Sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton enjoyed a career game last weekend in NC State's 49-17 loss to No. 3 Florida State. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder set a career-high with 173 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while he also paced the team with five receptions for 32 yards.
That stood as the most rushing yards for a Pack player since 2006 and the 18th-best mark of all-time, while Thornton was named the Wolfpack's Offensive Player of the Week by the coaching staff for the second-straight game.
It also continued the second-year back's standout performances against nationally ranked foes. In four such outings during his career — they have all come against Florida State and Clemson teams ranked among the nation's top 11 — Thornton has totaled 502 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, scoring in each contest. He has totaled 337 yards on the ground with an average of 6.0 yards per carry in those tilts, and ripped off an impressive career-long 72-yard touchdown run on Saturday.
"When you see Shad running the ball 80 yards as fast as he can and breaking tackles like he can, it makes you excited," redshirt junior offensive tackle Tyson Chandler said. "I sprinted like 80 yards on that play when he scored, but it gives you a second wind [to see that]."
However, when Thornton — who now leads the team with 357 yards and four touchdowns on the ground — was approached after practice on Tuesday and asked about his most recent memorable outing, he only wanted to talk about Saturday's upcoming rivalry game with North Carolina.
"Really, we're focused on North Carolina right now," he said. "We've put that [Florida State] game behind us, regardless of how I did or how we did as a team. That game is behind us, any questions about North Carolina?"
There obviously were questions about the Tar Heels, and Thornton said the key to winning the game will be in this week's preparations.
"We've got to win it in practice," he said. "We've got to go hard anytime we're out here and give it our all. We've got to have passion."
The Tar Heels may rank dead last in the ACC with an average of 428.1 yards allowed per game, but Thornton said the team can't focus on the numbers and expect to run over their opponents. He noted that UNC has shown strides on that side of the ball recently, and the offense will prepare just like they did last week for one of the nation's top defenses in FSU.
"Despite where they are in the rankings as far as their defense, they have been getting better as the season has progressed," the back said. "They're playing a lot more physical and their front is never still, they're always moving. Early on, that defense was kind of skeptical, but right now, I feel like they've made the changes they needed to in order to become a better defense. We're going to prepare for a good defense.
"We've just got to go out there, play football and do our stuff, our offense. Our offense is fast, our offense is a lot of shifts and motion, and we're going to execute it. That will open up everything."
When asked about the recent comments made by UNC tight end Eric Ebron — who said, "ain't nobody worried about NC State, ain't nobody care about NC State," last Saturday — Thornton paused for a few seconds before he asked, "Who is Ebron?"
Much like his stellar performance last week, Thornton wasn't too interested in exchanging verbal jabs with the Tar Heels through the media. He might have taken a little bit of a return shot, but he'd rather just focus on Saturday's game.