Audio for Dabo is below. I'll have a transcript for you as well as Dave Doeren in a bit!
DABO: We're coming off an open date, and it was a productive time for us, but we're excited to get back at it. A huge challenge this week with NC State. There's only five Power Five teams that are still undefeated out there, and got two of them playing this week right here in Clemson. Excited about it. NC State is a really, really good football team, very well-coached, schematically they create a lot of problems on both sides of the ball as far as what they do, and then they've got a bunch of good players doing it.
There's a reason why they're undefeated, and for us, this is obviously a huge division match-up, and we're excited about it. Feel good about our team, where we are health-wise, and feel like we've got really good preparation. But this is a game where you don't have a lot of room for error. It comes down to all about having great execution and doing the little things better than the opponent. Should be a heck of a ballgame, and know we'll have a great crowd here at 3:30 on Saturday.
Q. I'm curious what your thoughts are specifically because you just gave a really good general description of the match-up against NC State, but more specifically, why have they been able to create such close games against you guys the past few years in your match-up, and how much does the quarterback Finley fit into that equation?
DABO: Yeah, well, I mean, again, they're very well-coached. They do a great job of attacking what you do well, so schematically they are very smart. They offensively I think do a great job as far as how they structure everything, how they call it. Everything is built off the stretch. They put a lot of pressure on you with their stress run game, creates a lot of distortion in your defensive line because guys are running and then if they get you cut on the backside, they've got a lot of cut-back alleys, so it puts a lot of pressure on you to fit everything up properly, especially the backside fits, and your linemen getting up off the ground if they do get cut, and then they do a lot of -- they do a good job with their formationing that can stress you coverage-wise. But they've had really good players. Heck, they had six guys -- I think they were only second to Alabama in draft picks last year, so they've been really good.
And then two years ago when we played them here, we had -- we did not -- we didn't convert in the red zone. I think we were inside the 10 or 5 three times and got zero points. They created some turnovers. So both teams have a lot of respect for each other, and we've got good players, they've got good players, and it's just been really, really competitive games. We've been fortunate to find a way to win, but last year's game came down, I think, to a specific teams play. We had a punt return for a touchdown, ended up being the difference in the game.
But it's just a combination of -- when you get -- when you play games like this, there's not a lot of room for error. I don't doubt Saturday will be another very competitive game. They're 5-0, we're 6-0 and division rivals and both want the same things. Just think both teams will put their best foot forward.
Q. And quickly, have you seen a common reason why your team has gotten off to slow starts this season?
DABO: Well, I think we've gotten off to a couple slow starts but not every game. We've had some games that we've gotten off. But yeah, just execution. We've had some -- sometimes you get into some of these games early on and maybe you're getting a few things that are a little bit different, but that's part of what the opening part of the games are is to kind of figure out exactly how the opponent is going to defend you, and then you make some adjustments and you go from there.
But then we've just had some miscues, we've had some turnovers early, we've had some drops early, we've had a couple of -- we've had some things where we didn't read the signal properly. Just some stuff like that, and I think just our team kind of settling in and growing into who we're going to be.
But the good news is they haven't called the game off after the first quarter.
And then Georgia Tech, we got a slow start, we didn't get the ball. I think they had the ball for maybe over eight minutes the first opening drive.
Just a combination of a lot of things, and we were off the field on that drive, but we had to -- our one game we were off the field and we had to use a time-out because we misaligned. So just some execution things that we can do better. We certainly want to start fast. There's no doubt about that. But the main thing is we want to win the game.
I've seen a lot of teams start good and finish bad. We want to just put all four quarters together and play a complete game.
Q. I looked this up. So Travis is scoring a touchdown basically once every eight carries, close to that, for his career. When you have a running back that's that basically efficient and prolific in the stable you guys have, what's kind of the challenge in managing his workload? It's hard to say that I've seen too many backs that have that kind of yards per carry.
DABO: Yeah, I mean, he's been obviously very explosive. I mean, that's just -- he's one of the most explosive players we had come through here, and you know, right now he leads us, I think, career-wise in yards per carry. Depending on the games, some of these games he's had more work than others. I think the Syracuse game he had, I don't know, somewhere between 25 and 30 touches. But we really -- we've got four backs that we really love, and we try to keep those guys fresh.
