Wolfpack hopes QB Mitchell will return against 'Cuse today
N.C. State didn't play well in its first road game under new coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack could get a boost for Saturday's home game against Syracuse if starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell is healthy enough to play.
Mitchell lasted three series in the season opener before suffering a broken left foot that required surgery. But the Arkansas graduate transfer has been working his way back in practice and is listed as questionable for the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who lost for the sixth straight time at Wake Forest last week.
"I'm not going to put him out there until I feel like he's in a place of comfort and when he feels protected," Doeren said.
Pete Thomas has started the last four games at quarterback, but Mitchell's return would give N.C. State a dual-threat quarterback that fits Doeren's scheme better than the less-mobile Thomas. That much was on display during the opener, when Mitchell led the Wolfpack to touchdowns on the first two drives of the season.
Doeren said Thursday that Mitchell had taken about half the reps the starter would normally take going into the game, though he said Mitchell had improved steadily all week.
"He's compared to where he was a week ago, way ahead," Doeren said. "We'll see what the game day atmosphere does to him. Some guys feel really good (on game day) but I feel great about him knowing what to do and the scheme."
Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) is coming off a 49-14 home loss to No. 3 Clemson, the program's first game against an ACC opponent. Coach Scott Shafer's team fell behind 35-7 by halftime, though the highlight was racking up 323 yards rushing in the loss.
"The positive is we did run well," running back Jerome Smith said. "The negative part is we lost. We had a few other things that we made mistakes on. We're going to try to put everything together this week."
Now Syracuse is preparing for its first ACC road game in the first meeting between the schools since 1998. N.C. State has won all six meetings overall.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's Syracuse-N.C. State matchup:
HUNT'S IMPROVEMENT: Syracuse sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt struggled in his second career start against Clemson. He threw for 52 yards on 8-for-24 passing with three interceptions while also taking four sacks. "With great attitude and effort, he'll continue to get better," Shafer said, "because he does have good ability."
HOME BOUNCEBACK: While Syracuse suffered a lopsided home loss last week, N.C. State looked sluggish and unfocused in the loss at Wake Forest. Doeren was frustrated by his team's undisciplined play (eight penalties for 74 yards) and is hoping a return to Carter-Finley Stadium helps correct some of those troubles.
INJURY IMPACT: While Mitchell is the Wolfpack's highest-profile case, N.C. State has plenty of injury concerns. The Wolfpack will again be without starting offensive lineman Rob Crisp (concussion) and starting defensive tackle Darryl Cato-Bishop (ankle). Starting receiver Rashard Smith is also questionable after suffering a knee injury at Wake Forest.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both teams could use a strong performance in the kicking game. Syracuse's Riley Dixon had a school-record 75-yard punt last week and is second in the league in punting average (45.2 yards per kick) that can change field position. Meanwhile, N.C. State kicker Niklas Sade has made 11 of 12 field goals and leads the league in made kicks.
STOPPING THE RUN: The Wolfpack and Orange have held up well against the run this season. N.C. State ranks tied for 17th nationally by holding teams to 107.6 yards rushing, while Syracuse is 27th by allowing 119 per game. And with both teams averaging similar rushing numbers offensively, it appears to be an even matchup and should play a role in which team can gain the edge.
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, N.Y., contributed to this report.