RALEIGH – The bad news for N.C. State when it hosted UNC: The Wolfpack lost. But like it did earlier this season when the Pack hosted Clemson, the first-year coaching staff once again took advantage of a prime game on its schedule to host many of the state’s top prep players.
Taking an official visit was four-star running back Derrell Scott of Havelock (N.C.) High. Scott, who went over 5,000 career rushing yards earlier this season, has long been hyped as one of the top prospects in the 2014 class. He has also been long considered a good bet to end up at South Carolina.
The Wolfpack, though, has been persistent, a common theme heard among recruits on N.C. State’s board. The work ethic has paid off in the sense that NCSU has emerged as one of South Carolina’s top competitors for Scott, along with Tennessee.
Whether Scott will end up in Raleigh is questionable, but to be battling traditional SEC powers (both of whom have a former teammate of Scott on their rosters) is a testament to the improvement N.C. State has seen on the recruiting trail from the years past.
Also reportedly at the game was another four-star senior, wide receiver Trevion Thompson of Durham (N.C.) Hillside. Thompson has trimmed his list to six schools: N.C. State, UNC, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida State and West Virginia. This is the third game this season though that Thompson has been spotted at N.C. State, believed to be Thompson’s most frequent stop.
Many of the region’s top juniors and sophomores were also at the game. One estimate had the group of prospects attending Carter-Finley Stadium that afternoon at well over 100 and one of the largest in recent memory. While the game did not turn out like N.C. State hoped, the crowd was large and into the game, especially when the Wolfpack jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
Like the Clemson game, this contest also represented another chance for many of the young prospects to build relationships with the new coaches and see firsthand why those coaches are probably telling them about a chance to play early if they come to N.C. State.
Even UNC head coach Larry Fedora had noted earlier in the week leading up to the contest that he has taken notice of the Wolfpack’s aggressiveness on the recruiting trail in the state.
“We see them everywhere,” Fedora said. “They’re all over the state, and out of state also, in the same footprint we’re in.
“I think, from what I can tell, they’re doing a nice job. They’re beating the same path just like we are.”
Offensive Woes Continue
NCSU started its ACC slate with five consecutive losses, and the reason behind the defeats is not a secret: The offense continues to struggle.
The Pack has yet to score more than 19 points in an ACC game, and that came in its 27-19 defeat to UNC. In those five league games, the Wolfpack has also yet to get over 400 yards of total offense.
So the question is, what is bogging down the offense? It starts with the quarterback play. In eight games, N.C. State quarterbacks have thrown just four touchdown passes, and one of those came from freshman Bryant Shirreffs, a designated wildcat quarterback who surprised FCS Richmond by throwing out of the formation.
The combination of senior Brandon Mitchell and junior Pete Thomas has thrown 12 interceptions compared to three touchdowns. Head coach Dave Doeren preached before the season to his quarterbacks that he just wanted them to manage the game, but thus far, Mitchell and Thomas have done anything but that.
Perhaps partly because of quarterback play, N.C. State’s offense has also been woeful in the red zone. The Wolfpack twice reached the 10-yard line of UNC before having to settle for field goals. Had the Wolfpack converted those into touchdowns, the outcome against the Tar Heels could have very well ended differently.
The fact that N.C. State did not score touchdowns there was hardly a surprise, though. For the season, N.C. State has scored just 10 touchdowns on 25 trips to the red zone, compared to its opponents, who have punched it in 21 out of 25 opportunities.
With the re-emergence of sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton, the Pack has a bona fide running option in the red zone. Thornton is averaging 5.0 yards a carry. Mitchell, who ran for 105 yards and a score for State against UNC, is a threat with the football in his hands, too. Teams that can run the football should do well in the red zone, which makes NCSU’s struggles even more puzzling.
If N.C. State wants to make a surprising late run to a bowl berth, it’ll need to fix its red zone problems. The Wolfpack has not shown a knack for big plays or explosiveness on offense this year. N.C. State has also lost junior receiver Bryan Underwood, likely for the rest of the season, with an injury, and Underwood was clearly the Pack’s best big-play threat on offense.
N.C. State was not overwhelmed by the talent of UNC, Wake Forest or Syracuse, the latter two games were situations in which N.C. State was severely shorthanded by a long list of injuries. The rest of its schedule is more in line with those teams than FSU or Clemson. In other words, there is a sliver of hope still remaining for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State’s margin of error is thin, and thus far the offense is not allowing the team to walk that line. For the offense to pick it up, it will need to find a quarterback that can make plays without making mistakes. And when it gets the opportunity, it must cash in on all that it can get.
In other words, the offense needs to be managed better. But Doeren has been talking about that since spring football, and with two-thirds of the season over, is it too late to hope for that?