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NC State's Doeren era kicks off with win, key QB injury

N.C. State left little doubt in Dave Doeren's debut win, but a QB injury could prove costly.

RALEIGH, N.C. — NC State began the Dave Doeren era with a 40-14 win over Louisiana Tech that was very rarely in doubt.

Louisiana Tech isn’t the same team it was a year ago with most of its talent gone, but there are still good players on that roster. It was hardly a cupcake opener, and NC State handled the Bulldogs pretty thoroughly in all three phases of the game.

But the injury to starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell sucked some of the enthusiasm out of Carter-Finley Stadium in a hurry. 

THREE THINGS

1. The Brandon Mitchell injury is going to be a problem: Hardly deep analysis there, obviously. The Wolfpack only has one tough game in the (minimum) four-week window without Mitchell, but it’s a really tough one: Clemson.

That’s a game that NC State looked like it had a chance to compete in with Mitchell running the offense. He led three drives and two of those were for touchdowns and he completed 3-of-3 passes for 93 yards. He also ran for 19 yards on five carries, and his dual-threat skill set is a big part of what Doeren wants to do. 

NC State played four quarterbacks, but one (freshman Josh Taylor) only saw action in garbage time. Freshman Bryant Shirreffs came in strictly as a Wildcat QB (he did not attempt a pass). Backup Pete Thomas, with whom Mitchell was competing with for the job until the end of camp, is more of a passer. He struggled in that department at first, completing eight of first 19 attempts, but he hit on seven of his final eight to finish 15-of-27 for 212 yards. 

If Doeren could combine Shirreffs and Thomas into one quarterback, he’d have ... well, he’d have Mitchell, basically, the ideal quarterback for his offense.

“It was just more the designed QB run game. That’s the biggest change that happens (without Mitchell),” Doeren said. “And Pete can run it as well but when you’re down to two guys, you’re going to take care of it a little bit different.”

Shirreffs, though, was playing linebacker a week and a half ago before being switched to fullback a few days later. He began camp as a quarterback. So he’s essentially played three positions in the course of the last two weeks. 

He’s a little rusty when it comes to throwing the ball, but he doesn’t mind playing a Tim Tebow-type of change-of-pace role until Mitchell comes back. 

“(Thomas) and I were actually talking before the game. I (said), ‘What do you think the chances are I go in at Wildcat?’ He (said), ‘Under 5 percent, unless something happens to Brandon or something,’ and something did,” Shirreffs said.

The issue is, though, that he’ll have to at least show he can throw it every now and then. 

“I’m going to have to start working on throwing again. I can throw it, but I’m not like a pocket passer. I lift too much,” Shirreffs said with a grin. 

2. NC State’s specialists are a huge asset: Yes, I know. Special teams. Yawn. But this is a team without a lot of returning starters, and to have veterans at punter and kicker is a huge asset. Punter Will Baumann averaged 40 yards a punt and kicker Nikolas Sade made all four of his field-goal attempts, including a 45-yarder. And most of his kickoffs were right through the back of the end zone, no chance of being brought out. 

“One of the things I told our specialists this week, we’ve got three-year starters at kicker, punter and snapper and (Louisiana Tech has) brand new ones," Doeren said. "It was their job to act like and look like they were three-year starters, and they did that today."

NC State needs every chance it can get to gain advantages and not hurt itself.

If the Wolfpack can start with an average field position of its own 36-yard line (Louisiana Tech’s average starting position was its own 25), it will at least help. 

3. The defense was a little shaky, but the problems were fixable: This unit has been well ahead of the offense basically since Doeren arrived in Raleigh in December, and it at least got to keep the same scheme it used last year.

Louisiana Tech likes to go up-tempo, and it was hot outside. But the Bulldogs put up 321 yards of offense and would have had more than 14 points if not for two goal-line fumbles. 

“That’s the only thing that hurt us all day was missed tackles. We didn’t give up big passes in the pass game. The runs they had wasn’t because we were out-gapped or out-manned, it was because we had a guy there that didn’t finish the play,” Doeren said. “Those are things that we’ll get on film and show our guys and we’ll get better.”

The positive? NC State made some of those miscues happen, of course, and it was able to take advantage of them, which is ultimately all that matters. Still, tackling problems plague college football nowadays, and with offenses getting more and more explosive, it's something the Wolfpack will want to fix quickly. 

STAR WATCH

Doeren talked freshman running back Matt Dayes up all throughout camp and said he would get carries in the season-opener, particularly with sophomore tailback Shadrach Thornton serving a one-game suspension.

Well, Dayes got carries all right — 17 of them, to be exact. 

“Seventeen carries?” Dayes said after the game. “I didn’t even know it was that many. But I felt in really great shape. I could have gotten 30 carries today.” 

He turned those 17 carries into 84 yards (4.9 per rush) and three touchdowns. NC State’s two main backs, Dayes and Tony Creecy, combined for 144 yards on 30 carries and all four scores. 

Whenever there is a two-back system, people always assume it’s thunder and lightning, a speed guy complemented by a power back. But Creecy and Dayes are of similar build, 5-foot-11, 210 pounds and 5-foot-9, 213 pounds, respectively. Dayes is shorter, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be known as a “bowling ball”.

“A lot of people say I’m a bowling bowl. I don’t think of myself like that,” Dayes said. “I think of myself as kind of a speed guy. But it is what it is. I try to beat people to the sideline and get down the field.”

Whatever Dayes is, he’s fast. And elusive. There will be plenty of carries for the talented freshman as the year progresses, and he and Creecy could take a lot of pressure off of the passing game until Mitchell can get back healthy.