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Scott Shafer on A.J. Long's Confidence, 1st Down Passes & Old MAC Connections

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Shafer was asked about A.J. Long's ability to stay positive as well as whether or not we'll see the Orange continue to throw more on first down.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Shafer stopped by the Weekly ACC Coaches Teleconfernce (as if he had a contractual choice) and dropped some nuggets of interest for Syracuse Orange football as it prepares to take on the N.C. State Wolfpack.

On A.J. Long and whether or not he's his own worst critic:

AJ is his own biggest critic. He wants to win. He wants to do well. He wants to please.

I don't know if I've really been around anyone that was worth a grain of salt that wasn't that way. He's fun to coach. He's working hard at it.

He had a hell of a task last week, going against the number three defense in the country, number one defense in TFLs, lost yardage, in those areas. So it was a great challenge for him.

He came up a little short. For an 18-year-old kid going into Death Valley, hell of a situation, but one that you learn from. I always felt like you learn more, especially at quarterback, from your failures than you do your triumphs.

I think AJ has postured himself well preparing for NC State to make that comeback and feel good about his progress as he moves forward.

But he's a great kid to coach. Loves the game. He's a gym rat. We're just happy to have him in our program.

On how Shafer tries to calm Long down when he's too hard on himself...

We had a talk at halftime. I said, "Listen, I know you're struggling." He had a couple snaps he dropped. His eyes were all over the place.

I said: "I know you're struggling. I want you to take a second and think about the best game you ever played in, just for a second here." We talked about that.

"How did you feel? Relaxed? Everything felt slow, right?"

Yeah, coach, it was slow motion compared to all the guys on the field.

"Right now it's the opposite because you're getting stressed out in situations against a great team. You need to slow your process down, breathe, see what you're taught to see."

That was the biggest disappointment for him is he just didn't see some things that he saw against Florida State, that he saw against Wake Forest. I think that mindset for a young guy like himself is, Okay, where did I make these mistakes and how am I going to practice not going back and making the same mistakes this next week?

There's a sense of calm when you go that route. Then when you build it up, get to practice, say, I've done the preparation, now just play. He's really good at doing that, at saying, Let's just go, let's just play.

I'm confident that he'll come back and have a great game this week.

How Shafer views the short-yardage shotgun offense a lot of teams are using...

Well, if you look in the NFL, when they get into third down and one to two or two to three, they're passing the ball a lot more than running the ball. In the college game, you get some of that, too.

But week-to-week, it's definitely different. I don't know if there's an advantage or not. There's always holes that you have to look at and figure out ways to plug them efficiently on defense without being unsound and giving up a play behind, moving people up in the gaps, that sort of thing.

To me you just have to look at every team you're playing. When you get to that segment, short yardage, you have to say, How can we defend this the best with always keeping in the back of your head how can we be sound.

Third-down-and-one turning into a first-and-10 as opposed to a touchdown because you overdid it is something that I'm always wary of. I think there's merit to making people drive the ball. Long drives usually don't finish in touchdowns. They're usually field goals, if you look at it. That's kind of the way I look at that short-yardage, shotgun stuff.

On whether or not Syracuse would continue to try and throw more on first down like it did against Clemson...

Well, you can't force things. If they got eight or nine down, you only have six to block with, you better throw it. If they only have five or six in the box, you want to throw it, you better run it. That's really the simplicity of how you got to play the game. Identify what you have in front of you.

It always ends up being a numbers game.

Good defenses try to show it one way, then change it, that sort of thing.

Clemson, as you know, I think they're number three in the country in total defense, number one in tackles for loss, or loss yardage. We went into the game plan, a lot of plays you have the opportunity to run, it's not just like you're calling a run play and then running it. It's you're calling a play, then you have an opportunity to get out of the play, take the numbers game.

A lot of those things happen on first down depending on who you're playing. For us we go week-to-week on it. The days of being able to line up and just try to run it right down somebody's throat regardless of the numbers are long past. Now you have to be smart and play the numbers game. To some degree it's a bit of a chess match.

Clemson, one of the best defenses I've seen. I thought Florida State had a great defense. I thought Notre Dame was an excellent defense, as well as Louisville. But playing them all this year now, I got to hand it to Coach Venables and Dabo. Clemson on at least that Saturday night was the best defense we played against this year.

How he met NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada...

Coach Mallory was the head coach [at Indiana]. I was in my first year as a graduate assistant. He came to me and said, Hey, I'm going to bring you three guys that want to be student assistants, but we can only hire one. I want you to interview all three of them, then pick the best one that you think can do a good job.

So we had these guys in. Matt was by far the best. We hired him. He and I worked a lot of hours together. After I moved on, he was still a student at Indiana. Then when I got to Northern Illinois, we had a job opening. We went into coach Novak and said, Matt Canada is available, what do you think, give him a shot? Without hesitation Joe hired him. Matt and I worked together there for I think four years.

After the 2003 season, we all went our separate ways.

He's just a great coach, a great friend, one of my favorite people in the whole world.

And while we're here, NC State head coach Dave Doreen talks about his relationship with Scott Shafer...

I've known Scott since he was the D coordinator at Michigan, I was at Wisconsin at the time. Then when I went to Northern Illinois, Scott obviously has a great history there, was a part of building that program. Some of the coaches I hired onto that staff had either worked with Scott or he had coached. So we just got to know each other through that.

Coming to NC State at the same time that he was promoted, we just had a common relationship. Both guys have a lot of the same friends from the Midwest. A guy that I respect a lot, not just as a person, but professionally, the way he does his business. Both of us being defensive coaches before we were head coaches, just have had a lot of conversations about defensive football before we got to these schools.