First-year NC State head coach Dave Doeren knows how Louisiana Tech will approach Saturday's opener against NC State.
He led Northern Illinois to back-to-back MAC titles, making them one of the top non-BCS teams in the country. Louisiana Tech has also been in that group. Two years ago, Louisiana Tech won at Ole Miss and lost in overtime at Mississippi State from the SEC. Last season they won at Virginia of the ACC and at Illinois in the Big Ten.
They also pushed eventual 11-win Texas A&M from the SEC to the end, falling 59-57 in Shreveport, La.
Doeren knows that Louisiana Tech is the type of team that will play with a "chip on your shoulder."
"The bottom line is those kids are not going to be afraid to play here," Doeren said. "They are going to be excited to play here. They are used to travel and playing tough games. I know what's coming, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure our guys understand that.
"I have a great appreciation for the underdog role, not just from when I was [at Northern Illinois] but at other schools and just personally being a guy that nobody recruited out of high school."
Louisiana Tech and NC State are both similar teams in a lot of ways. Both have new staffs and are also replacing big percentages of last year's starters. The biggest battle for NCSU that remains to be decided is at quarterback.
Doeren said that by post-practice Wednesday he expects that fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell and redshirt junior Pete Thomas should have a better understanding of what their respective roles will be Saturday. Both will get a lot of reps in practice beforehand.
"We talked a lot with all the quarterbacks with where they stand and what they need to work on," Doeren said. "There isn't a magical reps count that we talked about with those guys or first play or anything like that yet."
Both quarterbacks have been told by Doeren repeatedly that their main focus is not necessarily to win the game, but rather not to lose it.
"They can both throw the football," he said. "They don't need to try to make perfect throws all the time."
If the quarterback can manage the game well, State's schedule with four home games to start the season sets up to get the Pack on a potential early roll. Doeren though also knows that with a new staff, there will be learning curve for both players and coaches, some of which will include growing pains.
Noting that he was told a week after taking the job at NCSU that he would likely field the youngest team in the ACC, Doeren said that, "you are going to have some gameday things that happen that have to happen for a guy to grow as a player."
"We have a great opportunity to learn from my first year at Northern when we didn't start the way I hoped we would have," Doeren added. "We were 2-3 there after five games. I learned a lot during those five games. I think I will learn a lot from game one to game two, game two to game three here about who we are as a team, what we need to do to get better."
One of Doeren's quickest lessons learned will be the gameday atmosphere at "The Carter," as Doeren twice referred to Carter-Finley Stadium during his Monday press conference.
"That's the one thing people have been telling me, wait till you get to Carter on gameday," Doeren said. "I can watch film and see all of that as much as I want, but to get out there and smell the grass and hear the fans, I'm excited for that."
- Doeren said that senior reserve defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson will not play the first two games for reasons he described as "university policy." State had earlier suspended sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton for the opener after he was charged with misdemeanor assault on a female over the summer.
Doeren though praised Thronton's attitude since then as "phenomenal."
"I am very proud of him right now," Doeren said. "I think he's grown a lot. He's worked extremely hard. I'm very proud of the way he has handled the situation. It hasn't been easy or fun, but he's come to work every day with a great attitude and been very supportive of his teammates."
- Over the summer, NCSU players combined for a team grade point average over 2.8, and all players are academically eligible for the fall, including senior Deylan Buntyn and redshirt sophomore Carlos Gray, a pair of reserve defensive tackles that will bolster the depth at the position.
Doeren also said that freshman Monty Nelson will play. Had he not been injured, Nelson's classmate Kenton Gibbs also would have likely played this fall.
- Another true freshman that will definitely play is running back Matt Dayes.
"You'll see a lot of Matt Dayes," Doeren clarified. "Not sure how many carries yet, but he's going to play. Obviously the better play the more he'll play. I like the way Matt has played. I like the way he is preparing."
- One position battle that had been lost in the shadows of the quarterback spot was on the interior of the offensive line. Redshirt sophomore Joe Thuney, for now, has settled in at right guard, and JUCO import Quinton Schooley will handle center.
Doeren said that Schooley is a smart player that has been consistent with his snapping, and the move frees up Thuney to use his athleticism more effectively at guard.
"I think he feels like he can play faster at guard than he can at center because it's one less responsibility," Doeren said.
- The nickel back position on defense remains to be clarified. State has options. Senior Dontae Johnson, whom Doeren praised for having "one of the best fall camps I have seen as far as consistency," has experience in the past and could slide inside if needed. During the spring, the defensive coaches had settled on Johnson moving to nickel and redshirt freshman Niles Clark replacing Johnson as an outside corner.
Clark though was slowed this preseason camp with a hamstring injury and just recently returned to practice. Now State is looking at either reserve redshirt sophomore safety Tim Buckley or freshman Jack Tocho playing nickel. Tocho had been getting a lot of reps there before he suffered a recent minor injury.
- In addition to the team's GPA over the summer, Doeren was excited to note that the players accumulated over 1,100 hours of community service. He said that he challenged each player to do 10 hours during the year, and they surpassed it in one summer.
"I think that says a lot about just the way that we're approaching things here and that they give to a city that gives a lot back in return," Doeren said.