In lieu of bowl practices, State will have to make use of a 16-day stretch between the Florida State game and Saturday's matchup with East Carolina to coach improvement. Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato said that process started last week, when the team concentrated on fundamentals in practice before breaking down film of the Pirates, lifting weights, doing agility drills and sending the coaches out recruiting.
When talking about the basics, Amato rattled off a litany of issues that have cost the Pack dearly this season.
"Protect the football. Throw it to the guy with the right-colored jersey on it. Hold that ball high and tight," Amato said. "The football is the most important thing there is. Line up properly. Know where the line of scrimmage is. Know where to put your hands so your facemask can't be over the football so they'll call you offsides. Know that your facemask must break the plane of the center or they'll call you for not enough people on the line of scrimmage.
"Little things that can help us fundamentally, so we don't beat ourselves. Because it's going to be tough enough beating a team like East Carolina. Because, as I said a long time ago, there weren't going to be any easy games this year. And there weren't. Some of them we won that we could've lost, a bunch of them we lost, we could've and should've won."
Amato grew more animated when talking about the problems with turnovers and penalties, and understandably so. State has turned the ball over 27 times this year, including 22 turnovers in the six losses, on its way to a -14 turnover margin. The Pack also ranks 115th out of 117 Division I teams with 9.3 penalties per contest.
"We cannot turn the ball over," said Amato. "And early, the turnover margin wasn't like it was later. You can't do that. When [the media asks, ‘What are the keys to the game?', coaches say, ‘Win the turnover margin.' ‘Same coaching cliché,' [says the media]. ‘No penalties.' ‘Same coaching cliché.' Then when it happens over and over, you say, ‘You're not winning because you're turning the ball over and you're making too many penalties.' I told you that every game – and win the kicking game.
"Football is really an easy game to play."
When asked what it would mean to finish with the No. 1 defense in the nation, Amato quickly corrected by saying, "The top-ranked defensive team in total yardage." He also reinforced one of his favorite sayings – "Stats are for losers" – by turning the question around.
"What's wrong with [a defensive struggle] – other than the fact that people [yawn and sigh]? Those are good games, too. And you know what? A lot of the great teams win with those kinds of games, they really do. Ohio State won a national championship that way."
So Amato & Co. have gone back to the basics, trying to find a way to end the campaign on the right note – for the seniors and the entire program -- with a complete, well-executed victory over East Carolina. When the coach was asked how much of a difference it would really make for the program to finish with a win over the Pirates rather than a five-game losing streak, he assumed an icy stare.
"I don't know if it would for the program, but it would to this guy you're looking at," Amato said. "If that's the case [a five-game losing streak], that offseason program would be real fun."