Pittsburgh’s offense needed a jolt and turned to its defense last week to deliver it.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Whitehead rushed seven times for 73 yards and a 35-yard touchdown, plus added a two-point conversion against Syracuse last week. His defensive abilities weren’t too shabby either with nine tackles, including six solo stops.
NCSU head coach Dave Doeren knows his defense will need to be aware when No. 9 for Pitt is in the game Saturday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
“It just depends on how much they give him because last week, he just had one play,” Doeren said. “They ran it a bunch and he got the ball and did a great job for them. It just a matter of how much they expand the package.”
Current Denver Broncos star cornerback Aqib Talib played some wide receiver when Doeren was coaching at Kansas. John Randle played running back and cornerback and Charles Gordon was an accomplished cornerback and wide receiver with the Jayhawks. Doeren recalled future Wisconsin star linebacker Chris Borland making three extra points his freshman year.
“At Kansas, we had to,” Doeren said.
Other than the obvious choice of former wide receiver turned cornerback Johnathan Alston, the Wolfpack do have some intriguing two-way options.
“There are a lot of defensive lineman that we could use at the tight end or fullback positions,” Doeren said. “You look at [Darian] Roseboro, Eurndraus Bryant or B.J. Hill, they were all guys who were high school running backs.”
Roseboro rushed for 1,459 yards and 34 touchdowns his senior year at Lincolnton (N.C.) High, and probably could have played tight end in college. Hill tallied 819 rushing yards and five touchdowns his last season at Oakboro (N.C.) West Stanly High.
Star senior H-back Jaylen Samuels has proven he can do everything on offense. He also probably would have translated well to linebacker.
“He would have been really good,” Doeren said. “His vision is incredible. I think he would have been tremendous there.”
Whitehead was a Rivals.com four-star prospect, who was ranked No. 75 nationally in the class of the 2015, and the No. 6 cornerback. The local product stayed home for college and burst on to the scene his freshman year in helping the Panthers go 8-5. The ACC Rookie of the Year had 110 tackles and an interception, and was able to carry the ball 12 times for 122 yards and a touchdown, plus two receptions for 10 yards.
He missed the first three games of this season due to suspension.
Pittsburgh might turn to Whitehead a little bit more due to senior starting quarterback Max Browne going down with a season-ending shoulder surgery. Sophomore backup quarterback Ben DiNucci has passed for 442 yards and two touchdowns and might be more of a threat on the run than Browne.
“He is a better athlete and you can see that,” Doeren said. “They do a lot of out of the pocket things with their shovel game, whether it is an option shovel or a jet shovel or a sprint out shovel. He has the ability to make things happen with his feet.”
NC State has four out of the next five games on the road starting Saturday, but the off week following playing the Panthers will help the Wolfpack.
“We are focused on this game,” Doeren said. “After this game, we get a break.”