Notebook: Three Thayer Thomas touchdowns lift Pack to win over Syracuse
Whenever NC State has needed a lift this season, redshirt junior slot receiver Thayer Thomas seems to play his best.
The Wolfpack (7-3, 6-3 ACC) did not play up to its standards in the opening 30 minutes against Syracuse Saturday, but yet again found a way to pull out a close win in a 36-29 victory over the Orange (1-9, 1-8 ACC).
Without Thomas, the win wouldn’t have been possible. The 6-0, 195-pounder reeled in nine receptions for 102 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half.
“Thayer is a great player,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said after the game. “He's a weapon. He got matched up one-on-one today a lot. We took advantage of that. It just depends on how people are playing us.”
“Liberty had a nickel or Will [linebacker] that would reroute the slot receiver and then keep a safety over him, so he was double-teamed in that game a lot. Teams that are going to leave him one-on-one, he's going to take advantage of that. It's just a matter of taking what you get. Some games are different than others on how they get played.”
Thomas knows to expect those opportunities whenever he sees man coverage. For him, these performances are just about execution based on practice reps he’s taken thousands of times.
“Whenever it's man to man, [quarterback Bailey Hockman is] going to probably come my way, and I just got to make the play,” Thomas said. “We make those plays in practice, and it gives us the confidence to go out there and do it in the game.”
The redshirt junior Hockman has proven to develop a great connection with his slot receiver over the past few games.
In the four contests since the bye week, Hockman has found Thomas in the end zone five times and has helped the receiver rack up 100-yard performances in two of the last three games.
“He just works really hard,” Hockman said. “He always is running his routes full speed. When receivers in practice are running routes full speed, it really gets that game timing down so when we're in the game, I know exactly where he's going to be and I know exactly how I got to throw the ball.
"He's just a great player, making plays left and right.”
Hockman produces his third career game in the past four contests
It’s becoming a trend for Hockman to set new career highs in the month of November. He’s now done it three times in the past four games.
The left-handed quarterback did it again Saturday with a new personal-best 313-yard, four-touchdown stat line.
Not everything went well for Hockman in the Carrier Dome, however. He struggled in the first half and was on the wrong end of a safety after a backwards throw went through the back of his own end zone under pressure.
He also threw one interception, which arguably was not his fault, and was sacked six times throughout the game.
At halftime, he was able to compose himself. Hockman threw for 166 yards and three of his touchdowns in the second half, which helped the Pack outscore the Orange 22-7 in the final two quarters.
“I was really proud of the way he bounced back,” Doeren said. “He was sick early in the week and I think he got a little fatigued early in the game. I thought he did a really nice job at halftime settling in.
“This gave our receivers a chance to make plays, and they made them. He threw some really accurate passes and the guys made him look good making catches for him. He read coverage, he stood in there, he had time to throw, which makes a difference obviously in the second half, but I'm very proud of Bailey for the way stepped up.”
Hockman doesn’t ignore his mistakes. In fact, he embraces them and takes pride in being able to bounce back from tough situations, which he has shown several times down the stretch in the 2020 season.
“For me, it's just keep going 1-0,” Hockman said. “Coach [offensive coordinator Tim] Beck tells me that after almost every drive, every play. I just try to keep playing my game, keep making good decisions. It just worked out like that.
"I feel like it's kind of the story of my life — ups and downs, things might not go my way. It's just who I am at this point. “
Pack gets it done on third down
Saturday marked the first time this season that NC State came out on top despite losing the turnover margin.
The Orange were able to force two Wolfpack turnovers without giving up any themselves, which was the biggest reason Syracuse was able to take a halftime lead into the locker room.
NC State was better than the Orange in almost every other statistic, including total yards, penalties and, most notably, third-down conversions.
The Wolfpack successfully converted eight of its 13 third-down situations on offense and held Syracuse to just eight conversions out of 20 attempts.
Seemingly every time the Pack faced a third-and-long, Thomas and fifth-year senior tight end Cary Angeline were there to move the chains. Angeline finished with five receptions for 88 yards, two of which came in situations where NC State faced at least third-and-15.
The Wolfpack also outrushed the Orange 95-3 and won the time of possession battle 34:03-25:57.
“I’m just happy to win the game,” Doeren said. “Winning ugly is okay. It's a lot better than losing, I can tell you that. We'll take it.”