Video & transcript: NC State Wolfpack Gator Bowl press conference 12.31.20

Raleigh, NC – On Thursday afternoon, NC State held a pre-Gator Bowl press conference. The Wolfpack representatives present were head football coach Dave Doren, quarterback Bailey Hockman and linebacker Isaiah Moore.

NC State Wolfpack Gator Bowl press conference

NC State head football coach Dave Doeren

(On the finishing the season despite all the challenges) “It’s definitely unlike any other journey, season-wise. There was a lot of things behind the scenes that operation staff and training room staff, coaching staff had to do to get this thing right, our strength staff, so when the players returned, we could keep them out of harm’s way to the best of our ability. I think once we kind of got in the rhythm of it, the COVID aspect, other than being tested so many times, was pretty smooth here. But it created a lot [of challenges] I think, the unknowns of COVID. When it first started, we all thought it would kind of disappear quickly and then when we realized it’s here to stay, it was just a matter of being able to manage it. On top of that, managing injuries that happen as normal throughout the season. I thought our players did a really good job understanding what they should and shouldn’t do and keeping all of us safe. As concerned as you are about a losing a player for 14 days, [I was] just as concerned or more for some of the staff we have that are in their 60’s. Throughout the season, we were fortunate to not have to deal with anything like that. So, it’s been a year we’ll never forget.”

(On if the players wanted to play in a bowl game or not) “The way they celebrated after we got bowl eligible, it wasn’t much of a conversation to have. I think it’s about finishing what we started, and this group has enjoyed playing all year. We have open dialogue and if it was a topic worth discussing, they would’ve come to me on it. You could tell from the get [go] they wanted to play and [we’re] excited about the opportunity to be back in the Gator Bowl against an SEC team.”

(On Kentucky’s offense) “Well, they’re really big upfront. They have two decorated offensive linemen and they’re all experienced. They’re big. Their tight ends are big. Their backs are big. Their quarterback can run. They’re dedicated to running the football, so they make it a physical game. They do a nice job schematically of creating numbers games and different gap schemes with misdirection. They’re a good scheme. They’re o-line’s impressive and I know they’re a tight group [with] what they went through losing their coach [Kentucky Offensive Line Coach John Schlarman] and all the other things we all went through. You can tell that those guys care a lot about each other. So, it’s going to be a very physical game against a good physical group upfront from Kentucky.”

(On if any players will not be playing due to injury or opt-out) “We’re pretty healthy. Guys got some time to mend up and had good preparation with good breaks in there to kind of keep them rested and fresh. As far as who’s playing and who isn’t, I’m not going to talk about that. We’ll get to the game and there’s no reason to give any information like that out.”

(On what the football program accomplished and how that success carries over to over athletic programs at NC State) “I feel like that one of the things that makes our athletic department special. Throughout the season, [NC State Men’s Basketball Head Coach] Coach Keatts, [NC State Women’s Basketball Head Coach] Coach Moore, [NC State Baseball Head Coach] Coach Avent, [NC State Wrestling Head Coach] Coach Pop[olizio] in wrestling, they would call me, text me, wish me luck, [send] congratulations. It’s a tight group and we’re all competitive. We see each other’s teams succeeding and we want to succeed, we want to set the bar. I think there’s good momentum. Obviously, we’re the first sport in the fall that gets to go [to the postseason] and what that generates publicly for the other athletes is all positive for them. We’re cheering them on. The men’s [basketball] team had a great win last night. That’s one thing that I love about this school. I think fan base wise and coach and student-athlete wise, we support each other well.”

(On QB Devin Leary’s injury recovery) “[NC State QB] Devin [Leary]’s doing well. Every day he’s going through his rehab. He’s out there throwing the ball, but he’s not in practice yet. He’s not ready for that, but he’ll be on track to be cleared when we return from the winter break. But [he’s] doing really well and [he’s] out there without a boot on, walking around without a limp, and doing some good things in rehab.”

