Regardless of who’s throwing the ball for NC State, one thing is consistent: Dave Doeren teams keep fighting. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the team might not win another game and now they’re bowl eligible with nine regular season wins still on the table. Let’s talk about a few of the reasons why.
- Resurgent Secondary
I recently talked about how the secondary was struggling early this season. Since then they have become, dare I say, resurgent? In the last three games against Duke, Clemson and Miami, they have allowed 107 yards, 263 yards, and 173 yards, respectively.
Duke is the outlier, obviously. They played their backup quarterback, and he was only asked to pass it 12 times, completing just four passes, one of which went for 69 yards. But the Wolfpack still limited any other big plays and got an interception.
Speaking of interceptions, the Pack are on fire this season. The takeaway bone is in full effect. They are tied for fifth(!) nationally in passes intercepted at 13. It’s easy to lose perspective of just how well they’ve been doing unless you see it listed out:
They’ve only had one game this season so far WITHOUT an interception. I’m old enough to remember potential interceptions bouncing off cornerbacks hands, so this is a huge advancement. Speaking of which, Payton Wilson was kicking himself in the postgame for dropping a likely pick six late in the Miami game. It’s nice when the dropped picks are the exception and not the standard.
2. I’ll take that, thank you
There was no finer example of impressive interceptions than this pick by Ayden White to kill a first half red zone drive by Miami. Ayden White has been on one for a long time and here shows why he’s one of the best in the country at what he does. It initially looks like he’s a step behind after the receiver did a double move, but he reads Tyler Van Dyke’s eyes perfectly and times his jump to high point the pass and not give the receiver a glimmer of hope of catching it. We should be appreciating his play while he’s here, he ought to be playing on Sundays next year.
3. It’s not just about interceptions, though
Against Clemson, Devan Boykin had one of the best tackles you’ll see out of the nickel position. There are very rarely cases of blown assignments on this defense. This was a third and 11 play and Cade Klubnik threw to the crossing route. Had Boykin not been there, the receiver had a lot of green ahead of him and may have picked up the first down, though it would have been tough since the pass was caught a few yards behind the line of scrimmage.
3b. But Boykin read the play immediately. He knew the assignment and locked in on Troy Stellato like a homing missile. He timed his attack perfectly, dropping Stellato for a loss and stalling the Clemson drive. Just look at the amount of ground he covers after the snap, going from the left hash to past the right hash in the time it takes Klubnik to complete a five step drop and complete a short pass. It seems like the secondary unit has taken the challenge to improve after giving up many long pass plays earlier in the season and done so week after week.
4. The defensive line wants to get in on the action too!
Red Hibbler has been a revelation at defensive end this season. Here, he gets a sack fumble with the Pack rushing only three. The defense showed a Wilson blitz but he backed out into coverage. Hibbler blows past the right tackle and gets his hand on the ball to knock it loose. Because NC State disguised their rush, the Miami right guard stayed home expecting Payton Wilson to rush in. When he doesn’t, the RG has left his RT to handle Hibbler alone, which obviously didn’t work out well for them.
5. Davin Vann has entered the chat
Again the Pack only rush three, and Davin Vann gets the sack on Van Dyke. The Pack faked a CB blitz, leaving the RT on an island with nobody to guard. Vann spins through the RG to get to Van Dyke, who initially seems to get away but Vann persists and gets him with the shoestring tackle.
Every year we worry about what the defense will do when player X or Y leaves, this was especially true after so many left last year. Yes, obviously Payton Wilson has been the anchor and he will be sorely missed next year, but guys like Vann and Hibbler show that there are still dudes to hold it down when others move on.
6. Special Recognition Award
When we talk about the team banding together to do whatever is asked of them to win, special recognition must be given to none other than Jordan Poole. I would imagine it hasn’t been easy for the former four star LB recruit. With so many experienced players at that position, it has been hard for Poole to crack the rotation. Dave Doeren has a long track record in recognizing a player’s potential and asking them to change positions. He’s moved linemen from one side of the ball to the other, moved Jakobi Meyers from QB to WR, and now saw something in Jordan Poole.
He agreed to move to RB to help the team (and also it was his best chance to see the field, to be honest). Doeren obviously knew that Poole played RB in high school, so knew there was potential there. Based on his size, we would have thought he’d be in there for run blocking (this is an area of needed improvement) but here he was, catching his first collegiate reception for a touchdown.
6b. Credit goes to such a well designed play by offensive coordinator Robert Anae. It seems like the whole play was designed around Poole, having him sneak out of the backfield for the pass. Poole is lined up at fullback, MJ Morris fakes the handoff and fakes the QB draw, then floats it up for Poole to catch it. These are the types of touch passes that set Morris apart from Brennan Armstrong, these plays will be missed. Here’s hoping Armstrong can make similar throws, time will tell if he’ll even be asked to do so.
This play also relied on decent pass protection, and shout out to Delbert Mimms for throwing that last and crucial block to give Morris enough time to pass.
6c. This is not an easy route to run. Poole had a lot of ground to cover before catching the pass. He has to roll out left, then turn fully to his left to face the QB, then catch the pass going backwards, gather his feet and get his momentum going forward. So many guys would stumble at some point in this process, likely after making the catch. He showed great balance and coordination to do this in what was surely an adrenaline-filled moment for him.
6d. After he scored, you can see just how happy his teammates were for him. They must have known he’s been itching to get in on the action. It shows the close unit that a Dave Doeren culture creates. Like him or not, you can’t deny the positive vibes his teams have for one another.
This is one of the highest profile recruits Doeren has signed. He enrolled early in the spring before his freshman year. He redshirted his first year. Last year he played every game only on special teams, seeing action from scrimmage on defense only against Charleston Southern. Here’s hoping Poole can continue to see shine in his new role, as his teammates tell him, “you’re a running back now!” Check out the 1:20 mark of this video:
We will not be engaging in any talk bashing any one player’s decisions they feel are best for them. This is just the current nature of the sport, and it will only grow from here. Instead, we will be celebrating those that put in the work for those around them. A guy like Jaylon Scott could have walked away after battling through adversity and spending time as a reserve player. Now he’s a key piece in the linebacker corps as a senior. Stories like his and Poole’s have been happening all around the team, with guys moving to spots the coaches ask of them in order to help the group.
Even before recent personnel changes, Dave Doeren said he wanted the team to practice like they had lost in order to keep that edge. Doeren teams have been resilient, they very rarely lose back to back games, he has a knack for rallying the troops and having them regroup after any setbacks. This team gives off the feeling of being as close-knit as any that have come before them. I wouldn’t count them out so easily. With three games left, two on the road in tough environments the Pack has struggled with in the past, and one rivalry game, it surely won’t be easy. But we know these guys will keep fighting to the end, and I’ll be there watching.