One game at a time. Stay in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
They’re basic tenets every coach in every sport believes in and preaches.
Dave Doeren included.
And yet, because the next five games are so pivotal to NC State’s chances of winning the surprisingly wide-open ACC Atlantic Division, even the Wolfpack football coach couldn’t help himself by taking a quick peek at the big picture during his weekly session with the media on Monday.
“This starts a tough stretch for us schedule-wise, to have four out of the next five on the road, playing at night and getting home at 4 in the morning,” Doeren said of the upcoming schedule that begins with Saturday’s divisional matchup at Boston College.
“We’re going to have to be really diligent with our time here, be really smart as players and coaches and make sure that we can rest when we can rest and recover when we can recover. We’ve got to be at our best.”
The 22nd-ranked Wolfpack (4-1, 1-0 ACC) should be well-rested after spending its open date preparing for the challenges to come.
Not only did the week off provide Doeren and his staff with an opportunity to clean up areas that needed improvement, but it also gave their players a little extra time to come down from the emotional high of their win against Clemson on Sept. 25.
That double overtime victory, which broke a decade-long losing streak to the six-time defending ACC champion Tigers, put State in control of its destiny in its quest for its first division title.
But it also led to an obligatory post-celebration hangover Doeren hopes the Wolfpack got out of its system with a closer-than-it-should-have-been nonconference victory against Louisiana Tech in its most recent game.
“The bye week did come at a good time,” Doeren said. “I thought we played two very physical, emotional games in a row. Guys were ready for a little break. We were able to get them off the field and get them some rest, but I also felt like we had two really good days of work where we could focus on our fundamentals and get a little bit of a head start on BC.”
The series between the Wolfpack and Eagles has been remarkably even since 2010, with each team winning five times. The games have also been competitive with only a few notable exceptions — including a 45-24 blowout by BC the last time State played in Chestnut Hill two seasons ago.
Saturday’s meeting will be the first since Jeff Hafley replaced Steve Addazio as the Eagles coach, a change that adds an element of intrigue to the matchup.
But even with the change in leadership and a season-ending injury that has sidelined star quarterback Phil Jurkovec, Doeren isn’t expecting any surprises from BC (4-1, 0-1).
“I think they’ve embraced kind of what they are up there. I think Coach Addazio did that, you see Coach Hafley doing that,” Doeren said. “They’ve got good linemen and they’re all old. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re good at what they do. They’re not as big in the backfield as they’ve been, but they’re still 200-pound backs. They don’t try to run the spread offense. They’re going to get in a phone booth.
“I like that type of football, too. Our guys embrace the challenge and look forward to the opportunity to play a very physical, disciplined Boston College team.”
Doeren said his team is better prepared to handle the change than it was the first time it went on the road this season — a 24-10 loss at Mississippi State in which the Wolfpack never recovered after giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff.
“I’ve talked about Mississippi State,” he said. “We learned a lot in that game. That game helped us. Even though we lost, it helped us identify some things that we can’t be. The guys took that to heart.”
After BC, State has road trips to Miami, Florida State and Wake Forest sandwiched around a home game against Louisville between now and mid-November. The game against the Deacons could potentially be a showdown that decides the Atlantic Division’s representative in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
It’s a possibility that could easily become a distraction, which is why Doeren has already started taking steps to keep his players focused on the task at hand rather than the shiny object in the distance.
“Yeah, we have to talk about it,” he said. “One of our goals is to be the best 1-0 team that we can be. That means we’re really focused on the present. It does matter that four of the next five are on the road, but what matters more is that we just take this week for what it is. Let’s be the best that we can be this week. We’ll worry about next week, next week.”