(On Kentucky’s defense) “[They’re] big upfront. 350-370 pounds over the center and one of their defensive ends is close to 280. They’re standup linebacker [Kentucky LB Jamar Watson], Buck as we call him, is a long guy that leads them in sacks and TFL’s. [Their] linebackers are bigger kids. There’s really nothing schematically that we haven’t seen, it’s just they have some big personnel and I think matching up [is the challenge]. We’ve played against big guys. I think Virginia had a really good size defensive line that compares when we played them. It’s just about getting in good position, playing with great leverage, and playing with elite strain on the line of scrimmage and finishing blocks. I think from a coverage standpoint, they don’t do a ton. They’re pretty simple. They play hard. I think they understand their scheme and we have to outexecute them and play with better effort. That’s what games like this come down to. I think both teams are very sound and play hard, so it’s a good matchup.”

(On the importance of taking care of the ball) “We’re undefeated when we win the turnover margin, so it’s critical. It’s the one thing you can point to if you want a sure win, it’s for us to take care of the ball and get it back and create some explosive plays in special teams. It’s always paramount. If you watch the bowl games right now, I know last night’s game Florida threw a bunch of interceptions and Wake Forest did the same thing. Both those games got away from them, so we’ve got to do a great job getting the ball back on defense. Probably their biggest strength defensively is they’ve had 13 interceptions that they’ve created. I know we’ll do a good job making good choices and catching the football.”

(On any players that have flourished amidst the circumstances of this season) “There’s so many guys that have stepped up this year and that’s what makes this team fun. Each week we’ve won games in different ways, whether it’s making a key catch or tackle or sack, interception, blocked a punt, blocked a field goal. There’s a lot of guys you can point to that have seized moments or opportunities to help this football team become what it is. I think it’s more of a team thing and there’ll be that opportunity again in this one. There’ll be guys out there that haven’t played as much as they’ve played in this game and they’re going to be key players when you look at the outcome.”

(On preparing for the game in Raleigh instead of in Jacksonville, like a typical bowl game) “I don’t know about that. I think every bowl game I’ve been a part of the kids got better. We enjoyed the time that we had together, we celebrated the season. Obviously, you want to win the game, but had we gone down there for five days, our kids would’ve prepared well. They would’ve focused. They would’ve showed up and worked hard and we would’ve enjoyed ourselves as part of it. But this year’s just different and so we’ve made the most of the opportunity. We definitely have had some good practices. Like I said, it was a long 12 weeks with 11 games, so they’ve had some needed time off.”

(On evaluating players for next year in the game) “During our practices until the last two, we’ve had dedicated time to developmental periods so we can really evaluate guys. We’re always evaluating in games. You’re looking at your guys and seeing where they can get better and giving them that information so they can use it in the offseason. I don’t think there’s ever a time you turn that switch off as a coach, but it’s not an experiment. We’re not just going to put guys out there and hope that they do well. We’re going to play the guys that have earned the right to play and give them the opportunities to help us win.”

(On his best Christmas present this year) “The staff gave [my wife] Sarah and I a little care package for the lake that had some things in it I’m definitely going to enjoy, so let your mind do the talking on that one.”

(On playing a team with a losing record in a bowl game that’s favored to win) “I kind of feel like we’ve been disrespected a lot throughout the season that way and even [in] some of the All-Conference stuff at the end. It just adds to the chip that we carry here. We were picked to finish eleventh in the league and there wasn’t a lot of guys on the preseason all-conference list. There wasn’t a whole lot of notoriety about anything in our program and we continue to find ways to win games and do good things. So, it just adds to the fuel that we have to prove people wrong.”

Quarterback Bailey Hockman

(On his experience transferring to NC State) “Transferring is definitely a difficult process, just almost picking up your life and leaving it behind and moving into a new life. When you move to a new school, it’s not like you’re moving in with a class of 20 guys that you really get to know really well. It’s really you by yourself and you have to kind of find your group or find your way in a little bit. It can be difficult for sure, but I had another guy, Vi Jones, he transferred in with me, so it was kind of me and him. We were roommates and just really good friends, so he helped me out a lot and I helped him out a lot just with the whole process. It’s been really good.”

