Sept. 27, 2013
Thursday Football Notebook
Game 4: NC State Wolfpack vs. Central Michigan Chippewas
September 28, 2013 3:30 p.m.
Raleigh, N.C. Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: ESPN3/Available TV Markets | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
RALEIGH, N.C. - A mere three games into his tenure as NC State's head football coach, Dave Doeren is coming to grips with his team's strengths, weaknesses and everything else in between. His conclusions could likely produce adjustments that he hopes will bode well for the rest of the 2013 season.
Some of those theories will be put to the test against a familiar foe when Central Michigan (1-3) visits Carter-Finley Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. tilt on Saturday. When he was leading Northern Illinois to back-to-back MAC titles in 2011 and 2012, Doeren's Huskies split a pair of games against the Chippewas.
Central Michigan was, in fact, the last team to post a conference win over Northern Illinois when it recorded a fairly epic 48-41 triumph over NIU in 2011. Doeren eventually got the last laugh, however, when his Huskies went on to roll the table the rest of the way in winning the first of their two championships. Northern Illinois then avenged that defeat from the year before by throttling the Chipewas last season, 55-24.
"It's a team I've played against twice the last two years," Doeren said. "I know the coaching staff and the lay of the land there. I'm excited to play them. When you lose a game like we did (to Clemson), the best thing for the coaches and players is go back and play another game. I do think we did show very good improvement and we need to continue to do that as we get closer to playing all conference games."
Starting with next Saturday's road trip to Wake Forest, NC State (2-1) will play six straight ACC games following this weekend's next to last non-conference contest against Central Michigan.
Last Thursday's competitive yet disappointing 26-14 loss to third-ranked Clemson provided Doeren and his staff with plenty of feedback. On one hand, the NC State staff learned that it had a team that is fully capable of competing at a very high level and doing so with one of the more talented teams in the country. On the flip side, the 12-point loss to the Tigers exposed just how fragile a team the Wolfpack will be for the rest of the season. With nine penalties and a minus-two turnover margin in the game, NC State's fairly small margin for error shrunk even further against the powerful Tigers. Overall, NC State has been penalized 19 times over its last two games, prompting Doeren to proclaim `discipline' as the word of the week.
"The week before in the Richmond game we had a lot of defensive penalties and none on offense," said Doeren. "The next week against Clemson it was flip-flopped when we had five penalties on offense and a few on special teams. Part of what we do on offense is show a lot of looks, a lot of shifts and a lot of motions that require a lot of focus. Some of the mistakes we're making are mental and we've got to clean those up."
NC State quarterback Pete Thomas, who has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 662 yards in three games, has been a work in progress since he moved into the starting job after Brandon Mitchell broke his foot in game one against Louisiana Tech. Thomas has clearly gotten better and more comfortable each week, improvement he hopes will translate to more polished offensive performances in upcoming games.
"As an offense, we can't beat ourselves and that starts with me," Thomas said. "Some of those procedure penalties were because of me; the snap count was a little off. I need to be more accurate and make quicker decisions. It makes it harder for the defense when the quarterback is getting the ball out quick, and that's what I need to do to help our offensive line."
In Thomas' defense, the offensive line in front of him has hardly been a model of stability. After filling in for Rob Crisp at left tackle last week, redshirt sophomore Joe Thuney has already played three different positions in three games.
And while the NC State offense continues to search for a little more consistency, the Wolfpack defense offered some glimpses of tremendous potential against Clemson's potent offensive attack. In holding the Tigers to 26 points and 415 yards last week, the Wolfpack defense took it right to Tajh Boyd and company, making them look rather mortal at times. Among other things, the Pack found some holes in Clemson's veteran offensive line by recording 13 tackles for loss.
In his second straight start, middle linebacker Robert Caldwell did much of the damage, recording 13 tackles against the Tigers. Over his last two games, Caldwell has 25 total stops.
There's every reason to believe that Caldwell will have plenty of chances to add to that total on Saturday against a Central Michigan offense that usually employs a run-first philosophy. In last week's 38-17 loss at Toledo, sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii piled up a career-high 144 yards in a losing cause. Lavallii is replacing the injured Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Chippewas last season.
After losing starting quarterback Cody Kater (broken collarbone) earlier in the season, Central Michigan has now turned the reigns over to redshirt freshman Cooper Rush, who ranks second in the MAC in passing yards, averaging 268 yards per game.
Central Michigan's best player on offense is junior wide receiver Titus Davis, a big-play performer who ranks No. 2 in the nation among active players with a career average of 19.4 yards per catch.
"They're a team that's committed to running the football and has a blue-collar mentality that way," Doeren said. "Titus Davis is a deep-play guy who is really good when the ball is in the air and can do something with it after the catch. We're going to have to know where he is at all times."
Perhaps just as importantly, Doeren would like to know where his own team is by the end of the day. An impressive win could certainly set the tone for a challenging stretch of conference games that begins next week in Winson-Salem.
"Sunday we need to be 3-1, and the only way to get there is to handle our business against Central Michigan," Doeren said in a rather stern tone. "They've got nothing to lose against us, so we've got to get up for them. Hopefully we've learned the lesson that when we don't get up and turn the football over we can lose. That's what happened [against Richmond]. We had a game where we moved the ball up and down the field and didn't get a lot of points because of turnovers. We can't let that happen this week."
The Wolfpack Sports Network will begin its pregame coverage with the `Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff' starting at 1:30 from the Fan Zone at the front entrance of PNC Arena. Hour two of the pregame show will shift to the broadcast booth where Gary Hahn, Johnny Evans and Tony Haynes will take over. Evans will field questions from fans on Farm Bureau's `Ask the Analyst.' To forward a question about Pack football to Johnny, follow the Wolfpack Sports Network on Twitter @packradio or go here.
The pregame show will also feature comments from Dave Doeren, Pete Thomas, linebacker M.J. Salahuddin and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.