New North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren is eager to find out whether his players have learned their new schemes and how they'll handle game pressure. Skip Holtz is wondering the same things as he takes over at Louisiana Tech.
That leaves both teams unsure exactly what to expect as they meet Saturday.
Doeren, 41, went 23-4 in two seasons as Northern Illinois coach and inherits a program that had been stagnant in six seasons under Tom O'Brien, who managed just a 22-26 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Holtz, 49, was fired after three seasons at South Florida but quickly found a new home when Sonny Dykes left to take over at California.
Doeren has installed a no-huddle offense that blends elements of Wisconsin - where Doeren worked as an assistant - and Oregon. That's the biggest change for the Wolfpack (7-6 in 2012), while the defense is staying with a 4-3 scheme.
"Our focus right now is just on us," Doeren said. "Because of that unknown of playing a new staff, new coaches, new schemes, a lot of new players that you can't find on tape right now because they weren't playing last year for them, you've got to really focus on yourself and how you're going to play. I think if that's where our focus is and not what people are saying about the game, we'll come out and play the way we want to play."
Holtz is certainly familiar with N.C. State after spending five years as head coach at East Carolina, where he won two Conference USA championships about 90 miles east of Raleigh. Holtz went 16-21 at South Florida before replacing Dykes at Louisiana Tech (9-3).
"You are going to see a lot of adjustments being made and teams feeling more and more comfortable with what they are doing and what they are going to try to plug in from a gameplan standpoint," Holtz said. "This is not one you go in with a call sheet and say we are going to do all these things to attack them because you do not know what you are going to get. Both teams are in the same boat."
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's NC State-Louisiana Tech matchup:
LEADING THE PACK: The question of who will start at quarterback for the Wolfpack will linger until game time. Arkansas graduate transfer Brandon Mitchell and Colorado State junior transfer Pete Thomas have competed for the job through training camp. Doeren said both players can throw well and have good size, though Mitchell brings more athleticism to the no-huddle attack.
PACE OF PLAY: Doeren wants N.C. State playing fast and spent both the spring and training camp pushing his players to do everything at a faster tempo. That wasn't a problem last year for the Bulldogs, who averaged 51 points and 578 yards under Dykes. But Holtz has said he plans to use both a hurry-up and conventional approach to ease the pressure on his defense, which struggled in late-season losses to Utah State and San Jose State.
ESTABLISHING THE RUN: Louisiana Tech can turn to Kenneth Dixon (1,194 yards rushing, 27 touchdowns in 2012) and Tevin King to move the chains on the ground and lead the Bulldogs. N.C. State will rely on redshirt junior Tony Creecy and freshman Matt Dayes, a duo that will carry the load while leading rusher Shadrach Thornton serves a one-game suspension after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female in June.
NC STATE'S YOUTH: Doeren will get his first on-field look at plenty of young players. Seven freshmen appear on N.C. State's two-deep depth chart for offense and defense, including a pair of receivers in Bra'Lon Cherry and Marques Valdes-Scantling. Three redshirt freshmen also appear, though Doeren said the team will have to "get through the bumps in the road" that come with young players being thrown into the lineup.
YOUNG'S DEBUT: Louisiana Tech redshirt junior Scotty Young, a Texas Tech transfer, will start at quarterback in his first college action. Young redshirted in 2010 and didn't play in 2011, then sat out last year after his transfer. "He has been around the college game," Holtz said. "He has had a lot of scrimmage reps."