I think everybody in this building, for sure, is excited for game week to be here. There was a good look in their eye yesterday. There comes a point in time where every guy is sick of hitting their teammates. And for us as coaches in the first year, just getting out there with them and seeing how they handle game day and some guys play a lot better in those situations and other guys don't... just starting to see those pieces and how they interact.
I'm excited about where our guys are right now. We've had three very good practices toward Louisiana Tech and today is our day off for them to focus on academics and kind of clean up the gameplan on offense, defense and special teams as coaches and they get the guys back tomorrow.
We play a team similar to us in they have a new staff. A lot of transition. They lost a lot of starters. As you guys have read, one of the teams that's lost more starters than anybody, we're right there next to them. Skip Holtz, a very experienced, very good football coach familiar with N.C. State and the players from our state, the talent level in this state.
I think coming from a mid-major program myself, I have a very good understanding of how they'll approach us in this game. When you look at Louisiana Tech over the past two years they've beaten three BCS programs including Illinois on the road last year, Virginia on the road last year and a close loss to A&M the year before, beating Ole Miss and losing to Mississippi State in overtime I believe.
Bottomline is their kids are going to be afraid to play here. They're going to be excited to play here. And they're used to traveling in tough preseason games. So, I know what's coming and we're going to do everything we can to make sure our guys understand that.
Thoughts on La. Tech:
They're probably a little bit like us right now. We're relying on film from a lot of different schools and we're doing the same with their staff.
Last year, obviously, we're studying their personnel on Louisiana Tech's film and offensively, they were a spread offense that averaged 87 plays per game. Then they go and hire Tony Peterson as the offensive coordinator from Marshall. He averaged 90 plays per game calling the plays at Marshall. I think the top-two plays per game teams are tied together offensively; Louisiana Tech with what they used to do and who they hired on offense.
An offense that averaged close to 600 yards per game. They were very balanced. You look at who they have back with the addition of Texas Tech quarterback Scotty Young. They do have four new starters on the offensive line but D.J. Banks was a really good returner for them last year.
Probably one of the best freshman tailbacks in all of college football... Kenny Dixon had 27 touchdowns as a freshman All-American.
It's a strength for them offensively, and defensively they've switched to a 4-2-5 scheme. They were a 4-3 scheme a year ago. Gave up a lot of yards, didn't play well at times on defense last year and you can see when you read coach Holtz's interviews there are a lot different in how they approach their defense.
They've got four redshirt seniors on their defensive line. Anytime you're experienced on your defensive front, that's good for your defense. They added several linebackers from junior college ranks and transfer ranks, I think there's four. There's an article about a week ago about how the linebacker group went from being about two-strong to seven-strong as a position group, which will help them. Four redshirt senior defensive linemen and seven linebackers that you can count on.
I think the biggest question mark for them, and it's not because of talent, but age is secondary, just being young. I think they have one player back with veteran experience. A lot of new faces back there, some redshirts, some transfers.
One thing I've seen is how they've talked about how untested they are on special teams. They have one new starter and they had what I think was the best punter in college football for two years in a row that has to be replaced. I know there's a battle there for their kickers.
But it's a very veteran staff. A team that will play a lot like the Fresno state, Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech. Those kids that play with a chip on their shoulder-type teams that play on the road early in the season, and not afraid to do it.
We look forward to the challenge and are very excited to start the season. As a staff, as a team, we're very excited to get back into the Carter and have a game with our fans. I know there's a lot of players for us that will be playing in their first college games whether they're freshmen, transfers or guys that redshirted a year ago that are excited to play.
Thoughts on QB situation:
We've talked with all of the quarterbacks about where they stand and what they need to work on.
There isn't a magical count that we've talked about with those guys, or first play or anything like that yet. By the end of the practice Wednesday I think there will be a real firm grasp on those guys parts. I've told both of them that they need to be ready to be our guy, at what point that happens... to be ready when their name is called. They're both excited. I think they know in a 12-game season that's a good possibility.
More thoughts on La. Tech's attitude:
It's funny because I've been on both sides of it multiple times now. I have a great appreciation for the underdog role, not just from when I was there, but from other schools and personally being a dude that nobody recruited out of high school.
I know how you get that feel, and I know with coach Holtz having been at ECU, he knows how to motivate his players in this kind of situation. I think our focus and a lot of people's is but our focus right now is just on us. I think that unknown of us playing with a new staff with new coaches and a new scheme and a lot of new players that you can't even find tape on right now because they weren't playing last year.
