N.C. State’s Matt Dayes is a man of few words, and especially when it comes to talking about himself.
Some personal hubris would have been understandable Saturday. The Wolfpack running back rushed for a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 65 yards as N.C. State opened the season by ripping Troy 49-21 at Carter-Finley Stadium.
But Dayes, a junior, isn’t the type who seeks out the spotlight off the field.
“I try to stay below the clouds,” he said. “I don’t like being up top. It’s always been that way.”
What Dayes does like is having the ball in his hands, and his 29 touches Saturday kept him busy, involved and productive. His 24 carries also were a career high, topping the 17 he had two years ago in the season-opener against Louisiana Tech.
With senior running back Shadrach Thornton suspended the first two games for violating athletics department policy, Dayes was prepared for a steady workload. He had 10 carries in the first quarter for 50 yards and scored his first touchdown on a short run.
“I love it,” Dayes said. “In my high school days, I was always getting the ball. It reminded me of my high school days.”
That was at Cypress Bay High in Weston, Fla., where Dayes rushed for more than 150 yards in every game as a senior and scored 31 touchdowns. But coming to N.C. State meant sharing the ball the first two years with such backs as Tony Creecy and Thornton.
“Last year we rotated, which is a good thing because it kept us fresh,” he said.
Dayes’ best game of the 2014 season may have been his last, against Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl. His 13 carries matched his season high and he had a pair of quick-hitting touchdown runs during the Wolfpack’s 34-27 victory.
Thornton was named to the All-ACC preseason team, but then suspended by Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren for violations that were committed in the spring but not announced until Aug. 27.
“I felt bad for him, but I knew it was a great opportunity for me to take advantage of,” Dayes said. “I knew I had to prepare myself mentally and physically.”
For the Wolfpack, the offensive execution was penalty free and almost flawless. N.C. State had 30 first downs, ran 84 plays and had the ball for more than 41 minutes. The Wolfpack was 5 of 13 on third-down conversions and 3 of 4 on fourth-down conversions.
While Dayes did the brunt of the running, freshman Reggie Gallaspy II had 13 carries and sophomore Dakwa Nichols had five.
Jacoby Brissett was precise at quarterback, completing all but two of his 23 passes for 196 yards and two TDs.
“He’s special,” Troy coach Neal Brown said. “I think he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate. I think he’ll continue to prove that.”
But even Brissett said he was mesmerized at times as Dayes ran the ball. With the Wolfpack leading 28-14 in the third quarter, Dayes used blocks from center Quinton Schooley, right guard Tony Adams and tight end Benson Browne to go untouched up the middle for a 30-yard score.
“Some of the stuff he did, I got caught watching sometimes,” Brissett said. “The offensive line did a great job opening holes for him and he did a great job when there was nothing there of making something happen.”
Dayes said he once admired the playing style of Reggie Bush but then began to mold himself on the field after players of similar stature and skills, such as Ray Rice. Dayes is about Rice’s size at 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, with a quick burst and capability as a receiver.
Dayes scored eight rushing touchdowns last season and had five as a receiver — his 13 total scores ranked third in the ACC. He was named the Wolfpack’s offensive MVP for 2014.
After Saturday’s game, Dayes was low key, speaking softly, sparingly. He could have run the ball better, he said, adding he made some other mistakes in the backfield.
“We came away with the win,” he said. “That’s the only thing that matters. We’re confident right now.”