You have to make your layups.
Dave Doeren used that basketball analogy this week to implore his players to make the easy plays and learn from its loss to South Carolina.
N.C. State did just that in a 37-20 home win over Marshall on Saturday night. The Wolfpack (1-1) made its easy shots, avoided the big mistake in the process, and recovered from a slow start to post its first win of the season.
“We can be as good as we want to be, as long as we stay out of our own way,” Doeren said.
Truer words. Doeren’s teams have had a propensity to work the wrong end of the margins in big games. That was the case last week in a 35-28 loss to South Carolina in Charlotte. There were mistakes on special teams and missed opportunities on defense.
Doeren described individual plays – a missed 29-yard field goal, a dropped pass, a missed sack on a play South Carolina turned into a highlight-reel touchdown – as missed layups. For the most part, the Wolfpack avoided those plays against the Thundering Herd (1-1).
“We missed some layups,” senior guard Tony Adams said. “We made the majority of them, but we still missed a couple.”
There was a missed PAT by junior kicker Carson Wise and a 94-yard kickoff return by Marshall’s Keion Davis – which was negated by a penalty – and Herd receiver Tyre Brady broke off a 75-yard touchdown catch and run. But N.C. State got 341 passing yards from quarterback Ryan Finley (and three touchdowns) and another 100-yard receiving effort from sophomore receiver Kelvin Harmon (nine catches, 121 yards and the go-ahead touchdown from 34 yards out with 16 seconds left in the first half).
More importantly, there were fewer penalties (only three, compared to eight last week), no turnovers or no “what did we just let get away?” missed opportunities.
The layups went in, Finley agreed, or at least more of them in this game.
“I think there’s still a lot to work on,” Finley said.
Brady’s 75-yard touchdown, a short slant he ran a long way with, put Marshall up 20-10 at 5:07 in the second quarter. Brady lit up N.C. State’s secondary, with an assist from quarterback Chase Litton (350 passing yards, 2 TDs). Brady’s 11 catches for 248 yards set a new Carter-Finley Stadium (it opened in 1966).
“That’s not good for us,” senior linebacker Airius Moore, who had an interception in the fourth quarter, said. “We have to get better next week.”
The players on N.C. State’s defense weren’t quite sure who Brady was before the game. A transfer from Miami, Brady had only 12 career catches, for 166 yards, before Saturday’s outburst.
“I didn’t (know his name) at first but he’s definitely a great player,” N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “He had an amazing game.”
N.C. State had enough to overcome Brady’s record-setting performance and some iffy moments with its own running game. The defense forced a pair of turnovers and didn’t allow a point in the second half.
Running back Reggie Gallaspy ran for a pair of touchdowns and receiver/running back Jaylen Samuels delivered another amazing catch for his highlight reel and he scored on a 39-yard gadget play.
Of course, these games against teams outside the “Power 5” structure, layups if you will, haven’t been the problem for Doeren’s teams. Saturday’s win improved N.C. State’s record, in Doeren’s five seasons, to 15-2 against “Group of 5” conference or Division I-AA teams. Against Power 5 teams, Doeren’s record is just 11-25.
“We just can’t be a team that beats ourselves,” Doeren said.
Other than a pair of losses to East Carolina, that hasn’t been a problem for Doeren when his team punches below its weight class. The problem is there’s only one of those kind of games left on the schedule. Then the layups become contested.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio