One loss, even a reality-check variety like Saturday’s trip to West Virginia, is no reason to panic or make a change at quarterback.
That’s the way N.C. State coach Dave Doeren sees it. There will be some tweaks in the offense for quarterback Matt McKay, Doeren said in his weekly press conference on Monday, but not wholesale changes.
McKay, who struggled in the second half of last week’s 44-27 loss at West Virginia, will still be the Wolfpack (2-1) starter for Saturday’s home game (7 p.m., ESPNU) with Ball State (1-2).
Doeren’s faith in the redshirt sophomore from Wakefield hasn’t wavered after three games but he does recognize the need to help McKay, who has struggled to throw the ball downfield, improve.
“You think you know what you want to do but when you play you really find out what you can do,” Doeren said. “That’s our job is to change some things based on the information we now have.”
The information Doeren has through three games on McKay: 66 of 113 passes (58.4 percent), 715 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, no fumbles.
That last part is what has encouraged Doeren, who picked McKay over Bailey Hockman and Devin Leary after a training camp competition. In Year 7, there’s also some perspective Doeren has gained about how to handle the ups and downs of the season and to not overreact.
“You’re one day away from somebody loving you or hating you in this business,” Doeren said. “That’s just how it is.”
Matt McKay solid in first half against West Virginia
McKay, in his first road start, was solid in the first half against WVU. The team got behind 7-0 and 14-7 and each time, he led the Wolfpack offense on a subsequent touchdown drive. He was 14 of 24 for 135 yards with a touchdown in the first half and N.C. State’s offense scored 21 points.
The wheels came off in the second half. McKay completed just 9 of 24 attempts for 72 yards and the offense didn’t reach the end zone and only produced six points (on two field goals).
One problem, even going back to the easy wins over East Carolina and Western Carolina to open the season, McKay has not been able to connect with his receivers down the field. He hit tight end Cary Angeline on a seam route in the second quarter, which went for a 39-yard gain, but it was mostly yards after the catch.
McKay missed the few chances he took down field, notably to receivers Emeka Emezie and Thayer Thomas. For the most part, McKay attempted shorter throws underneath on slants or curls. His timing and accuracy was off on some of those.
In the postgame press conference on Saturday, McKay noted the difference between the two halves and said he thought he had a “pretty solid” game.
“I thought I did a solid job of it but at the end of the day, we didn’t win and that’s my main focus,” McKay said on Saturday.
When asked specifically about the second-half struggles, McKay said he “could have done a lot better.”
Doeren said McKay had a different opinion after he watched the game film on Sunday.
“I think there’s a lot that goes into him playing better, and he needs to play better,” Doeren said on Monday. “He was mad at himself on some of the things he could do better.”
But that improvement is not McKay’s alone to make.
“Across the board as a football team, we’ve got to play a lot better,” Doeren said.
NC State penalties and dropped passes
There were a season-high nine penalties (it had same combined amount in the first two games), a special teams mistake (a blocked punt) and a missed field goal (albeit from 51 yards).
On the offensive side, Doeren noted there were too many dropped passes (unofficially four) and some of the run-pass option play calls put too much of the “game-management piece” on McKay.
There was a third-and-1 call early in the third quarter where McKay held onto the ball on the “RPO” read and was sacked for a 2-yard loss. WVU blocked a punt on the next play.
“We shouldn’t have him even think about throwing the ball right there,” Doeren said. “That’s not on Matt, that’s on us.”
On a subsequent fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, the offense lined up with a heavy-set backfield and Bam Knight pounded off the left side for 12 yards.
That’s the kind of adjustment, and learning from a mistake, Doeren wants to see as a whole from the season’s initial setback.
“I think every obstacle in your life is a choice in how you’re going to handle that adversity,” Doeren said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to improve and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Notes: Senior defensive end James Smith-Williams, who missed the West Virginia loss with a foot injury, is listed in the depth chart for the Ball State game. Senior cornerback Nick McCloud, who has missed the past two games with an injury, is not. ... The kickoff time for N.C. State’s trip to Florida State on Sept. 28 is set for 7:30 p.m. The game will be aired on the ACC Network.
Ball State at NC State
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Listen: WRAL-101.5 Triangle; WXRC-95.7 Charlotte