Licking their wounds: Wolfpack look to respond after tough loss

No. 14 NC State, coming off a loss at Clemson, hosts Florida State

NC State coach Dave Doeren said the Wolfpack defense’s inability to create turnovers against Clemson contributed to a 30-20 loss. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — After falling short to fifth-ranked Clemson last week in Death Valley, No. 14 NC State will look to right the ship when Florida State visits Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday.

A game that could have put the Wolfpack in the driver’s seat in the ACC’s Atlantic Division was instead a night of missed opportunities as Dave Doeren’s offense sputtered and his defense couldn’t hold off the Tigers.

While the Wolfpack’s defense had a few crucial stops and gave good field position to the offense, it was unable to come up with a game-changing play at Memorial Stadium.

“We didn’t create a takeaway. We had two critical opportunities in the game,” said Doeren, highlighting two near interceptions. “Just those two plays alone, if Devan Boykin has his, that’s one touchdown off the board, and if Aydan White has his and scores, that’s a 14-point swing in a game that we lost by 10 points. Plays like that you have to make in games like that, particularly when you’re on the road.”

While the defense had its chances to alter the result, the offense struggled to create much of anything.

“I think just connecting on more deep balls,” Doeren said of how the offense can improve. “This isn’t just all on [the receivers]. We’re overthrowing balls too. Just getting that downfield production to be more consistent. Putting the ball where they can catch it and giving those guys a chance to go out and make plays.

“We win a lot of 50/50 balls,” he added. “We have for a while here now, and we need to get back to that. That’s not just on the receivers, the tight ends, the backs — it’s on the entire offense. Give the quarterback a chance to make a throw and then go up and finish the play. I think that’s the thing we need to see.”

This week’s opponent doesn’t feature the same talent as the Tigers, but the Seminoles have a balanced ground game that utilizes three running backs, and FSU has also done a good job of spreading the ball through the air. Johnny Wilson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore receiver, is FSU’s deep threat with a team-leading 357 receiving yards along with three touchdowns.

“Coach (Mike) Norvell and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround they’ve had down there,” Doeren said of the improved Seminoles. “You can see they’re playing really fast offensively. They’re very balanced. Averaging 200-plus yards in rushing. You have to give them credit.”

Perhaps the biggest improvement to Florida State’s offense has been the play of junior quarterback Jordan Travis, who has thrown for 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception through five games.

“He is very athletic,” Doeren said of the Seminoles’ quarterback. “Comparing him from last year to this year, I thought last year he was an athlete playing quarterback, but this year he’s a quarterback. He’s throwing accurate passes, he’s reading coverages, he’s giving his receivers chances to make plays, he’s moving around in the pocket extending plays and not just to run.

“He’s playing really good football and, like most quarterbacks, the longer you play, the better you get.”

Most importantly, the Wolfpack will need to move past their tough loss at Clemson and refocus on the task at hand.

“We have a lot to play for,” Doeren said. “(We) have eight weeks and seven games, and that’s kind of how we’ve broken it down. We have a seven-game season here, and as you know the landscape of college football changes dramatically every single week. So it’s a one-week-at-a-time deal.”

It’s also a chance for the defense to again show it can be one of the best in the nation, while the offense will be looking to find its footing in what has been a disappointing start to the season.

“This is just an opportunity to respond,” Doeren said. “I think in life, you find out who you are when you’re knocked down. It’s easy to be what everyone wants you to be when you’re good. But the best way to get over that feeling is to go back to work, put your head down and focus on what led to success earlier. We know what the formula is for that here.”