(On how transferring has helped him develop as a person and player) “[It’s] just the hard work culture of the whole program and just being able to have guys that are willing to go out and get extra throws and get extra work and put extra work in the weight room. That’s really what I was looking for – somewhere I can go and have that culture of the team because that’s what I kind of came from out of Georgia in high school. That’s just what I’ve been looking for and I think this place has it. It’s good stuff.”

(On preparing for the bowl game) “Our guys do a great job. It seems like we’re just always locked in. We’re always ready to work. There’s never a question. If we were there or here or wherever we’re at, the guys are just ready to work. It would have been awesome for the younger guys and things like that just to get the experience of the whole bowl game and being down there and kind of just bonding a little better. But it’s definitely still been great. We still hang out in Raleigh and do stuff in Raleigh. It’s been really good, so preparation has been great and we’re ready to go have a good game.”

(On when the season turned around for him) “Actually, the UNC game, I actually got benched in the middle of the game and they ended up coming and putting me back in. I had really studied hard for that game, was ready and was really prepared. Things just didn’t roll my way and that’s how it goes sometimes, and you just keep working, keep your head down. But in the second half of that game, I ended up throwing two touchdowns and ran one and kind of just realized, ‘Look, I can do this.’ After three and half years and going through the process of transferring and going to JUCO and having to do all that type of stuff, it was just like, ‘Alright, I can do this. I can be a college quarterback and I can be successful.’ Just having that glimpse of the light kind of just really propelled me forward to be able to turn the season what we turned it in to. Just the guys around me have done a great job, the offensive line, receivers making plays, and just really supporting me. It’s been a good year.”

(On the game plan revolving around the passing game more at the end of the season) “Just having the confidence of [Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach] Coach Beck and him just knowing that his coaching has taken me to a level where we can throw the ball almost that well and it’s great. It’s a great feeling because you know its like, ‘Call a pass play. Call a pass play.’ That’s what I’m thinking in my head every play. It’s been good. I think our passing game is very good. It’s been great in practice and you just keep working on it, keep fine tuning little things, little details just to get better and better.”

(On starting in a bowl game after the ups and downs of the season) “It means a lot. We have great guys in the locker room on both sides of the ball and I’m just lucky to be a leader and be a guy on the team that gets to experience it with them. They welcomed me with open arms and I’m just blessed with the opportunity to be the quarterback of this team. That’s all I can say. I’m just blessed.”

(On setting the tone to be the front runner next year in this weekend’s game) “It’s always important to play as good as you can as we’re trying to win a game. But yeah, I think everything matters. There’s not going to be anything that’s overlooked. If I go out there and play bad, then maybe it goes the other way or whatever it is. But I think I’m in a good position and I’m just going to keep working hard and stay consistent and day to day just make sure I’m doing the best I can with everything I do day to day. All the stuff will take care of itself.”

(On having a relative that played at Kentucky) “My uncle [Ryan Hockman] played at Kentucky as a quarterback of Kentucky.”

(On playing a team with a losing record in a bowl game that’s favored to win) “I think we have a great team. We have great players. It’s a storied program that has multiple, multiple wins. We’ve won seven ACC games for the first time ever. [There’s] just multiple things this team has overcome and done. To me and to the rest of the players, I think we just look at it as it’s just another step to help propel the program and help make the program better than what it has been in the past and what it can be in the future. It’s just another step. They can put us down all they want, but we know what we have in the locker room and that’s it.”

