On the surface, NC State simply fell to 5-3 overall, and 1-3 in league play. Another year, another Atlantic Division elimination. Hell, the Pack didn’t even cover the spread. But beyond that, you should be dancing for joy. For rest assured, Dave Doeren fully knows what he is doing.
What changed on Saturday? Coach Doeren finally did something that I have been waiting for. Something that a Wolfpack coach really hadn’t done since Mike O’Cain went for two in the Carrier Dome a million years ago.
He showed real understanding of the concept of leverage. The mathematics of analyzing and playing the hand that you are dealt. Like any objective observer, Doeren knew the monumental nature of his task on Saturday. The 2015 Clemson Tigers are freaking loaded for bear. Especially when they have the ball on offense, they were going to be at a significant size and speed advantage at…Every. Single. Matchup. All over the field. But especially in the secondary.
Now, you don’t roll over and play dead. You still punch ’em in the mouth, and make ’em earn everything they get. But you also have to realize your situation, and plan accordingly.
And that’s exactly what Dave Doeren did. We had 10-7 offsuit, and we played the hell out of it. No shame in not clearing out the table with that hand.
All week, Doeren reminded his charges of unexpected ways to find scoring opportunities, getting into position to win (like GT blocking FSU’s winning FG). Look for the back door. An opening. Catch special teams napping (onside kick #1). Just the fact that we took the time to practice two masterful onside kick plays – that impresses the hell out of me. That shows REAL commitment to winning this game. And as we get more talent in the pipeline, just imagine what we can do if we keep playing our cards aggressively?
That is to say, mathematically CORRECTLY. I will point to Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who, to his credit, took the time to self-evaluate, and listen to the statistical argument that he was being too conservative on 4th down (as almost all coaches are). You see, playing it conservative “by the book” tends not to get a tremendous amount of criticism, certainly by the “respectable” media. You just did what was expected, followed the herd. But take a risk, HOWEVER JUSTIFIED, and people fall into logical traps, and judge it solely based on whether it worked or not. That’s like saying that every incomplete pass is a bad play call. And the first coach to start really using the forward pass? I’m sure he heard critiques like that, because it wasn’t “by the book.”
There is no way you will convince me that Doeren didn’t understand going in that we would need extra possessions. Clemson just had too much of a physical advantage. Even the return TD wasn’t nearly enough to balance the scales. Once we had injuries (particularly in the secondary), it was a no-brainer. We were gassed and beat-up. The odds of winning playing it safe were almost zero. Being aggressive increased those odds, even though it didn’t work. A chance is just a chance, after all.
Especially after a decade-plus of Amato and TOB egotistically and/or stubbornly insisting on “winning” a certain way (that didn’t fit our strengths, personnel, or basic reality in any way, shape, or form), I am damned happy that Dave Doeren THINKS. It won’t always work, but that process will give us the best results over the long haul.
That, along with his continued hard, steady work recruiting. As you saw…we still need plenty of size, speed, and depth on the field.