But we all know that for us to be successful, Travis has to have a certain amount of touches. And sometimes the games will dictate just how many, but we definitely have a rotation, as do most all these teams. I think Feaster is second all time for us right now in yards per carry. He and the backs have got over a thousand yards over here. They're all different. They all bring things to the table that we need. But Travis has definitely differentiated himself and a guy that you're going to see continue to touch the ball in lots of ways because he makes things happen.
And then we just pay close attention to kind of where he is, and I've got a good feel for his stamina and all those type of things, and then obviously we've got good depth. So we try to use it.
Q. I'm asking coaches in light of Nick Bosa withdrawing from school to get ready for the NFL Draft because of his injury, do you think that's going to be more of a trend around college football? You have a lot of guys in your program that have that option to go to the NFL. Do you think we're going to start seeing that whether it's an injury situation or sitting out bowl games?
DABO: I think it's -- you know, I think every incident or situation is kind of isolated to itself. I mean, it's hard for me to comment on things I don't really know a whole lot about. I don't think he'll be the last, but I mean, it's -- I don't really know -- he's got a serious injury, and he only played in, what, one or two games. You've got a serious injury that -- I don't even know that he would be back, and if he would be back it would be maybe for one game, and your team is kind of established at that point.
I really wasn't that surprised by it, to be honest with you. But as far as guys missing bowl games and all that type of stuff, I mean, I guess that's kind of a decision that guys have to make. I have no idea if it'll be a trend or whatever, but I think in this case, you've got a guy that's hurt and out for the year, I don't really know what the big shock is. He's got to -- it's hard to come back. He hasn't played football since early September, and now you're supposed to step in and maybe play one game, if that, if he can even come back? Who knows. I wasn't very surprised by the decision for him to focus on his surgery and rehab and getting healthy and all that stuff at all.
Q. I was curious for your assessment of Georgia Tech left guard Parker Braun, what you saw from him in the game a few weeks ago and I guess going into the game on tape?
DABO: Well, I think he's a -- if I remember correctly, he was a returning starter, one of their returning starters, and a good player, good size. Really has a lot of upside to him, understands how to execute their scheme very well. I think he's one of their leaders on the offensive side of the ball.
But that's really all I recall off the top of my head.
Q. To follow up on Travis, I think he's pretty much got the rushing yards already that he had last year. What kind of growth have you seen in him from last year to this season?
DABO: Yeah, well, he was a true freshman last year and to be honest we thought he would redshirt when he got here, but we figured out quickly in camp, whoa, this guy is really explosive. But just had so much to learn, and we had to pick our spots, especially early, how we used him. The biggest difference in him is obviously he's got experience. He kind of got thrown into the fire last year, and he had some good success, and he had some tough moments, too. So just that experience is certainly paying off for him this year, but more than anything, just the off-season, his ability to just get in that weight room and to develop his body. You know, he's a 205-pound guy now, and he's just put on a lot of good muscle mass. He's really developed his lower body. He's bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. You know, just a more improved version of himself, and guess what, next year he'll be even better, because that's what happens. It's a developmental game. If you're a talented guy and you're putting the work in, you're going to improve, and the game is going to continue to slow down for him.
But he's just much more of a complete player, a guy that we trust in all situations now as opposed to last year. He was a little bit of a liability in certain situations. Just really proud of him. It's been awesome to see what he's done to this point. I think he's as good as anybody in this country. He certainly statistically has earned that. I don't have any doubt he's going to have a great second half, as well.
I'll have Dave Doeren's audio and transcript posted in a bit. I asked him about his relationship with Brent Venables. They both grew up in Kansas and coached against each other in the Big 12 when Venables was at Oklahoma. Venables actually told me the other day that he gave Doeren an endorsement to Mark Mangino at Kansas, which helped Doeren get an interview and the job. Two of the better defensive minds in the game going head-to-head once again!
DAVE DOEREN: Excited for the opportunity this week, play Clemson on their homecoming at their place. Two really good teams, undefeated. Great rivalry team between Atlantic Division foes. Excited for that.
In the bye week, sure for them as well, has been very productive, not just from a scouting standpoint, but to get a little bit of a head start on a great opponent, also be able to heal up a few guys that were banged up, put us in a better position.
Excited for the opportunity down there and looking forward to it.
Q. Could you share a few specifics about why you've matched up so well against Clemson the past few seasons? Some great games. How much is your run D going to need to be special in this one?
DOEREN: Yeah, I mean, both games have come down to one possession, single plays in the game that swing it one way or the other. Our kids have played hard. Two years ago we forced a bunch of turnovers against them defensively, weren't able to capitalize, which really ended up losing the game. I think we had five takeaways in that game and didn't get enough points out of them.