(On playing against his uncle’s alma matter) “There’s obviously no bad blood. It’s family before everything. It’s been all positive, just ‘Go out there and play your best. Do your thing. Stay composed.’ A lot of the talking has been between his kids actually. He has two twin boys that are 13 and they’re all fired up about it. They’re like, ‘Hey you know my dad played at Kentucky?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ They’ve been fired up texting me all the time and they’re loving it. It’s good for them. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Linebacker Isaiah Moore

(On if DT Alim McNeill creates opportunities for the linebackers) “Yes, definitely. Playing defense, it all starts up front. Our front three, they all play a huge role. Of course, me myself, I play directly behind Alim most of the time. Definitely, him taking up two blocks, him dodging the center and getting guys off balance helps me make a lot of plays. He definitely plays a big part in our defense.”

(On how much the Pack United movement brought the team together and contributed to the success of the team, but to the entire athletic department) “It has definitely been great. I was not the only person, but as far as football, I kind of led the charge here. For what it is done for our team, we have had a lot of difficult conversations that have done nothing but bring us closer, not only with each other, but with our staff as well. I think they better understand us and we better understand them. As far as the athletic department, it’s been pretty much adopted by the whole department. Our administration has been great. Mr. Boo [Corrigan] has been great about giving us a voice and allowing ourselves to use our voices in the right way. Other teams have done the same thing – women’s basketball, men’s basketball, soccer, volleyball. Everybody has done a great job of continuing to use our platform to be advocates for change. That is all we really wanted to do.”

(On if he hears from athletes from other sports on how the football team has set the tone in regard to social justice and change) “Yes, definitely. I am a part of the student athlete advisory council, which involves all athletes. I talk to them all the time. We converse and throw ideas at each other about what more we can do and what they want to do, what we want to do and we just bounce them off each other.”

(On if he feels like this is the type of game that sets up well for his skill set) “Yes, definitely. I love contact. I love playing downhill. Going up against a big offensive line, a big running back, those are the games that as a linebacker you want to play. You get excited for it. I am definitely excited to play these guys.”

(On if there is a similar team to Kentucky on NC State’s schedule this season) “Maybe not this year, but I know Boston College is pretty similar with their size and their downhill running style. Georgia Tech a little bit, [Kentucky] runs the same kind of gap schemes, zone schemes as Georgia Tech did. Probably those two.”

(On if there is anything he can take from his previous experience at the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl and spread to the younger players) “I think the biggest thing I have been trying to preach to the young guys is that making it to a bowl is definitely an accomplishment, something you want to celebrate, but you want to win the game. You have to make sure we approach practice the right way, approach the week the right way and approach the game the right way, so when we go down there, we don’t repeat what happened in 2018.”

(On if it has felt like fall camp all over again with the practice schedule) “Yes, a little bit. Practice is not as long as it would be in fall camp, but just having this time not having classes, being able to focus fully on football and on a long season, it’s been great. Coach Doeren and his staff have done a great job of giving us opportunities to recover and also get work in as well. I feel like we are ready to go.”

(On the motivation in going into this game as an underdog against an SEC team) “I’m thinking we’ve been trying to prove ourselves all year long, so this is nothing new. Like [NC State Head Coach] Coach [Doeren] said, we were picked to finish eleventh in the ACC in the preseason and we took that as some disrespect and we just wanted to not only prove them wrong but prove ourselves right. We believed in January what type of team we had and what type of team we wanted to be. We felt like we put the work in, and we thought we could come out here and play football and see where the chips fall and we’re going to finish. As far as an SEC team, it’s always exciting playing an SEC team. You see all the ESPN guys talking about how SEC is the closest thing to NFL, so it’ll definitely be a challenge for us, and we’re excited for it.”

(On being an underdog against a team with a losing season) “Like I said, we’ve been trying to prove ourselves the whole season, so this is nothing new. I’m pretty sure we’ve been picked to be underdogs in the majority of our games this season. Our record speaks for itself. We just want to go down there and play the best football that we can. Let the outside guys do the talking, but our focus is definitely on us and playing our best ball.”

(On the differences in playing an SEC team, like Texas A&M in the past) “They had great size, great athletic ability. It’s a great conference and they produce a lot of NFL guys. We produce a lot of NFL guys here at NC State as well. We’re just excited to play a big-time opponent and we just can’t wait to get down here in Jacksonville.”