RALEIGH Whether it was the extra dimension the new quarterback added; the up-tempo, no-huddle attack; or simply the credentials and history coach Dave Doeren brought with him, N.C. State’s offense was the talk of the offseason.
That hasn’t come to fruition yet.
In four ACC games, the Wolfpack’s offense has scored six touchdowns, which is 13th in a 14-team league. They’re averaging 23.6 points, which ranks 92nd in the nation. Saturday, the Wolfpack faces rival North Carolina, which ranks 70th in scoring defense, 97th in total defense and 98th against the run.
“Despite where they are in the country as far as defense, they are getting better,” N.C. State running back Shadrach Thornton said. “They’re playing a lot more physical. … Early on, that defense was kind of skeptical, but I feel like they’ve made the changes they needed to become a better defense.”
The Tar Heels allowed numerous big plays in the passing game in early losses against South Carolina and East Carolina. Stephen Morris passed for 322 yards in Miami’s 27-23 win two weeks ago, but the Tar Heels also intercepted him four times.
North Carolina’s secondary was even better last week, holding Boston College to 59 passing yards on 22 attempts in a 34-10 win.
Wolfpack receiver Rashard Smith is looking forward to testing the Tar Heels’ ability to stop big plays. Smith caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon in last year’s game.
“We have to exploit their weaknesses and they haven’t faced that lately,” Smith said. “East Carolina made plays against them and we see what happened. Boston College didn’t do that. I believe we just need to go out there and really make plays against them and make them work.”
Wolfpack quarterback Brandon Mitchell is new to the rivalry. He doesn’t expect to to see any exotic defensive formations from the Tar Heels.
“They don’t try to disguise a lot of things like Florida State did,” Mitchell said. “They’re going to play their cover two and blitz. They don’t really check out of their blitzes. They just line up and play football.”
Mitchell returned last week after missing five games with a broken bone in his left foot. He said Tuesday that he felt more comfortable than he did going into the FSU game.
“I feel a lot more confident now having that one game under my belt,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Doeren said injuries, notably to Mitchell, have hindered the offense’s effectiveness, but players are returning to the lineup. The timing is good, as N.C. State tries to end a three-game losing streak.
“The problem is, if that was all that had happened, if all we had was Mitchell out, then it would have been a lot easier to move on,” he said. “When you lose linemen and receivers and backs, every week it's a different group of players, that’s what makes it difficult.”
Smith: 919-829-8941; Twitter: @RCorySmith
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