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

RALEIGH, N.C. — N.C. 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 N.C. 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 N.C. 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. 

N.C.
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. N.C. 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.”
N.C. 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? N.C. 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. N.C. 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-foo-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,
so.”
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.