Last year is more of a shootout, a lot more points scored in that game. I just think we've been able to execute, not enough to win, but to make it a game. That's kind of where we're at now.
Obviously want to be able to put them away if we're in that position. Try to make it a four-quarter game, make the key plays at the key moments. You have two teams that are battling, I know that. It means a lot to both programs.
Q. Your run D is going to have to be a real key in this game?
DOEREN: Absolutely. I mean, everybody playing in this league, you have to stop the run. What makes them challenging is their tailback is the fastest guy on the field. When No. 9 is in the game, he is super explosive. Each week you've got a different challenge in this conference. When you play Clemson, it's always the explosive plays you're concerned about from a defensive standpoint. He just adds a different dimension to their run game.
Q. I'm asking coaches this week with Nick Bosa withdrawing from Ohio State, preparing for the NFL, do you sense that's going to be a trend in college football, for guys that project that high, do you think it's going to be one or two guys that might do that going forward?
DOEREN: I couldn't tell you. I mean, I'm not able to read the future, buddy. I'm worried about this game and our team, not Nick Bosa.
Q. Have you ever had that discussion with players that have been injured, obviously have NFL futures, whether they would try to come back and play for you or shut it down and prepare for the NFL?
DOEREN: We dealt with it last year. We had a couple seniors that didn't play in our bowl game. Bradley didn't play, was healthy. I feel like that was a good decision for him. Tony Adams didn't play and wasn't healthy. Didn't think it was worth the risk for him. He wanted to play. He just couldn't get back in time for it.
I've had those discussions with them. The thing I loved about our guys is they were both on the sidelines cheering on their teammates, being a part of the preparation, helping those guys finish out their senior years. To me that was special, still having that leadership from them.
Q. You mentioned how one play, one possession can make a difference. Your kids that have been through these last two games, is that something you emphasized it or something they already know?
DOEREN: No, we've emphasized it. I have said 'every rep matters' to these guys for the past two years. I've probably said that as much as I've said anything. You don't know what the play is that can cost you or win you a game. You have to approach it that way.
People all talk about the last play of the game because that was the one they remember. There was plenty of opportunities in both of those games where we could have won and didn't. Dropped the pass, had a pass interference on a critical third down, had a field goal blocked before we missed the one that was a chip shot.
Every rep matters is a big deal in a big game. I think you look across our game last year with them, the punt return they had for a touchdown is really what gave them the lead. That wasn't the last play. The guys just have to strain that way and understand the importance of every rep that they get.
Q. In light of all the personnel you lost on the defensive side of the ball, what have you been pleased most with in terms of your defense?
DOEREN: Really just the way that they go about their work. I think you have a bunch of guys that play for each other, play hard. They're getting better. They know that they have things to work on and they work on them. It's just week-to-week. I think they've rose to the challenge depending on what the offense was we were facing. Played a great receiver at Marshall, shut him out. Played really, really well on the road up there against them. That guy had 240 yards on us the year before.
To be able to play Virginia the way we did, I don't think that team gets enough respect. I think that's a really good football team. I think what they do offensively is really, really challenging. Our guys took a quarterback out that was basically on the highlight reel of every ESPN SportsCenter for a week hurtling over people. He had 20 yards against us.
Then Boston College, I thought we might have played as good of football as we've played since I've been here in that first half with their difficult offense, holding them to three points. They've rose to the challenge.
Obviously this week presents another one and the most difficult one of all of them because of their personnel.
Q. You and Brent Venables are Kansas guys, coached in the Big 12. He told us he gave you an endorsement at Kansas. Describe how your relationship has evolved over the years, what makes him such a good coach?
DOEREN: Yeah, Brent is a great coach. I've known him since I was a GA at Drake, when he was a GA at Kansas State. I have great respect for him as a person, as a football coach. We used to recruit the same area in Dallas, talk football, talk linebacker play. Obviously compete against each other.
But he did, he helped me get an interview with Kansas when he was at Oklahoma with Coach Mangino. Obviously I got the job because he got me the interview. I definitely owe him for that.
But I think a lot of him. What makes him a great defensive coordinator, I think he's a very detailed guy, I think he's a passionate guy, very knowledgeable guy that understands how to relate and connect to people, but also how to push them, get a lot out of them.
I know his players play hard for him and he competes his ass off in practice every day as a coach. I know that about him. I have great respect for him. He deserves every dollar he gets down there, he does a great job for them.