The Dave Doeren era started off with fireworks for NC State, but the Wolfpack will also have to play without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell for possibly a month.
NC State played four different quarterback to help crush Louisiana Tech 40-14 on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium. First-year coach Dave Doeren delivered the up-tempo offense and lively atmosphere that he's been talking about since getting hired Dec. 1, 2012.
The positive showing was dampened a bit by Mitchell's injury. The Arkansas graduate looked sharp on the first two drives of the game in leading the Wolfpack to two straight touchdowns, but he suffered a broken fifth metatarsal on his foot.
Mitchell earned the start over Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas, a redshirt junior. Mitchell completed all three of his passes for 93 yards, and rushed five times for 19, before leaving the game in the first quarter.
"Brandon had an injury to his foot, and they'll go in tomorrow to fix it, and hopefully we'll have him back sooner than later," Doeren said. "Typically, it is a 4-to-6-week deal, but once they go in there, it kind of depends on the damage. He was walking pretty easily after the injury."
Thomas came in and got off to an uneven start before settling down. He was part of a wild sequence where Louisiana Tech junior defensive end IK Enemkpali tricked him by dropping off into coverage near the goal line and got the interception. Enemkpali then fumbled the football and Thomas was able to recover it at the Louisiana Tech 21-yard line.
Thomas settled down from there, and junior kicker Niklas Sade finished off the drive with the second of four eventual field goals. The Wolfpack took a commanding 24-7 lead into halftime.
Thomas was saddened to see his friend get injured, but had prepared all along as if he was going to play.
"These coaches always preach next man up and you have to be ready to do your job," Thomas said. "[Brandon] is a great competitor and a great friend. From my end, my preparation will not change. The mindset might change knowing I am taking that first snap of the game."
Thomas didn't commit another turnover the rest of the game in going 15-of-27 passing for 212 yards in his first action since Nov. 2011 with Colorado State. Thomas and the quarterbacks allowed just one sack.
"I'm real proud of Pete and the way he came in and did what he needed to do," Doeren said.
True freshman quarterback Bryant Shirreffs became the "running quarterback" in the Wildcat formation with nine carries for 34 yards. Preferred walk-on Josh Taylor came in at the end to finish off the game. Shirreffs has played played quarterback, linebacker and fullback during practice. Doeren figured he had four recent practices at quarterback.
"We played four quarterbacks and that was something we hadn't planned on," Doeren half-joked.
The two freshmen quarterbacks were part of at least 11 true freshmen who played for NC State. Running back Matt Dayes led the team with 84 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a team-high 87 yards on four catches.
"The thing I was happy with is they weren't rattled," Doeren said. "These two guys right here [Dayes, Valdes-Scantling] look like they have been out here for a while. They attacked it and went up and got it in the air. [Wide receiver] Jumichael Ramos had a great run after the catch too. You never know if they get nervous.
"They wanted to play right away, and I said to both of them, now do something with it."
The Wolfpack opportunistic defense caused three fumbles and had two sacks in holding the Bulldogs to 16 first downs and 2 of 10 on third-down conversions. Louisiana Tech's had a fourth fumble when Enemkpali fumbled following his interception.
Some of the Louisiana Tech fumbles took away points on the scoreboard. Star sophomore running back Kenneth Dixon fumbled on second down and goal at the NC State two-yard line, which came back out for a touchback near the end of the first quarter. Dixon finished with 118 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, but had to earn his yards.
The one-two punch of senior middle linebackers Robert Caldwell and Zach Gentry combined for 12 tackles, and five different players had at least six tackles.
Doeren said the Wolfpack missed a few tackles but had a good start.
"Defensively, we talked about getting the ball back for our offense, and we did that today," Doeren said.
NC State hosts Richmond at 6 p.m. next Saturday, and Thomas will have a full week of getting the reps in practice after splitting with Mitchell. NCSU also has sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton back from a one-game suspension. Starting redshirt junior right tackle Tyson Chandler and some other players missed the game or were hampered by fall camp injuries.
Doeren is hopeful he'll regain the services of a few players and is looking forward to having another great game-day atmosphere.
"It was a great environment," Doeren said. "Driving in today, the fans and the walk, and I walked into the coaches' locker room and said, 'If these guys don't play sky-high today, we got issues.' I knew they played their butts off. This is why they came here."