RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina State’s offense is trying to make up for lost time.
The Wolfpack looked to Brandon Mitchell as the right quarterback for first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle scheme. But Mitchell suffered an injury in the season opener that kept him out until last week, meaning N.C. State has had its starter on the field for only five quarters as it enters the final month of the regular season.
Throw in some key injuries along the way, and Doeren’s offense is a bit behind in its development heading into Saturday’s home game against rival North Carolina.
“It makes it difficult for us, too,” Doeren said. “That was kind of my point to the coaching staff, going into our bye week: now that we have (Mitchell) back, let’s get better for six weeks at what we want to be. And hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
Mitchell, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, beat out Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas for the starting job in training camp. He led the Wolfpack (3-4, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) to touchdowns on the first two drives of the season while being the run-pass threat that Doeren utilizes in his offense, but he left the game after the third series with a broken bone in his left foot.
Mitchell didn’t play again until last week’s lopsided loss at No. 3 Florida State. Thomas, who lacks Mitchell’s mobility, started five straight games and threw three touchdowns passes with seven interceptions. Freshman Bryant Shirreffs rotated in to provide a running threat.
Mitchell, who played 15 snaps in the opener, threw for 128 yards and two interceptions in his return against the Seminoles. N.C. State hasn’t reached 400 total yards in any of the past three games.
“It’s caused a little bit of problem but that’s because we’ve played with two different quarterbacks for different spurts of games,” junior running back Tony Creecy said. “So the receivers have to get used to the way Brandon plays and the way Brandon throws the ball. The offensive line has to get to the way Brandon talks because Pete and Brandon talk two different ways, and we run our offense through communication through the quarterback.”
The team has also lost offensive tackle Rob Crisp to a concussion for the rest of the season, while receivers Rashard Smith and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as well as tailback Matt Dayes have also missed time during that stretch to make things tougher.
That’s left the Tar Heels (2-5, 1-3) a little unsure about what to expect from N.C. State’s offense.
“I think they’re trying to get a feel for where they are,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “I know losing (Mitchell) early on was probably tough for them so they adjusted a little bit of what they were doing offensively.
“Now they get the quarterback back, which has made it hard on us to figure out how they’re going to attack us. … I don’t know what they are really yet on offense. I don’t know if they know yet.”
Mitchell said he played “terrible” against FSU and felt rust through his first few drives with problems such as throwing off his back foot, but said he’s more confident now that he has played in a game again.
“We’re going to run our offense regardless of who’s in there, but now we have a little bit more balance from the quarterback runs,” Mitchell said. “And I think it’s going to give a balance to the offensive line now that they don’t have to worry about once we go empty (backfield) people just teeing off on them. They’ll have to respect the run and the pass.”