For them, you really have to focus on yourself and how you're going to play. I think if that's where our focus is, and not what people are saying about the game then we'll come out and play the way we're supposed to play. I think if you read into how you're supposed to do and what you think you're going to do, you'll have problems in these types of games.
How have you been splitting reps at quarterback?
They both get plenty of reps in practice. That's the thing with the no-huddle, you get so many reps. Brandon and Pete will both get similar rep counts and based on how fast we get through what we script, sometimes you'll get double what you thought you were going to get. There's very rarely a practice where you don't feel like you got enough work for those guys and sometimes the third quarterback will get some.
How has Dontae Johnson progressed?
I'm excited about what Dontae's done. He's had one of the best fall camps that I've seen in a defensive back as far as consistency. He's improved the things we talked about after the spring. Some things we thought he could do better. Mentally, he's done what he needs to do to get ready for his senior year.
Thoughts On Defensive Backs:
Now we need to see these guys play. I think I said this after one of the scrimmages; a safety's jobs is to tackle. They probably have the most appropriately named position on the field. Those guys are the safety valve of the defense. If they don't make the tackle then the wrong band is playing.
We're going to find out what our secondary is now that it's live. Louisiana Tech, they've got some guys that can run and make big plays after the catch that are big play types of guys in space.
I feel good coming out of fall camp with the amount of tacking we were able to do, now we find out what kind of tacklers we are, what kind of guys we are when we play the ball in the air, when the flags are flying around.
How much will Matt Dayes play?
A lot. You'll see a lot of Matt Dayes... not sure how many carries yet. Obviously the better he plays, the more he'll play, but I like what Matt's done. I like the way he's preparing.
I like what the coaches have done, not just for him, but for Tony Creecy as far as the type of plays he's getting and how we personnel different our groups to use their strengths. I look forward to watching Matt in his first game.
Thoughts on Ryan Cheek at fullback:
Ryan's made great progress. You can tell he's played the position in high school. He has good hands, physical blocker. What you'd expect for a linebacker moving over there.
Personally, I think it's helped Purvis having Ryan. Now he doesn't have so much of the load. We're excited about what that combination can bring for us because they're versatile guys. They move well in space and catch. Both of them block.
Can you talk about the two freshman wideouts on the two deep, Bra'lon Cherry and Marquez Valdes-Scandling?
Marquez is a long, 6'3" guy that will go get the ball. He can adjust when it's up in the air. He's a guy that snatches the ball, goes up and gets it confidently and gets it with his hands. He was one of the better track guys in the state of Florida, so he has legitimate speed down the field. He's a competitor too. And that's the thing, even his blocking is impressive.
Bra'Lon is a guy that you love to coach. He's the same guy every day. He doesn't say a lot. He smiles. He works hard. He'll make a mistake here and there but he comes back every day with a great attitude. His best days, since I've been here, were all scrimmage days, which can excite you about what he can bring to a game day.
How much did enrolling early help Cherry?
Quite a bit. He's changed his body a lot. I think he's 10-15 pounds different than when he got here. Not having to re-learn the offense this fall like the other freshmen did and just knowing it allowed him to start faster than he would've. It gives us a chance from the depth standpoint to kind of feel like he's not a freshman because of how many reps he's taken in practice.
How do you approach the QB situation if one has a bad day?
I haven't seen a bad day yet, so obviously that's encouraging. They've had some bad plays but you just coach them through it. I think you kind of expect that a little bit.
One thing I've tried to continue to express to both of them is that it's not their job to win the game for us, it's their job not to lose it and just distribute the football, make smart choices and they both have God-given abilities as a thrower. Both of them can throw the football. They don't need to make perfect throws., just put it where coach Canada said it should go. Give them a catchable ball and not throw it into bad plays. Execute the gameplan.
Those are the kind of things we talk about with our quarterbacks a lot. Not to diminish the importance of making plays because that's obviously what you want. But if the emphasis is on that instead of doing what you're supposed to do, then it's lost.
Were snaps a reason why Joe Thuney was moved from center to guard?
That and we felt like Thuney is such a good puller. Having him in that position with some of the schemes that can get him out in space. At guard or at center he pulls but more at guard with our power scheme that we like to run... very good there.
We felt like having them next to each other, you've got two really smart guys on the interior. Just trying to get our best five out there. For us that was the right move.
Thoughts on center Quinton Schooley:
He was a tackle in junior college and oddly enough was a middle linebacker in high school. Quinton's a very athletic interior linemen. He's been really consistent with his snaps... very smart kid. He makes all of the calls.
