On the surface, Dave Doeren's decision to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada in January probably didn't make a lot of sense.
The Wolfpack had one of the most efficient offenses in the country, ranking third in the ACC in scoring offense (33.2 ppg) while totaling the least amount of turnovers in the league. Canada was his big hire when NC State lured Doeren away from Northern Illinois in 2013, and things seemed to be going well.
However, Doeren, who has made coaching changes after each of his first three seasons in Raleigh, felt something was missing.
"There's just times where I didn't think we scored enough points, obviously," Doeren replied when asked of the change at ACC Football Kickoff. "It wasn't a change made because I didn't like our offense."
It's obvious Doeren felt like NC State had to implement new elements offensively to compete at a higher level against the league's elite. Georgia Tech, with Paul Johnson's triple option offense, won the Coastal Division two years ago and has the league's last two wins against Clemson and Florida State. Tech is certainly different. Doeren wasn't going to go the triple option route, but instead he wanted to make changes in terms of getting the ball out on the perimeter quickly and picking up the tempo.
It comes down to putting the Wolfpack's offensive players in the best position possible to succeed, and Doeren believed making a change at the top would be beneficial.
"Just being in this league now for going on four years and realizing what I'm up against maybe better than I ever have because I've lost some close games now," he added. "Back to back to back years to a Clemson or Florida State or a Louisville... we've got to be really creative. We've got to do things that some other people don't do. We've got to put our players in a position where they can compete, sometimes, against guys that are better than them."
An uptempo offense isn't new under Doeren. In fact, State looked to play with pace in his first season but did so with mixed results at best. Star tailback Matt Dayes was on that team, and he feels this time around the Wolfpack will be more successful, even though he was initially skeptical of the change.
"I was nervous about [playing uptempo] at first because of my freshman year, but after going through it in spring ball it was actually a fun offense to play in," he said. "It was more effective than what it was my freshman year when we had that type of offense. It was more effective, the ball was getting there, and everyone had great timing... my freshman year a lot of different players were freshmen and they didn't have the timing with the quarterbacks."
Look for the Wolfpack to really push the pace in 2016, for a variety of reasons.
"The tempo is going to be drastically different," Doeren said. "We were a huddle football team last year, ball-control team. We had a veteran offensive line. That was something we thought was to our benefit. Jacoby was somebody we felt in the huddle had a good presence. We wanted him talking to the players.
"We're different. We're younger on the offensive line. We're playing against, everybody knows, the hardest schedule in the ACC. We're playing some veteran D lines. To give my offensive line the best chance they can have, playing up-tempo would help them."
New offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz held the position at Boise State in 2015, leading one of the top offenses in the country. Boise State ranked No. 15 nationally in scoring offense (39.1 ppg) and No. 15 in total offense (501.3 ypg) with Drinkwitz at the helm. He loves playing fast, and he uses a no-huddle approach.
Maybe more importantly, he will look to improve the Wolfpack's passing game. Last year NC State, with third-rounder Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, ranked No. 78 in pass offense, averaging just 210.8 yards per game. Boise State, who was starting a true freshman at quarterback in Brett Rypien, finished No. 16 nationally in passing offense (309.9 ypg). NC State attempted just 31.8 passes per game (67th most), but Drinkwitz and Boise averaged 40.3 pass attempts per game, the 10th-most in the country.
Look for Drinkwitz and the Wolfpack to pass it around a lot more as he'll add new wrinkles with his screen game and perimeter passing attack.
"The guy who I ended up hiring, Eliah Drinkwitz... our pass game's different," said Doeren. "Some of the things he believes in screen-wise is different. How he packages things is different. Obviously, being able to play no huddle, which we did at times, it's more of what we're going to do on a regular basis.
"Coach's system... he does put the ball in the quick game part of what we do, the screens. Perimeter passing game will look a lot different. Formationally, there's not a lot he does that's different than what we did before. I think it's just how fast it's happening. Some of the play selection is different."
The coaching and scheme changes led to some struggles offensively during the spring, as that unit had very few strong outings against the Wolfpack's defensive. However, that's to be expected given the continuity on the defensive side of the ball.
"I've said this about our quarterbacks, but I think it's true for everybody," said Doeren. "When you learn a system, whether you were a transfer who just came in or you're a player on offense right now for us, you're going to go through a learning curve and you're not going to look like the player on the other side of the ball that already knows it.
"Our defense this spring wasn't thinking at all and our offense was thinking a lot. You can't judge too much. You just keep understanding that it's going to get better and better and better. That's what we told all those guys. This summer's important. Now that we're allowed to coach them in summer, we retaught everything again. You're able to spend that time with those guys so that when you get to fall camp, it's the third or fourth or fifth time, now. You're going to start to see that exponential growth from certain players."
Matt Canada is an above-average offensive coordinator, and he was quickly hired by ACC foe Pittsburgh. Doeren knows he is taking a risk, but the feeling that NC State had to take a different approach offensively couldn't be ignored.
"I thought Coach Canada did a really good job for us," said Doeren. "I wanted to be different than we were, more than anything. I felt like to be different I needed to have a different guy doing it."
Attempting more passes... no-huddle... a diverse screen game... uptempo... the NC State offense will be much different in 2016.