Dabo held his weekly press conference on Tuesday to preview Saturday's game at NC State. It's the Tigers' penultimate ACC regular season game, and if Wake loses on Saturday at Virginia Tech, the Tigers can clinch a spot in the ACC Championship with a win in Raleigh.
It's been a tough rebuilding year for State, but Dabo did his best to emphasize how dangerous the Pack can be and that it's been one of the Tigers' tougher opponents over the years. Indeed, the last several contests in Raleigh have been dog fights, even when the Tigers have been heavily favored. It took a punt return touchdown by Ray Ray McCloud--the only one of his career--and a late interception by K'Von Wallace to seal the win two years ago, and in 2015 it was a similar type of game. The Tigers lost badly at NC State at the end of the season in 2011 before going on to win Dabo's first ACC Title, and that was the last time the Tigers lost to the Pack. Of course, there was also the overtime thriller in Death Valley in 2016, when Wayne Gallman was knocked out of the game in the first quarter and the Tigers turned the ball over several times. However, this seems like a different year for the struggling Wolf Pack. For one thing, they have always had a solid quarterback in recent years--from Finley to Glennon to Brissette, all of whom played in the NFL--but they have yet to find a consistent starter this season. They have played three different quarterbacks throughout the season, and that has been a theme for the Tigers' opponents this season. Louisville, FSU and BC all had musical quarterbacks as well for one reason or another, and Wake Forest--the Tigers' next opponent--has also used a couple different QB's recently because of injury. I asked Dabo about the abnormality of the quarterback shuffling this season, and he said the good thing about it is that NC State won't change what they do offensively depending on who the signal caller is.
It was one of the more entertaining press conferences, and Dabo closed with an amusing story about his only encounter with Michael Jordan (AKA the basketball Deshaun Watson). Dabo was at a Birmingham hole-in-the-wall bar for his bachelor party, and MJ was there after playing a minor league game for the Barons! Dabo said he introduced himself, and his buddies took a picture of the two of them with a disposable camera (remember those?). Boy, I'll bet that bar would love to have that picture framed on their wall! Life is amazing sometimes.
Finally, I asked Dabo about K'Von Wallace, who has remarkably recorded an interception against NC State in each of the last three years. Dabo talked about how valuable K'Von's versatility is and how much of a leader he has become on this team and said it would be really cool if he can become the first player ever to record an interception in all four games against an opponent.
We also had another great interview with Darien Rencher, the spiritual leader of the team, who recorded his second career touchdown and longest career run on his birthday on Saturday. He has a special relationship with Trevor Lawrence, who is also a very devout Christian, and he spoke about that as well. We closed with Chad Smith, who had the honor of running down The Hill with the flag on Military Appreciation Day. He has several family members in the military, so that was a very special honor for him.
The full interviews are below!
Dabo recounts his only encounter with Michael Jordan (AKA the basketball Deshaun Watson) below. He was at a Birhmingham hole-in-the-wall for his bachelor party, and MJ was there after playing a minor league game for the Barons! Two of the all-time greats at a Holiday Inn bar in Birmingham. Lol I think sometimes greatness rubs off! The rest of Dabo's PC is uploading.
First of all, before we talk about NC State, I want to say happy birthday to my mom. Today is her 75th birthday, so happy birthday to Ms. Carol. She’s somewhere with Kath [Kathleen Swinney] now having lunch, so just want to say happy birthday to my sweet mom. She’s amazing. She’s the last one living in her family, so she’s an amazing lady.
Also want to offer up my prayers for the Lentz family. I know Zach and Michelle are really in a tough time right now, so prayers for them and just ask everybody to keep them in your prayers.
NC State, first of all, this has been a place that has always been a challenge. It’s never easy to go up there. You look at our games against these guys, 56-41, 24-17, 38-31, and last year we really played well here at home. But the last couple years up there, it’s been a grind. I think the punt return two years ago was the difference in the game. They do a great job up there. Dave [Doeren] is a great coach. [It’s] a well-coached team. This is a team this year that is a little different than the past few years in that they have had a lot of injuries, they’ve got some young guys, but I’m going to tell you, they’re incredibly well-coached, they’re tough, they’re physical, and they give their guys a chance to be successful.
They probably scheme as good as anybody that we play year in and year out. So, really, a tough task to play there. I think their crowd, they show up. One of the things I've always had respect for for NC State is their fans because they show up. Regardless whether they’re 4-4 or 8-0, they show up and they do a good job. Tough environment to go play in.
Offensively, they’ve had some transition at quarterback, went with the young freshman last week. I assume he’ll be the guy, but [Bailey] Hockman has played a lot as well. They’ll also do some wildcat stuff from time to time. The strength of their offense is their offensive line. I think those guys are very well-coached. They play very physical. And then schematically what they do, with all their shifts and motions and trying to create tips on what you’re doing defensively and create mismatches and opportunistic plays with all their screens and they’re a big stretch team, so fitting the run, back-side pursuit is critical against these guys.
We’ve got to do a great job of recognition and lining up. They got us on a double move last year, and they’ve got a lot of tricks. They call them too. They don’t just practice them, they call them. A lot of discipline in playing these guys, and then they’re eighth in the country in punt return, 15 and a half [yards per return average]. So they’ve got some dudes that can do something with the ball. Got some young guys at wideout, but a team that I think is going to continue to improve.
Again, they have had some injuries, especially on the defensive side, but looking at them, they’re physical. They’re a little bit of a challenge schematically because they’re a little unorthodox in what they do and so you have got to do a great job of communicating and picking up their pressures and IDing properly because they’re going to pressure. They don't sit back. You know, they’ve had a lot of injuries in the secondary, but they don’t change what they do. They’re going to attack you, they’re going to challenge you, and they’re going to play man coverage. They’re primarily a single-high team, bring pressure almost 50 percent of the time, so they force you to have to make plays. They force you to have to do a great job in protection.
We did not run the ball well on these guys last year. We had a few plays, but we were not efficient. I think we were about 2.9 a carry. We did throw the ball well, but we did not run the ball very well, so that is an area that we need to try to improve in this game. They’re good up front. [Nos.] 1, 29 and 92, these are good football players. They’ve got good experience. They’ve settled in in the secondary, had some really tough losses earlier with some really good players, especially at corner, so they’ve had to move some guys around.
For us, going up there, it’s about execution. We’re excited to be 9-0. We’re trying to get that 10th win. That would be a huge accomplishment for our program and the consistency we have been able to have and just continue to stay in the hunt for this division. That’s what we are trying to do – to win our division. We know that when you do that, little things lead to bigger things. The division trophy is not very big [motioning to approximate size], but if you win that one, you get a chance to win a bigger one, so we’re just trying to stay locked in on our journey and what we’ve got to do to stay on track. With that, I’ll take your questions.
On if it has been unique to face so many teams with changes at quarterback:
“Yeah, it’s been a little unique that way. Obviously, Florida State was one of those teams we were trying to figure it out, same thing at Louisville with multiple guys coming in. The BC quarterback got hurt. I think he’s a great player. I think [Steve] Addazio and them don’t get enough credit for what they have been able to do without that kid. He’s a good football player, man, but they’ve still found a way to win games. I think they have probably done as good a job as anybody finding a way to win games. Same thing this week. They started out with the one kid early, and then they went to Hockman and then last week went with the [Devin] Leary kid. But they do what they do. The one positive is that they’re not very different. They’re going to call their offense. They’re going to run the stretch, they’re going to double move you and take shots and play-action you and get into some exotic type stuff, regardless of who is at quarterback. But they’ve given them a chance. A lot of quick game, a lot of double moves, a lot of max protection, a lot of sprint-out, a lot of pocket moving trying to help those guys because they’re young at running back too. Their back got hurt, so they’ve got a lot of young guys back there, so haven’t been a huge dropback-type team asking backs to do a lot of protection and things like that. But they’ve thrown the ball down the field a lot, but it’s mostly been shots, like I said, some max protection, double-move-type stuff where they can get the ball off.”
On the change in RB Travis Etienne in the last four weeks:
“He’s just been who he is. I mean, he’s had a great year. He had one bad game. He played terrible in the North Carolina game. What game was that – the fifth game? He played well the first four. It’s not like he’s played bad. He just had a bad day, but he just has responded and got back to being Travis Etienne and playing at a high level. We’ve gotten him involved in the passing game. I think he’s worked really hard on that. He just kind of refocused from that one game. I think the open date was good for him. He’s been amazing. It’s really amazing what that guy has been able to do. We’ve had some unbelievable backs around here, and to see what he’s done is pretty special.”
On Etienne breaking records set in four years in a little over two and a half seasons:
“Two years and nine games. He kind of came in as a backup as a freshman and by the end of the year, he kind of worked his way up there to second team. Won the job the next year and now here he is. That just speaks to his explosiveness. Career record of 80-plus-yard plays. School record of 200-plus-yard rushing games. I mean, he’s just so explosive. It’s just amazing. And as his body has developed, he’ll develop. His best football is still in front of him. Super proud of him. He’s just become a very smart player, and he’s become more of an all-around player. He’s just blue-collar, likes to be coached, never says a word, never complains about anything. He just shows up and goes to work every single day and he’s become a leader for us this year.”