Notebook: N.C. State's Doeren anticipates 'heavyweight battle' in the trenches
Dave Doeren walked up and down the line, asking different versions of the same simple question.
It was a bye week for No. 14 NC State (6-1), a last gasp before a sprint to the finish that starts with a road trip to South Bend on Saturday. Doeren — the fifth-year Wolfpack head coach — knelt in front of each player as they stretched prior to practice, monitoring their plans to improve.
“What are you going to work on, man?”
“What’s the biggest thing you’ve got to do?”
“What are you going to work on?”
Finally, he got to B.J. Hill — a 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior defensive tackle and three-year Wolfpack starter.
“What do you have to get better at?” Doeren asked, the sequence included in NC State’s weekly documentary series, “ONE with Wolfpack Football.”
“My pad level. I’m focusing on that,” said Hill, who has 24 tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack in seven games this season.
“You need it this week,” Doeren said.
“Yes, sir,” Hill responded.
“Three hundred yards a game rushing,” the head coach stated as he kept moving down the line.
To be fair, No. 9 Notre Dame — which hosts NC State at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday — is actually averaging 317.9 rushing yards per game, that number bolstered by a 377-yard shellacking of USC last weekend.
It’s a different group than the one that managed just 59 rushing yards and “couldn’t run the football” — Doeren’s words — in a 10-3 defeat at NC State last season.
Statistics aside, Doeren understands the challenge.
“I think their five starting (offensive) linemen are exceptional,” Doeren said this week. “They play hard. They’re big. They use good schemes. They pin and pull and they double you and they keep you off guard. Their quarterback can run. They’ve got a very good front. Both their tight ends are big guys, too.
“It’s going to be a battle up there. I know our D-linemen are excited about it.”
As they should be. While Notre Dame touts the No. 6 rushing offense in the country, NC State’s defense ranks sixth in rushing defense, allowing just 91.3 yards per game. A year ago, the Wolfpack finished eighth in that category, surrendering just 108.6 yards per game.
A constant has been senior defensive end and midseason All-American Bradley Chubb, who piled up 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2016 and has 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks through seven games this year.
Chubb is a physical monstrosity, as are Notre Dame offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
Ever hear the one about the unstoppable force and the immovable object?
“It’s a great head-to-head heavyweight battle right there,” Doeren said. “I’m excited just to watch the line of scrimmage in this game.”
Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams has run directly into the Heisman Trophy conversation.
It’s just not a conversation that he’s open to having. Ever.
“I haven't experienced any hype around campus. The only thing I've experienced is getting that notification of exams coming up,” Adams said on Wednesday. “So that Heisman talk doesn't stop that.”
In seven games this season, Adams — a 6-2, 225-pound junior — has rushed for 967 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 9.2 yards per carry. His seven rushes of 50 yards or more are better than all but three entire teams nationally.
Last weekend, the first-time captain finished with 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 49-14 victory over USC.
But Heisman hype? Forget it. Each week is another test, and exams are on their way.
“I'm just doing the same thing I've always been doing,” Adams said. “I mean, my team has always been with me. And I love hanging out with these guys, going to work with them each and every day. We as a team have never let any outside noise get in between what we're trying to build here. And I don't think that changes anything of what our mission is and what we're trying to accomplish as a team.
"Although it is an honor, we're just going to stay focused on our track and continue to prepare for each team each and every week."
Senior linebacker Greer Martini confirmed on Wednesday that he tore his meniscus during a bye week practice and had surgery on Oct. 12.
Less than two weeks later, he practiced fully on Tuesday.
“They repaired it and I'm full-go,” said Martini, who made 39 tackles in the first six games before missing the win over USC. “I had practices all yesterday. I didn't take any reps off and I'm feeling really good.”
In Martini’s stead, junior linebacker Te’von Coney led the Irish with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble a fumble recovery and a sack in an emphatic rivalry win.
Martini wasn’t needed, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to sit.
“I warmed up against USC. I felt I could go,” said Martini, a senior captain. “But it was probably more adrenaline than anything. But I wasn't prepared to play last week. I'm more focused on getting back this week and being healthy.”