RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – This wasn’t how North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren wanted to settle his quarterback situation.
Pete Thomas will make his first start with the Wolfpack (1-0) on Saturday night when they face Richmond.
He’s getting the opportunity because Brandon Mitchell broke his foot in the first quarter of the opener. Mitchell beat out Thomas during a tight training camp battle that wasn’t decided until shortly before last week’s game against Louisiana Tech.
“I think coming off the bench is pretty easy because there’s not a nervous moment – it’s ‘Oh, I’m in,’ and then you start playing,” Doeren said. “Being the starter, you’ve got more time to think things through, so I’m anxious to see him in that role.”
Thomas replaced Mitchell early in last week’s game and finished 15 of 27 for 212 yards and one interception in N.C. State’s 40-14 romp over the Bulldogs.
He might get a test from a Richmond team that has long been a power in the Championship Subdivision. The Spiders (1-0) shut out VMI 34-0 last week – the program’s 33rd season-opening shutout – but they know they’re facing a bigger challenge in the Wolfpack.
Richmond coach Danny Rocco says that despite the switch to Thomas, he figures N.C. State will make establishing the run a top priority.
“I’m expecting them to try to run the ball down our throat, to be quite frank with you,” Rocco said. “There’s somewhat of a history (at Doeren’s previous coaching stops) to certainly have balance but to be able to demonstrate a dominance, a physical dominance. It’s very much a part of their makeup.”
Five things to know about the Richmond-N.C. State game:
SUNNY DAYES. Freshman running back Matt Dayes put forth the breakout performance of the Wolfpack’s opener, rushing for three touchdowns and 84 yards on 17 carries while filling in for the suspended Shadrach Thornton. Doeren says it was the kind of showing he hoped for “because that’s what we’d seen in practice.” He’ll try to shake loose against a Richmond defense that allowed VMI to gain just 39 yards on the ground.
WILDCATTING? Doeren is reluctant to have Thomas run the ball very often because he can’t risk another injury at that position. Among the options the Wolfpack are considering is a wildcat package with receivers – and former high school quarterbacks – Travares Copeland or Rashard Smith. Doeren says N.C. State won’t be afraid to have the player lined up at quarterback run with the ball but “it just may not be a quarterback doing it all the time.”
BEWARE THE SPIDERS. Richmond has three wins against Atlantic Coast Conference teams since 2000 – all coming at Duke since 2006 – and will face an ACC team annually through 2018. And the Spiders might have an inside man in QB Michael Rocco, who is sitting out after transferring from Virginia. He helped lead the Cavaliers to a 33-6 rout at N.C. State last November, a result that helped lead to Tom O’Brien’s firing.
IN THE TRENCHES. N.C. State could be in for a frustrating night if the Wolfpack can’t generate any pressure on Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, a redshirt sophomore who’s 5-0 as a starter. The Spiders have nine starters back on offense, including the nucleus of an offensive line that allowed only five sacks last season. N.C. State had two sacks last week and gave up only 178 yards passing to Louisiana Tech. Says Doeren: “If you don’t get a good pass rush, it’s hard to play good pass defense.”
TURNOVER. Both teams take remarkably good care of the ball. N.C. State forced four fumbles against Louisiana Tech and its only turnover of that came wound up being a scratch – Thomas threw an interception, but offensive lineman Rob Crisp forced a fumble on the return and Thomas recovered it. The Spiders led the nation in turnover margin last year at plus-22, turning it over just 10 times and intercepting an FCS-leading 24 passes.