There’s a byproduct to going young, one that wasn’t totally unexpected by N.C. State before its opener with Georgia Southern last week.
With 20 true and redshirt freshmen playing their first college game, and for the first time in front of 50,000 people, there were some nerves on the Wolfpack side and it affected how the game started, coach Dave Doeren said.
Once the jitters went away, N.C. State was able to overcome a slow start and pull out a 24-23 win in the fourth quarter Saturday.
“It’s natural to play not to make a mistake early because you don’t want to screw up,” Doeren said. “The guys settled down as the game went on.”
N.C. State lost the first half 17-3 but won the second half 21-6. The Wolfpack had several new players make important contributions, notably freshman receiver Bo Hines (nine catches, 85 yards) and redshirt freshman linebacker Jerod Fernandez (eight tackles).
You have to take the good with the bad in the early developmental stages of a program, and that’s where N.C. State is after a 3-9 season under Doeren in 2013. Eleven of the freshmen participated on the defensive side and a veteran Georgia Southern offense was able to exploit some of those rookie mistakes.
The Eagles had big plays of 61, 52, 51, 29, 37 and 30 yards, Doeren said. That’s too many, especially when you consider the Wolfpack offense only produced three plays of more than 25 yards.
One other problem that stood out to Doeren was the Wolfpack forced four fumbles but only recovered one, albeit the most important one of the game on its own goal line in the fourth quarter. Safety Jarvis Byrd also dropped a relatively easy interception.
“Those are the plays, being the opportunistic team we need to be, we need to find a way to make going forward,” Doeren said.
There were many highlights, too, which Doeren pointed out Monday during his weekly news conference. The 4.9 yards per carry (173 yards on 35 rushing attempts) was one he was particularly pleased with. Also, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who completed 70 percent (28 of 40) of his passes, was only sacked once and Georgia Southern didn’t have any tackles for loss.
Doeren said the Wolfpack offense, which got three touchdown passes from Brissett in the second half, was especially good on first down. N.C. State averaged 6.9 yards on first down.
The positives weren’t limited to the offense. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown in four trips to the red zone by Georgia Southern’s offense. Junior safety Hakim Jones stood out, Doeren said, with 11 tackles.
Doeren was hopeful the defense would get a boost with the return of junior safety Tim Buckley. Buckley, who was supposed to start at nickel back, got sick before the game and couldn’t play. Doeren said he’s hopeful Buckley will be able to play against Old Dominion on Saturday night.
The best news for N.C. State is the more the young players get in the game, the more they’ll be comfortable. It was good to come back and win in the fourth quarter, senior left tackle Rob Crisp said, but with more experience, the Wolfpack might not have to recover from a slow start.
“Now that they’ve got the feel for the game situation, I think they are going to be a lot more relaxed going into Game 2,” Crisp said.