Joe would be the next guy if we had something happen to Quinton. He feels like he can play faster maybe at guard than at center because it's one less responsibility.
Thoughts on La. Tech's 4-2-5 scheme:
Just playing against those teams, I think it'll be similar to playing North Carolina's alignments. They call their star player... he'll be more like a field linebacker for them. I'd anticipate seeing a lot of different zone coverage schemes and some man-free.
Just reading the comments, coach Holtz wants to protect his defense more. With all of the things nowadays that people do on offense, it's hard to sit in man-to-man all game long. The 4-2-5, a lot of teams like Virginia Tech is the first team that made it famous, so we'll see whether they are going to drop their safety in or how they're going to play us.
A traditional 4-2-5 defense is going to add that fifth defensive back to the field most of the time. So we'll see how they do it, and we'll adjust early if that's not what it is.
Thoughts on his nickel cornerback situation:
We've got three different guys that have repped there. Obviously Dontae Johnson can be in the middle, he's done that a lot. Tim Buckley has taken a lot of reps in there for us as well. And Jack Tocho was quite a bit too before he got a little bit of a ding. Once we get Jack back I think you'll see Jack, or Tim, or Dontae play inside, kind of depends on where we're at health-wise.
We do like having Dontae and Justin outside at corner in passing situations. We lost Niles for two weeks in training camp with a hamstring injury. In the spring we finished with Dontae in the nickel and Niles and Justin outside. Once he's healthy and comes back we could see where he ends up. He's only been back 3-4 days.
You have several freshmen on the two-deep.
Well, they told me maybe a week after I got the job that we were going to be the youngest team in the ACC. That's good and bad.
I think that you get a lot of guys out there that don't know any better and go hard. But, you're also going to have gameday things happen that have to happen for a guy to grow as a player. Unfortunately you have to grow through those as a team, and we hope to minimize that as much as we can... putting them in situations in practice to get through it.
We'll get through the bumps with them, but I'm excited about what happens over time to do that. I know at Northern Illinois we played a ton of true freshmen my first year there. Those are the same guys that made that team into an Orange Bowl team a few years later. I think those experiences help a football team over time when you're building.
Talk about senior Zach Gentry now starting at middle linebacker:
I told Hux about six days into camp that Zach can be your heartbeat. He is just tough. He's missing a front tooth. He never takes a play off. He loves contact. He's never ever a guy that you hear a complaint out of. He just plays defense the way a linebacker's supposed to play defense.
I'm not saying he's perfect, but he's tough and he chases the football. He's mean. Those are the kind of things I want our guys to be like. I think just having that kind of attribute in the middle is something that makes you better.
Robert Caldwell is going to play a lot too. You have to rotate when you have a team that's going to snap the ball as much as La. Tech/Marshall did last year. We have to expect to have both of those guys in and out of the game.
You start the season with four home games:
I'm looking at it as our first game and where do we go from there.
I think there was a great opportunity my first year at Northern where we didn't start the way I hope we would have started. We were 2-3 there after five games. I learned a lot there.
I think I'll learn a lot from game one to game two and game two to game three about who we are and where we need to get a lot better. If you can get out and start out the way you wanted to start out that's great, but there's a lot of unanswered questions about our personnel that needs to get answered in a gameday atmosphere right now.
Thoughts on the defensive tackles:
I feel good about our depth.
Carlos Gray and Deylan Buntyn who were trying to get their academics straightened out... they were two guys that haven't done well prior to me getting here and they both did a great job academically in the spring and summer to get eligible. So they've been with us all fall and I'm excited to get what those two guys have done to improve our depth.
T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal coming out of the spring had established themselves as our top-two tackles. And now having Carlos and Deylan to rotate.
Monty Nelson, a true freshman, is going to play. He's had a really good camp... kind of expected him to play well because of how he looked. He's 310 pounds, he can run, he's got huge hands, a huge wingspan. So he'll play.
Unfortunately I lost Kenton Gibbs, which we've talked about already. He was going to play. He had a really good camp. A.J. [Ferguson] will not play in the first couple of games, and then after that you'll begin to see him again. Right now A.J. is out of the lineup for two weeks [University policy].
How has Shadrach Thornton handled his situation?
[Shadrach] Very proud of him right now. He's seen a huge change. Very humbled. I think he's grown a lot.... he has worked extremely hard. I'm very proud of how the way he's handled a situation that hasn't been easy or fun.
He's come to work everyday with a great attitude and has been extremely supportive of his teammates.