Doeren era starts with a bang
The start of the Dave Doeren coaching era at N.C. State was such a success that many of the announced crowd of 54,204 had left Carter-Finley Stadium long before the final gun made a 40-14 victory over Louisiana Tech official.
They stayed around long enough to see a wide-open no-huddle offense that was the opposite of the boring system that marked the program under Tom O’Brien, who was fired last November after the Wolfpack completed another in a string of mediocre seasons.
They saw the Doeren offense, under the direction of starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, run and pass its way impressively to touchdowns on its first two possessions.
They also saw it not run as efficiently after Mitchell, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, was sidelined by a broken left foot on the Pack’s third series and was replaced primarily by Pete Thomas, who was a little-used backup behind Mike Glennon, now in the NFL.
And there’s the rub. Thomas was good enough to help direct the Wolfpack to 26 points but was also so erratic at times passing that there became doubts if the ball would go to a Pack receiver or a Bulldog defender.
He threw just one interception, on the Bulldog goal line, but was bailed out when the defender fumbled it back at the 20. State eventually got a field goal out of the possession, one of four kicked by Niklas Sade when drives stalled.
Doeren eventually inserted Bryant Shirriffs at quarterback occasionally in a Wildcat formation to take some of the heat off Thomas. Near the end, with the issue decided, Doeren gave freshman Josh Taylor some reps at quarterback just to give him experience.
“I certainly didn’t plan to play four quarterbacks today,” Doeren said. “With Brandon being out, if something happens to Pete, Josh could be in there in a heartbeat. So, I decided to put him in.”
The offense was good enough to roll up 542 yards, 305 in the air and 237 on the ground. Doeren got a solid performance from freshman Matt Dayes, who led the Pack with 84 yards rushing and three touchdowns, offsetting the absence of suspended Shadrach Thornton.
“I know the first game they didn’t know what we were going to do on offense and we were at an advantage that way,” Doeren said. “But now hopefully it will evolve.”
He was fortunate it didn’t have to evolve Saturday in a close game, thanks in part to the Bulldogs twice fumbling on the door step of the State end zone.
The prognosis for Mitchell, who spent part of the second half on crutches behind the State bench, is that he will undergo surgery as early as today, according to Doeren.
“Typically, it’s a 4-to-6 week deal,” Doeren said of Mitchell’s possible recovery time. “But, he was walking pretty easy after the injury so I don’t know how bad it is.”
If that is the case, Mitchell might not be available for action until State faces Wake Forest on Oct. 5. Thomas is well aware that he must run the offense with less drama.
“We should have had more points,” Thomas said. “The interception I threw, you can’t do that. We kicked too many field goals. We need to punch those in.”
They may not need more punches Saturday when Richmond comes to town.
They most certainly will when Clemson, the conference favorite this season, comes calling on Sept. 19.
That will be the first true measure of the new-look Wolfpack.