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There was the long plane ride home and Thayer Thomas was still wired from the game.
Even after arriving back in Raleigh from Starkville, Mississippi, close to 3 a.m. Sunday morning, Thomas still wasn’t tired. His body was back in North Carolina, but his mind was still in Mississippi.
Sunday morning turned into Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t much going on. Idle time means more time to think about the game for Thomas. N.C. State dropped an out-of conference game to Mississippi State, 24-10, falling to 1-1 on the young season.
The offense moved the ball, sometimes at will, versus the Bulldogs, but came back to Raleigh with just 10 points to show for it. After a loss, the best thing to do to get over that feeling is to play the next game.
Unfortunately, the next game is usually a week away, so the first step of healing was getting back on the practice field. Actually, that was the second step, or maybe the third. Somewhere between the last game and the next is a brutally honest film session. Between Sunday and Monday, head coach Dave Doeren sprinkled in some candid conversations, with his staff, his players, even himself.
“Our guys, the thing I like about them, I can tell them the cold, hard truth and they can tell me the hard truth,” Doeren told the News & Observer on Wednesday. “We have those kinds of conversations and we’ve had them.”
Doeren added there is a lot of “pent up frustration” from everyone inside the Murphy Center this week. A lesson was learned in Starkville. N.C. State was good enough to knock off the Bulldogs on the road. For a variety of reasons - special teams blunder, inefficiencies from the offense, defensive fatigue - that didn’t happen.
After the game Doeren said the team needed to play complementary football to beat a good team like MSU. Lesson learned. What he hates more than anything, is that it took a loss for that message to get across.
“It’s unfortunate when you have as many experienced guys like we do that you have to lose a game to learn a lesson like that,” Doeren said. “It was a missed opportunity. There were a bunch of plays in that game and we didn’t make them.”
The right mindset
A team can learn just as much from a loss as they can from a win, sometimes more.
The film showed that N.C. State moved the ball into the red zone three times with trips resulting in zero points.
The team did show some fight, driving for a late touchdown - Devin Leary to Thomas - and recovering an onside kick. However, that wasn’t enough to overcome a rather forgettable effort most of the night. When his team loses, Doeren knows the film doesn’t lie and depending on how things went, there are certain things he’s looking for the following week. It varies from game to game, but heading into Saturday’s contest versus Furman (2-0), one thing comes to mind.
“In this game we just lost, I felt like we didn’t execute,” Doeren said. “There were more mental mistakes in that game than there were in the previous three games that we’ve played. I want to see us execute.”
Co-captain, and starting center, Grant Gibson, echoed his coach’s statements.
“We have to execute and that’s one thing we know as a team,” Gibson told the media. “The small things this past week beat us, the small details. We have to play better and we have to fix those things.”
Doeren said he can tell that his message after the game was well received. He can tell by the way the guys have carried themselves this week at practice; how they came into film study on Sunday, eager to see what went wrong. One thing he gave Mississippi State credit for was watching their week one film, a narrow win over Louisiana Tech, owning it and improving. He expects to see the same from his team against the Paladins.
N.C. State hasn’t played Furman since the 2017 season, an easy 33-point win. The Paladins have only given up 18 points in two games, their defense surrendering just 47.0 yards per game on the ground. Still, the Wolfpack will go into the game favored by two touchdowns. After the excitement heading into Mississippi State, nobody would be surprised if the Pack weren’t as hyped up for this game. Well, maybe one person.
“I think you could easily have that mindset, I don’t want our players to have that mindset,” Doeren said. “We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to play hard. We have to get a lot better and I really don’t look at this next opponent as Furman. It’s us, man. We need to play really well.”
Won’t overlook Furman
It would be easy for N.C. State to overlook Furman, especially considering Clemson visits Carter-Finley the following week.
The contest versus Mississippi State was prime time, with the nation watching on ESPN. The contest versus the Paladins will be played on the ACC’s nationwide collection of regional sports networks, with many locals scrambling last minute to find the channel (Bally Sports South in North Carolina).
Doeren is a perfect 7-0 versus FCS opponents during his tenure, with a 28.2 point margin of victory. Furman is just outside of the FCS top 25 this week, receiving 90 votes. But as Gibson explained, N.C. State is ready to get back on the field, to right the wrong of the product fans saw last week, regardless of the opponent.
“We treat everything the same,” Gibson said. “We worked hard this whole week, just trying to game plan. We still watched all of our film. The past two weeks we’ve seen what’s happened to other teams around and we don’t want that to happen to us.”
Last weekend Jacksonville State, ranked No. 10 in the current FCS poll, went into Tallahassee and knocked off Florida State. The Wolfpack definitely don’t have any time to feel sorry for themselves with the threat of an upset possible.
But it starts with some self reflection from N.C. State and what the Wolfpack can do to move on from the Mississippi State game.
“Defensively, I would like to see them play the same way, but get some sacks and some interceptions and takeaways, I thought they played everything else very well,” Doeren said. “Special teams, I want it to be like the first game, I want to win the field position battle. We gave up 127 yards of field position, that’s a lot. We really helped them in that game too much.”