A defensive coach by trade, Dave Doeren is determined to fix N.C. State’s defense this offseason.
After the Wolfpack gave up a total of 96 points and 1,122 yards in the final two games of the season, Doeren has his work cut out for him.
Every snap from every game in N.C. State’s 7-6 season will be evaluated and dissected, Doeren said after Wednesday’s 51-28 loss to Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl.
“It’s a process of whether you’re 12-1 or 7-6 you do it and you have to be super hard on yourself as a coach,” Doeren said.
It is an evaluation process that actually started after the Wolfpack went into the bye week on its schedule after a 28-13 loss at Virginia Tech on Oct. 9.
The Wolfpack struggled in the second half of its season, which was the toughest part of its schedule, in particular with its pass defense. N.C. State gave up 380 passing yards, a Belk Bowl record, to Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott despite rainy conditions on Wednesday.
The offseason gives Doeren more time to figure out what the common problems were in giving up 623 total yards to Clemson, 553 to North Carolina and 569 to Mississippi State.
Doeren, who was a longtime defensive assistant at Kansas and Wisconsin before becoming a head coach at Northern Illinois in 2011, said the trouble-shooting process starts with the coaches.
“It’s not our players’ fault first,” Doeren said. “It’s ours, we always look at ourselves first.”
Doeren hasn’t given any indication that he will make any changes to his coaching staff. The Wolfpack will have many of the same starters back on defense next season. Seniors Mike Rose (defensive end), Juston Burris (cornerback) and Hakim Jones (safety) depart but there will be plenty of experience back.
That has the potential to be a good or bad thing, depending on how much improvement can be made in the offseason.
North Carolina finished the 2014 season as one of the worst defenses in ACC history. The Tar Heels changed defensive coordinators after a 6-7 finish in 2014 but had many of the same defensive players back. UNC’s defense excelled, winning 11 games and the Coastal Division title, before a poor showing in its bowl loss to Baylor.
Burris, a three-year starter, was confident Doeren and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable could help the Wolfpack defense make strides in 2016.
“Everything can be fixed with preparation and hard work,” Burris said.
N.C. State’s defense actually improved overall, at least statistically, this season. The Wolfpack ranks No. 29 in total defense and allowed 350.7 yards per game, up from No. 47 last year and 373.1 yards per game.
But some of that is a function of the soft nonconference schedule to start the season. In ACC play, N.C. State’s defensive numbers were similar to a year ago.
The Wolfpack allowed 395.9 yards per ACC game, up slightly from 390.5 in 2014, and 29.6 points per ACC game, down from 31.3 in ACC play in 2014.
The challenge for N.C. State is finding a way to play better defense against the better teams on its schedule.
All the teams N.C. State beat this season finished with a losing record. The seven teams had a combined record of 30-53.
Conversely, all the teams that beat N.C. State had a winning record. Those six teams have a 59-21 record.
N.C State’s defense ate up the seven teams with a losing record on its schedule. The Wolfpack allowed only 14.6 points and 238.7 yards per win.
In the six losses, N.C. State’s defense allowed an average of 39 points and 481.3 yards per game.
Rose, who led the team with 10.5 sacks, said Wednesday that tackling in open space was a problem against the Bulldogs. He said the same thing after losses to Clemson and UNC.
Rose noted that consistency and improvement are byproducts of maturity and N.C. State used a lot of younger players on defense. The Wolfpack used 13 freshmen and sophomores on defense in the bowl game.
“They’ve got a lot of maturing to do but I think they’ll do it,” Rose said.
And Doeren has a lot of film to sift through before spring practice starts in three months.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio