Thornton a game-changer for Wolfpack

BY foxsports • September 25, 2012

Shadrach who?

Shadrach Thornton.

Not many North Carolina State fans knew who Thornton was before the team's 52-14 victory over the Citadel on Saturday, but they sure are familiar with him now. He represents where the Wolfpack are, heading into Atlantic Coast Conference play.

In his first college football game, Thornton, a true freshman from Hinesville, Ga., ran for 145 yards and scored two touchdowns. It wasn’t that NC State needed a spark in order to defeat the Bulldogs, a Football Championship Subdivision team, but the Wolfpack needed something positive to happen in the running game. Thornton gave them that.

The whole point of the game against the Citadel, aside from earning a third consecutive victory, was to continue making progress across the board. And a running attack is a vital component to coach Tom O’Brien’s preferred approach to success. So with more experienced backs Mustafa Greene, Tony Creecy and James Washington out for various reasons, Thornton gave the Pack a surprising juice injection that couldn’t have come in a timelier manner.

“He really didn’t miss anything,” said O’Brien, whose team visits Miami this weekend. “He was headed in the right direction, ran the right routes and did what he was supposed to do, which is good. With most kids, you hope after his first experience that he’ll be better this week and more prepared to do things. This defense will pressure us a lot more than we saw on Saturday.”

The Wolfpack were knocked back some in their season-opening loss to Tennessee and a week later barely escaped with a win at Connecticut. In Week 3, NC State was solid but unspectacular in dispatching South Alabama 31-7.

The defense has found itself during the past three games. With Thornton complementing senior quarterback Mike Glennon’s arm, the offense is gaining balance. Sometimes, little can be gained from playing so-called patsies, but O’Brien’s team got a lot out of the games against South Alabama and the Citadel.

“Yeah, certainly both games,” O’Brien said when asked whether the team accomplished what he wanted out of the past two weekends. “We played well on defense in both games. We’ve made strides offensively, even with the injuries. Maybe we found something in Shadrach.”

Thornton was rated the No. 84 tailback in the nation last year by and chose the Pack over offers from Georgia Tech, Mississippi and Kentucky, to name a few. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound multidimensional back ran for 1,738 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last fall. He also passed for two scores and returned punts and kickoffs for Liberty High School.

O’Brien and the staff were impressed with Thornton upon his arrival in Raleigh. Thornton was fearless, and that’s something that will catch the eye of O’Brien, a former Marine.

“He’s a tough kids from the first day of camp,” O’Brien said. “We’ve always done pass protections with running backs against linebackers. He wasn’t afraid. He’s not afraid to go block somebody. We just have to make sure he goes to the right guy because he’s going to have to pick up somebody in pass protection this week.”

This week is a date at surging Miami. Forget about the Hurricanes’ blowout loss at Kansas State in Week 2, they are 3-1, including 2-0 in ACC road games, and are coming off a shocking, 42-36 overtime win at Georgia Tech.

The Canes led 19-0 before trailing 36-19. Then they fought back and earned the victory, showing amazing resilience for the second time this season, the first being the season-opening victory at Boston College.

Miami is young, coach Al Golden is in his second season there and the Canes have been quite inconsistent thus far. But they are talented and dangerous. Saturday’s game provides the Wolfpack with a terrific opportunity

“It’s a very big deal for us,” Wolfpack senior safety Brandan Bishop said. “As a program, they might not be where they used to be, but they are still talented. We want to get the ball rolling, as far as ACC play goes, and so we’re excited.”

The Pack should be. They have made considerable progress since the opener against Tennessee, and most of their preseason goals remain possible. This weekend might be the stiffest test of the season to date, but there’s no reason to believe NC State isn’t up to the challenge.