FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — If Dave Doeren could relive his coaching career, there’s one thing he would have changed.
When Doeren accepted the job to be North Carolina State’s head coach, it meant he could not lead Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl against Florida State and then-Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher.
“That was probably the one thing in my career, if I could do over again, I would have coached in that game,” Doeren said.
Six years later, he’ll have the opportunity to face Fisher in the postseason. On Monday, Doeren’s Wolfpack will face Fisher and No. 19 Texas A&M (8-4) in the Gator Bowl.
For Doeren, facing his former Atlantic Coast Conference rival is what makes this game so intriguing. The game could also show where the program is under Doeren.
“Jimbo’s always had a huge playbook,” Doeren said after the Wolfpack’s practice on Saturday. “He’s had a lot of formations. He’s played slow. He’s played fast.
“That’s the thing that’s fun about playing him. It’s challenging. You’ve got to know everything — like everything that he does.”
At N.C. State (9-3), Doeren had four cracks at Fisher before he finally got the best of him. Last season, the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 27-21, a significant win for the program.
“All wins are important, but I feel like that was a steppingstone for us, beating a top-tier school, giving us a chance to show that we can play with anybody,” said junior receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers, who was a quarterback when he signed with N.C. State, will be the focal point of the Wolfpack offense.
Kelvin Harmon, who led the Wolfpack in receiving yards, declared for the NFL draft and will not be playing in Monday’s game in Jacksonville. Meyers had a team-high 89 catches and was the other N.C. State receiver with more than 1,000 yards during the regular season.
For years, the Wolfpack considered Fisher’s Florida State program one of their chief rivals. Since 2011, either Clemson or Florida State has won the ACC championship game. In 2014, after N.C. State lost 56-41 to Fisher’s Seminoles, Doeren accused Florida State of faking injuries.
He quickly apologized. On Saturday, Doeren described their relationship as good for two men who rarely see each other.
Doeren also said Fisher’s squad at A&M strongly resembles the ones he had at Florida State, which won the 2013 BCS national championship. Doeren said the difference now is A&M sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond.
In addition to completing 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,967 yards and 23 touchdowns, Mond rushed for 647 yards, second most on the team.
“He’s always had great receivers,” Doeren said. “Still has them. He has a great tailback. He’s always had them. The difference is now, his kid [Mond] can really run. He’s a dangerous runner. He’s using his personnel.”
Doeren said that 75 percent of Fisher’s offense is similar to what he ran at Florida State and that the characterization of Fisher’s scheme as a “pro-style” attack that neglects the passing game is false. Even during his eight seasons at Florida State, the N.C. State coach said Fisher blended the pro offense with one that threw the ball often.
On Monday, N.C. State will be the one with the prolific quarterback.
Senior Ryan Finley is considered one of the top passers available in the upcoming draft. Finley was at Boise State before he followed offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz to N.C. State. Drinkwitz recently left to take the head coaching job at Appalachian State and took a few Wolfpack assistants with them.
Finley, who has drawn high praise from Fisher, understood the decision.
“I knew what his goals were,” Finley said. “He knew what my goals were. I think we kind of helped each other achieve them.”
For years, N.C. State viewed Fisher’s program as one to topple on its way to becoming a contender in the ACC.
Though Fisher has left for Texas, that feeling remains. Meyers said he wants to win 10 games for the first time in his career. When the Wolfpack line up against A&M, the receiver said there will be plenty to play for.
“I feel like we should get a lot more respect,” Meyers said. “This is a chance to prove it, if we deserve it. We have to go out there and earn it if we want it.”
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