NC State head coach Dave Doeren said on the Monday before the Boston College game in his weekly press conference that fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell would start against the Eagles and that it would be, "his game."
That's not how it worked out after Mitchell's ankle injury did not respond the way the coaches and trainers hoped during the week of practice. He was listed as questionable on the injury report last Thursday and did not play Saturday.
Doeren confirmed after practice Thursday that Mitchell is back to full speed and is expected to get the starting nod under center for the fourth time this year.
"He's going to start," the coach noted. "He feels good, a lot different than last week.
"Brandon is a very spiritual kid. Some people say it — that things happen for a reason — but I think he's one of those guys that actually believes it. He understands that the plan that's in front of him is for him to have to face that test. I think he's handled it really well. I know he wants to play well this week, that's really important to him. He spent two really good days throwing the football around, so I'm excited to watch him."
Mitchell has been up and down this year after starting off the season by leading the Pack on scoring drives of 65 and 75 yards on the first three possessions in their 40-14 victory over Louisiana Tech. He rushed for 19 yards and completed all three passes for 93 yards before he broke his foot, which forced him to miss five games.
He returned for a three-game stretch and started against Florida State, North Carolina and Duke, while he completed 46.6 percent of his passes (34-73) for 499 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. He also rushed for 153 yards before the latest setback.
Doeren admitted that the six games the transfer from Arkansas has missed have stunted his growth as a quarterback, where he played for his first three seasons but saw action in just a handful of games.
"He was never the starting quarterback at the last school, so he never really had that ability to go from game to game to game and progress," Doeren said. "He's always been an athlete that just did what they've asked him to do, [missing six games this year] hurts a lot. Just look at our freshmen and look at how much better [wide receiver Jumichael] Ramos is playing because he's had all of these games to improve himself.
"Even though Brandon is a senior, he's like a freshman as a quarterback, so it hurt him a lot."
Mitchell has a tall order in front of him on Saturday, when he leads State against East Carolina. The Pirates, who are more known for their offense, rank in the nation's top 25 in several defensive categories: sacks (fourth, 3.2 per game), red zone defense (seventh, opponents score just 68.8 percent of the time), rush defense (eighth, 101.4 yards per game), total defense (15th, 337.9 ypg), pass efficiency defense (20th, 115.19) and scoring defense (25th, 21.5 points per game).
"They've got seven seniors and two juniors, I think that's the first thing," Doeren said. "They've been in [coach] Ruffin [McNeill]'s system for three to four years. I would like to think that in my third or fourth year here that if I had a guy who has a third-year or fourth-year starter that I would see the same results out of those kind of kids.
"In the past, that's what I've seen — guys that are in a program for a long period of time play to their best ability because there's no thinking for them. They know every single nuance of the system. They've got a couple of guys that are playing at a really high level, they're making plays, they're playing with confidence.
"They haven't had a lot of tight games where the offense has been balanced against them, so hopefully we'll be able to do that."
Six commits set to enroll early
NC State has announced over the past two days that six members of the #Pack14 class have signed their paperwork and are set to enroll early.
The players who will be arriving in January to start their college careers are: three-star offensive linemen Terronne Prescod, the nation's No. 24 offensive guard; three-star wide out Bo Hines, the nation's No. 85 receiver; three-star safety Kalen McCain, North Carolina's No. 28 senior; three-star offensive guard Tony Adams, the No. 31 prospect in North Carolina; defensive tackle B.J. Hill, the No. 33 player in North Carolina; and two-star receiver Stephen Louis, who nabbed offers from the likes of Arkansas, Auburn and Penn State before signing.
Doeren joked that he wished he could get 25 signees early because he said they could use another quality body at just about every position, but he did admit that getting those six in for spring practice will be huge.
"They'll get in here like Bra'Lon [Cherry] and Cole [Blankenship] did last year, and they'll develop a lot faster than the other kids," he noted. "They'll have the offseason training to get stronger, they'll also be able to get an academic semester under their belt and they'll learn the system so that when fall camp comes around they're not learning, they're going to be able to play. We're going to need them to be able to play.
"For us, we started the season with the fewest number of returning starters [in the ACC] and all of that other stuff, plus with all of the injuries we've had, we need to add talent and competition to our roster. The faster we get it here, the better we'll get."