carolina native, with previous stops at Oklahoma and West Virginia. In 2019 he threw for 272 yards and three scores as the Mountaineers defeated N.C. State, 44-27.
“We know Austin well, as a Charlotte native,” Doeren said. “He’s a good football player, a kid that we offered and liked a lot in high school. I don’t know what his status is, they’ve kept that kind of on the down low. But we’ll be ready for him and the other two that they played against North Texas.”
The Bulldogs’ offense is more than Kendall, who is averaging 279 yards per game passing. Running back Marcus Williams, Jr., also a North Carolina native (Rocky Mount) is an Appalachian State transfer, who leads the team in rushing. Three backs, including Williams, average more than 4.2 yards per carry.
The biggest receiving threat is the smallest guy on offense. Wide receiver Smoke Harris (5-6, 189) leads the team with 21 catches. Three other receivers average at least 14 yards per catch. The Bulldogs not only spread it around, but they like to take the top off the defense.
“They are fast. They’re well coached. They know what they are doing,” Doeren said. “There’s experience on the field. It’s going to be a formidable test, and for me it’s about the skill. They’ve got a lot of guys in the NFL from Louisiana Tech. They put people out every year. We’ve got to show up and play really well.”
N.C. State has the skill at each position to contend with the Bulldogs. The tricky part is, coming off the huge Clemson win, will the Wolfpack get complacent against Louisiana Tech?
Doeren told the media this week he won’t let that happen. That was his first talking point when he met with his team on Monday and the players received the message loud and clear.
“We have to build off that game,” defensive lineman Cory Durden said. “Instead of making that game the peak. We’re not satisfied with beating Clemson. Obviously, La. Tech is a good team and they can definitely beat you, so we’re not going to overlook these guys.”
The Bulldogs and Pack have one common opponent. Louisiana Tech played at Mississippi State in week one and led most of the game before falling 35-34. They were a Hail Mary pass away from knocking off SMU, so they could easily be 4-0 heading into Raleigh.
Doeren would like to see his team average two takeaways a game the remainder of the year. They had three in the opener against South Florida, none against Mississippi State and one each in the past two games. A team like La. Tech will put the ball in the air enough to prevent some turnover opportunities, and that can be the difference in just winning or winning big.
“That has to start,” Doeren said. “We’re winning games, if you want to blow people out, make winning games easier, you get more takeaways.”
If this is the biggest test this season, how has the N.C. State defense performed so far? Durden was asked to give a grade as they prepared for a potent Bulldogs’ offense.
“That’s tough because the football player in me wants to tell you that we’ve been playing great,” Durden said. “But that’s not the case. We’ve had good games and we’ve had times when we didn’t show up. I feel like we’ll play 45 minutes of good football and the last 15 will come back and bite us in the butt. I know our defense is good, but for us to be great we have so much more stuff to work on.”