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DeCock: Doeren’s debut a real welcome to NC State

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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RALEIGH Welcome to N.C. State, Dave Doeren. That’s your starting quarterback, who engineered touchdown drives on the first two possessions of his Wolfpack career, on crutches in the end-zone tunnel.

Doeren won his debut at Carter-Finley Stadium, but not without an instant introduction into “The Way Things Work at N.C. State,” where bad luck and bizarre circumstances always seem to be lurking around the corner. An ace pitcher’s shutout is spoiled by his own error. A technical foul is called on a basketball manager wiping water from the floor. And so on. Saturday, Brandon Mitchell’s left fifth metatarsal joined the list.

Doeren might as well get used to this sort of thing. Wolfpack fans, meanwhile, will not find it difficult to get used to what they saw on the field in N.C. State’s 40-14 win over Louisiana Tech – 542 yards of offense, a defense that forced four turnovers and an early killer instinct on both sides of the ball that stunned the Bulldogs.

It was a two-way street, with Doeren equally impressed by the Wolfpack fans and Carter-Finley atmosphere.

“I walked into the coaches’ locker room today and said, ‘If these guys don’t play sky-high today, we’ve got issues,’ because it was a great environment coming up to the stadium,” Doeren said. “I knew they’d play their butts off. This is why they came here.”

Despite massive turnover in both coaches and players, Louisiana Tech was no pushover, and Skip Holtz has more material to work with there than he did his first year at East Carolina while sorting through the wreckage John Thompson left behind. Given that, the professionalism of N.C. State’s performance, particularly given all the change Doeren has wrought, should not be underestimated.

The impact of Mitchell’s foot injury should not be underestimated, either. Doeren said Mitchell will have surgery this week and is likely to miss at least four weeks. This is a serious concern because the Wolfpack offense, while productive, never had the same ferocity without Mitchell, not with Pete Thomas throwing or Bryant Shirreffs running.

Doeren used four different quarterbacks Saturday, including true freshmen Shirreffs and Josh Taylor, in what turned into a second half of open auditions at the position. “That was something I didn’t plan on,” Doeren admitted.

Quarterback shouldn’t be too much of an issue next week against Richmond, not as long as N.C. State can steer clear of the swine flu that sunk Duke against the Spiders in 2009, but Clemson arrives on a Thursday night only 12 days after that, and the quarterback position will matter very much against the Tigers.

Other than that, there were few acute concerns and plenty to like. Two true freshmen, running back Matt Dayes and receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling, played extensively with the first-team offense and looked good. The suspended Shadrach Thornton was hardly missed. The first quarter of Doeren’s tenure could not have gone much better with the overall debut a solid success, despite Mitchell’s injury.

“We’re happy with where we’re at after one game,” Doeren said.

As for Mitchell, perhaps Doeren can take solace in another piece of N.C. State history. Mitchell isn’t the first quarterback to get hurt in his Wolfpack debut. Russell Wilson suffered a concussion against South Carolina in the opening game of the 2008 season and things turned out OK for Wilson and N.C. State, even if the circumstances of his eventual departure fall under the same heading as Mitchell’s injury.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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