NC State

The hole Matt Dayes leaves in NC State’s offense and how the Wolfpack can fill it

N.C. State running back Matt Dayes breaks free for an 18-yard touchdown run against UNC in November.
N.C. State running back Matt Dayes breaks free for an 18-yard touchdown run against UNC in November.

N.C. State’s offense this season is going to look a lot like it did last season.

Same coordinator, same quarterback, mostly the same line and receivers (plus Jaylen Samuels). There will be one major difference: no more Matt Dayes.

Dayes ran for 1,166 yards, caught 32 passes and scored 10 touchdowns in 2016. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook was the only running back in the ACC with a higher usage rate than Dayes.

“Matt did a lot of things for us,” junior Nyheim Hines said.

So much that it will take Hines, junior Reggie Gallaspy and senior Dakwa Nichols to replace Dayes, who was a seventh-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. Samuels, a tight end/slot receiver with 16 career rushing touchdowns, will also get more reps in the backfield.

“I feel good about the rotation,” coach Dave Doeren said. “We have four options that we can trust.”

Hines, a star prep running back at Garner, has spent most of his first two college seasons at receiver. The 5-9, 197-pound speedster has 61 career rushing attempts for 287 yards.

Gallaspy, a 5-11, 222-pound power back, showed some promise in spots last season but his college career has been slowed by foot injuries. He had 234 yards on 49 carries last season — 123 of his yards came in two games (61 vs. East Carolina, 62 vs. North Carolina).

Nichols (5-9, 195), the best pass-protector of the group, has 73 carries in his career for 365 yards.

How much did N.C. State rely on Dayes last season? Dayes carried the ball on 49.4 percent (249 of 504) of N.C. State running plays. Cook, 55.6 percent (288 of 515), was the only ACC running back with a higher percentage. Dayes had as many carries last season (249) as Hines-Gallaspy-Nichols have combined in their careers.

“We wanted to make sure our star players got the ball and Matt was our star,” Gallaspy said.

Dayes had 200 more carries than any other running back on the roster. The distribution probably won’t look the same this year.

“We have a lot of backs who can do a lot of things,” Gallaspy said.

And that might work to N.C. State’s advantage this season. Dayes broke the 1,000-yard mark but as a team, N.C. State’s rushing numbers were down last season. The Wolfpack ranked No. 86 in the country in rushing offense with 156.1 yards per game — down 45.9 yards per game from the previous season. The yards per carry (4.0, 94th nationally) were also down, by nearly a yard.

Hines adds a speed element Dayes didn’t have. Gallaspy is a bigger back who can shoulder the workload which allows Hines and/or Samuels to pop for big plays.

“Our coaches have always done a great job of putting us in the best matchup,” Hines said.

Which means N.C. State won’t have a back like Dayes but it might have more options.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio