We’re looking forward to playing a home game. It’s been a month since we’ve been back in Carter-Finley, and we’re excited for homecoming. It’s a night game opportunity against a tremendous football team. This is what you play for: to play against such a good, well-coached team. To get to do it at home in a night environment at the Carter is awesome. I look forward to having it. I know we’ll have a tremendous crowd.
I’m excited to get back on the grass with the guys. As everyone knows, we’re injured and we’re young and all those kind of things. We’re going through some challenges with what that is. I love a challenge, and I love when my back is up against the wall. I know our guys aren’t going to flinch. They’re going to fight. We’re going to fight as a program to get better. The biggest thing is not whom we play, but what we do to get better every day and how we play. That’s what we have to focus on and continue to focus on regardless of where we’re at with our injury report. That’s what you’re going to hear me talk about for the next four weeks.
This week the challenge is obviously a great one. I can go through their statistics, but we all know where they’re at. They do a good job on both sides of the football, they’re well coached and they have good players. We just have to go out there and be the best that we can be with what we do. It’s fundamentals, and it’s executing 11 guys at the same time. When you turn on the film, there are lots of players where you’re one guy away. It’s just catching, blocking, finishing, one more step on a block, getting your hand inside versus outside, how you leverage the football, how you tackle and basic football fundamentals. I’m excited about that challenge, and it’s a great week to be back home.
“It is an interesting schedule, only having two games in October with only one of them being a home game. It was weird having that setup. Now it’s nice to at least get in a rhythm and be able to put together some consecutive weeks of football.
On Payton Wilson
“He played his best game. Early in the season, there was a fatigue. That was part of this thing for him. As we talked earlier in the year, our rotation at linebacker was good, but as the season has gone on, his production has increased. He’s a guy that is making a lot more plays than other guys, and his stamina has improved, so that’s allowed us to play him more.
“Him and Drake Thomas I think played their best games last week. They were both very active, they were physical and they had a good spirit about them. I thought Calvin Hart came in and did some good things when he had his opportunity. The young linebacker corps has some banked reps and that’s one position group where the guys have been able to play in every game. You see growth when that happens. That’s the value of that and of staying healthy. I look forward to him doing what he’s doing for a while and doing it even better as he gets more and more confident and comfortable.
“He was hurt last year, so last year was more about trying to get him through not playing in terms of his emotions how hard it is to not play. I think Levi Jones and Jeffrey Gunter are going through that now on our roster. They’re guys that really want to play, but they can’t because they transferred in here.
“When you don’t have the game and you’re watching the game and you think you could be helping the team win, that’s challenging. I do think it gives you really good perspective on how much you truly do love football, so that when you get back you don’t take it for granted. You’re seeing that. Payton is playing relentless football. We’ve just got to keep getting him to play smarter football.”
On Devin Leary
“The thing you like, other than how well he can throw the football, is just how competitive, how into it, how coachable he is and the conversations you’re able to have. The mistakes that he makes are going to happen. You don’t want them to happen, but that was his first start. He made some really good throws. I thought he had a really great corner ball throw to Cary Angeline on the sideline. He missed a really easy out route throw, which he’s hit a billion times in practice.
“I think they did a good job sitting on some routes, which probably made him a little bit nervous on some throws. He’s just got to learn how to get through that. I think that game is going to be a huge piece for him to grow from.
“I just like how he comes to work every day. When you’re talking to him, he gives you feedback. He’s not ever in a panic. He’s just ‘here’s what I saw, here’s what I did.’ There are a lot of things to be excited about-- obviously not excited when you throw a deep ball down to the post safety. There are things he’s got to do, and the receiver has got to try to break that up for him too if that happens. He’s going to grow a lot from that game, and he’s going to get another team that’s going to want to blitz every snap, so it’s another opportunity.
“I can’t give you a 100% on anything in life right now. I just don’t think I can do that. I would love to say that he’s going to grow and get better and better, and I hope that happens for him. I do. I think he’s worked himself into the place that he’s at for a reason, and he’s our starting quarterback right now. I’m looking forward to helping him continue to get better.”
“They’re really good. They’re experience, they’ve got great players, they’re well coached, they have staff continuity-- all those things. Their kids know how to win. I also know anything can happen on a Saturday. That’s why you put the ball down and play. We have nothing to lose in this football game. We just have to go play as hard as we can, be better than we were the week before and finish plays better. Anything can happen. That’s got to be our mindset: just try to find a way to be better.”
On the big picture of the football program
“I think when you’re playing the second-most freshmen in the country and you’re seeing Drake Thomas, Payton Wilson, Joshua Harrison, Savion Jackson and Zonovan Knight get better, that’s a good thing. I thought Jordan Houston ran as hard as he’s ran in that game. That’s exciting. It’s painful right now because we’re not getting to enjoy the improvement, but it’s exciting. I’ve been through this. We went through it when Bradley Chubb, Jerod Fernandez and all those guys were freshmen. It was painful. It was a pain. They all ended up being really good players for us because they went through it.
“You don’t walk out on hot coals and come out with nothing burned on your feet. It’s going to hurt for a while, but I’m very optimistic. I’m going to remain that way. We recruited two really good classes back-to-back that were forced into not just playing time, but very important roles on this football team. We have four seniors listed on the two-deep on our entire roster, so they’re being asked to lead and play. It’s unique, but it’s awesome for the future of our program. Week-by-week, one day at a time, we’re going to keep getting these guys better.
“I think everybody is different. I think Jordan Houston, Drake Thomas, Payton Wilson and Jakeen Harris are getting better. They understand the value of their reps. Then there are some guys that we need to get better now. They haven’t matured as fast, but they’re playing. It’s a day-to-day thing with them. It’s not a confidence thing. I think it’s more of it just being a lot. They were in a high school classroom last year. It’s just the amount that has changed in their lives and the intensity of all that. It’s just different for them. Managing it all and helping them understand the grind and how important the nutrition and sleep is is different in your first year.
“I’m impressed with some of those guys and how they’re dealing with it. You would expect for some of them it’s harder. We’re not just coaching football every day. Every day you’re talking about how school is going, picking them up and getting them positive, how their families are doing or their body weight. Every day is something.
“You’re seeing it. Payton Wilson’s weight was going up and down, and now it has leveled off. He’s taking care of his body better so that he can have better stamina.”
On not forcing a turnover in an ACC game this year
“Thanks for bringing that up. I wish I could tell you why. When you watch the film, I think you’re seeing some really good hits, you’re seeing guys put their faces on the football, you’re seeing guys rip and punch it. We had a couple balls batted in the air Saturday that didn’t bounce to us, and you sometimes turn on some film and see the ball batted and a dude runs it back for a touchdown.
“Some of it is luck, but we practice that skillset daily. We work it, we preach it and we talk about it. I don’t know what else to say other than it hasn’t happened yet. Some of it is that we’re not making enough plays on the ball, not just picks, but also pass breakups. We need to have more of those as well. It’ll come eventually. That’s how it works.”
On the 2016 team vs. the 2019 team
“That team was a lot different than this team. With that team, we knew who was on the roster. We were playing with a bunch of sophomores that were really good players. We didn’t have 11 starters injured for the season that year. We were able to get better and better and better. We finished. We won three of the four games that year because I thought our young team got better over the course of that season.
“I’ve had a different starting lineup for eight straight weeks, so it’s not even close to that type of team. It’s not. The thing that is similar is that we had a very talented, young group of guys on that roster. Same thing here, but we had almost the same lineup every game that year.”
On the Pack’s run game
“In some ways it took a step forward last week. It’s really hard when you’re down 21-0 to all of a sudden just run for 300 yards, but when we ran the ball we ran it efficiently. We were at 4.5 yards per carry in the game. There were some explosive runs, and I thought Jordan Houston did some really good things. Zonovan Knight was only in there for nine snaps, so he didn’t get a chance. Houston and Trent Pennix both had some good runs in the game. The offensive line and the tight ends protected and got hats on hats, so there were some positive things there. Those are things we can grow on.”