Dave Doeren says his offense at N.C. State will be “Wisconsin and Oregon combined.” On the surface, that certainly seems like a marriage of inconvenience. Oregon is at the cutting edge of modern college football offenses. Wisconsin is the dinosaur that’s still a long way from extinction.
There wouldn’t appear to be a lot of compatibility there, but what Doeren means is melding the Ducks’ fast pace with Wisconsin’s old-school power-running attack in a hybrid offense that’s both innovative and traditional at the same time.
It all sounds good, but no one really knows what this is going to look like at N.C. State.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was supposed to mix what he and Doeren did with such success at Northern Illinois with Wisconsin’s beef and brawn last season, when Canada took over as offensive coordinator for the Badgers. For various reasons beyond Canada’s control, it never really happened.
That leaves the emulsifying of Oregon’s oil with Wisconsin’s very much a work in progress at N.C. State this season.
“I don’t think there’s any genius to it,” Canada said. “Look at what we did at Northern. We ran power. We ran downhill. But yet we still had a high-paced offense at times. Obviously Oregon’s offense, we’re not like Oregon’s offense in certain things that they do. We’re going to mold to our talent and play to our best players.”
It remains a bit of a mystery because Canada never really had a chance at Wisconsin. Between injuries at quarterback, an offensive line coach who was fired two games into the season and an internal culture in Madison still allied to former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, now the head coach at Pittsburgh, Canada fought an uphill battle.
“Anything that could go wrong at the beginning of Matt’s tenure at Wisconsin, it did go wrong,” said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, who as head coach at Indiana had Canada on his staff for one year. “He just did a great job fighting through all that. And the end of the story is they scored 70 against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game.”
Rumors of friction between Canada and head coach Bret Bielema persisted all season, culminating in that Nebraska explosion when Canada was given the freedom to dip deeper into his playbook. If there were new concepts Canada wanted to implement at Wisconsin, it’s hard to say he ever really got the chance, at least not until the very end.
“I learned a lot,” Canada said. “We had some quarterback injuries, we had a lot of things at Wisconsin. It was a great experience. I learned how to get through some things and grind on things. It wasn’t a challenge. Everything’s a challenge.”
Then Bielema left for Arkansas and Doeren was hired at N.C. State. Canada jumped at the chance to work with his old colleague, bringing what he learned at Wisconsin to the playbook they developed together at Northern Illinois.
They have had success together before. Now they’re trying to find a formula for success in the ACC.
“(Canada) brought it to Northern and he grew it at Wisconsin in a different way, with a quarterback who couldn’t run,” Doeren said. “And he brought some of the stuff that they do so well to our run game, and we grew as well while he was gone, with some of the stuff we did last year. I think it’s a blend of who Matt is and what he’s done with some of the new concepts we had last season. A lot of it’s based on who our quarterback is, to be honest with you.”
Considering that question has yet to be settled, with Doeren deciding between two potential starters with very different styles, it’ll be interesting to see what exactly Doeren and Canada have concocted Saturday against Louisiana Tech. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.