football Edit

Dave Doeren breaks down change at quarterback

The official release of the NC State football depth chart told the story, but head coach Dave Doeren used his press conference to go into the details about why redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman will make his first career start Thursday evening when the Wolfpack hosts Syracuse.

Hockman will be backed up by redshirt freshman Devin Leary, and former starter Matthew McKay, a redshirt sophomore, slides down to third string. Doeren said the changes are a function of trying to improve the passing attack.

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Doeren appreciated how redshirt sophomore quarterback Bailey Hockman battled at Florida State.
Doeren appreciated how redshirt sophomore quarterback Bailey Hockman battled at Florida State. (USA Today images)

Entering this week, NC State ranked 66th nationally out of 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in passing yards per game (247.4). More alarming is the Pack is 112th in efficiency rating (113.73), which is also next to last in the ACC. Additionally, the team has only eight passing plays of at least 20 yards, 126th nationally and fewest in the conference.

Two of those 20-yard pass plays came when Hockman and Leary replaced McKay at Florida State.

“I feel like they're giving us more in the pass game,” Doeren explained. “Matt's doing a really good job in a lot of areas and needs to improve on his pass game and will. I’m really impressed with how Matt came to practice the last two days, and he's going to get better. He's an incredible young man.

“For us to be able to do more things from a scoring standpoint and push the ball down the field, with where we're at, those two guys give us a better shot with their arms right now.”

That conversation between coach and demoted quarterback is, presumably, an unpleasant one, but according to Doeren, McKay has handled it with the professionalism he expected from the now-former starter.

“To lose your job is one thing, to quit is another — and Matt’s a fighter,” Doeren said. “He's going to fight hard to get back.

“And just like Devin and Bailey, when they were backups, they didn't give in. They got better. Now Matt will have that opportunity, and we’ll support them through it.”

Hockman completed 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in relief of McKay at Florida State. Now he gets a full opportunity to prepare for a game as the starter.

Doeren noted that it was the week leading into the Ball State contest on Sept. 21 where the offensive coaches felt they needed to give Hockman an honest game evaluation and not just mop-up duty. Hockman played in the second and fourth quarters, throwing an interception but otherwise impressing.

After McKay and the offense started slow at FSU, Hockman’s moment had arrived. When he was banged up towards the end of the contest, Leary substituted for him and completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards.

“I thought Bailey came in the Florida State game and showed a lot of poise and guts, and took some tough shots in that game, and kept getting up and competed,” Doeren said. “Devin came in cold at the end and threw it around well. I was proud of those guys.

“It is just like at the beginning of the season, those are tough conversations to have. I thought Bailey and Devin handled their roles, but improved and improved and improved in their roles, and took advantage of opportunity that was presented.”

What Doeren is most hoping to see is the passing game opening up the offense.

“We are running the football well,” Doeren said. “It's just a matter of having the ability to take advantage of coverage matchups that we're getting. I felt like that [Hockman] gave us that, and then to see Devin come in and do what he did.

“… Statistically when you look at it, we're not explosive in the pass game right now. We're not getting enough explosive passes. We're not getting enough, even, pass interference calls against down-the-field plays. It feels like that [change] gives us a shot.”

Doeren would not say whether or not Leary would receive action against Syracuse.

“He could,” the coach simply stated.

Other NC State Football Tidbits

• Last year at Syracuse, NC State was without several key players who were injured the previous week against Clemson. Two of them were cornerback Nick McCloud and right tackle Justin Witt, a pair of starters.

Ironically, both could miss the Orange contest once again, as will sophomore running back Ricky Person Jr. and redshirt freshman corner Taiyon Palmer.

Palmer joins redshirt junior tight end and captain Dylan Autenrieth, fifth-year senior projected starting left tackle Tyrone Riley and starting redshirt junior receiver C.J. Riley among those who have been lost for the season with injuries.

Person, Witt and McCloud are expected to return at some point for NC State, with McCloud potentially back this weekend. Person and Witt have been ruled out for Thursday’s contest.

Without Witt, true freshman Ikem Ekwonu will start at left tackle, and fifth-year senior Emanuel McGirt Jr. moves over to the right side. Doeren is confident in Ekwonu.

“He's ready,” Doeren said. “He's played well. He’s been very physical.”

True freshmen Jordan Houston and Zonovan “Bam” Knight will get the bulk of the carries at running back in Person’s absence.

• This is one of the more unusual schedules NC State has had in football. Because of the way the calendar fell, teams receive two byes instead of one this year, and also the Wolfpack have two Thursday games.

With a bye last weekend, Doeren only practiced the team Wednesday and Thursday while they lifted the other days of the week. Everyone from staff to players had Saturday off, and then Sunday they began their typical game-week preparations.

Doeren explained there are challenges to working around a Thursday home game.

“The tough part of it is if you’re the home team, your Wednesday's different than if you were the traveling team,” he said. “Our players have class that they do go to [on] Wednesday. We don't just take our guys to the hotel like we would on a Friday where they don't have classes.

“You have a different routine the night before the game, and then you play at night, and then they wake up and it's Friday. Some of them have class Friday morning. We don't get home until — with an eight o'clock game against the team that throws the ball — it could be one in the morning, two in the morning.”

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