N.C. State ranks second in the ACC in rushing offense, has the country’s leader in rushing touchdowns and another running back who is averaging two touchdowns per game.
So when Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren was asked on Thursday about any possible issues with the ground game now that running back Shadrach Thornton has been dismissed from the program, he wasn’t joking when he said: “I’m more concerned about our left guard.”
N.C. State (4-0), which begins ACC play on Saturday (12:30 p.m., WRAL) at home against Louisville (1-3), will be without senior left guard Alex Barr for a second straight game, hence Doeren’s comment.
The Wolfpack offense will continue to rely heavily on junior running back Matt Dayes, who has an NCAA-best nine rushing touchdowns and a team-best 454 yards on the season. Dayes, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the first four games, is on pace to become N.C. State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002.
Sophomore Jaylen Samuels has rushed for five touchdowns, on just 12 carries, and is averaging 8.6 yards per rush. The running back-slash-tight end has also caught 20 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns.
Through four games, N.C. State has averaged 259 rushing yards per game, second only to Georgia Tech (326) in the ACC and 16th-best nationally.
“Obviously, we’ve shown that we have a lot of ball carriers that are pretty good,” Doeren said. “We’re excited for the opportunity for Matt to get more carries.”
Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing in each of the past three seasons, and had 111 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 63-13 win at South Alabama.
An arrest after a moped accident on Tuesday night, Thornton’s third arrest in as many years, led to the senior running back’s dismissal from the program on Wednesday.
“We all cared for him but everyone understands you have to do things a certain way,” Doeren said. “Playing here is a privilege, not a right. We’re going to do everything we can to help him continue get his degree and support him but it’s time to move on.”
Thornton apologized for his problems on Thursday in a statement released to the media.
“Throughout my time here at N.C. State I haven’t always made the best decisions, but from those decisions I have learned unteachable lessons,” Thornton wrote in the statement. “The lessons we learn while getting knocked down are the ones that stick with us when we get back up.”
N.C. State has already played two games this season without Thornton, who was suspended for the wins over Troy and Eastern Kentucky. Dayes had a career-best 126 yards on 24 carries in the season-opening win over Troy.
He leads the team with 76 rushing attempts in the first four games – 46 more than Thornton and 49 more than freshman Reggie Gallaspy.
Doeren said there are no plans to change how they use Samuels, who runs mostly out of the slot, or move freshman Nyheim Hines, who has played receiver after a stellar high school career at Garner, to running back.
The plan still remains to redshirt Johnny Frasier, a highly-rated freshman from Princeton, this season, Doeren said. Frasier has been dealing with an ankle injury the past two weeks, Doeren said.
Gallaspy, who had 35 yards and two touchdowns on six carries against South Alabama, is in line to be used in a similar role to the one Thornton had the last two games. Thornton is more of between-the-tackles runner than Dayes and Gallaspy, who’s 5-11 and 212 pounds, adds more of a physical element than Dayes.
The freshman from High Point enrolled in January and had a big spring game, and has 110 yards on 27 carries this season. Doeren has confidence Gallaspy can handle the new role.
“He came here to have an opportunity to play, and he came early, now it’s here,” Doeren said.
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Louisville at N.C. State
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh