Dave Doeren gave his players four days away from the practice field during N.C. State’s first open week of the season.
The time away was an effort to hit he “reset” button, after opening ACC play with a disheartening 31-13 loss at Florida State on Sept. 28.
Will it work for the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1 ACC) as it prepares for Syracuse (3-2, 0-1 ACC) at home on Thursday night (8 p.m., ESPN)?
“I guess we’ll find out,” Doeren said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “Just judging them by how they were (Sunday), they look very refreshed. We were fast in practice (Sunday).”
N.C. State’s offense will have a new look against the Orange with sophomore quarterback Bailey Hockman set to replace Matt McKay, who started the first five games.
Hockman relieved McKay in the first quarter of the FSU loss and completed 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown.
“I thought Bailey came in the Florida State game and showed a lot of poise and guts,” Doeren said. “He took some tough shots in that game and kept getting up.”
Hockman tweaked his left knee with 2:43 left in the FSU game and freshman Devin Leary came on to finish the drive. Leary completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards.
Doeren said Hockman will start against Syracuse but that Leary would “have an opportunity.”
Doeren didn’t say how much Leary would play but pointed out that Hockman got a chance for meaningful snaps against Ball State on Sept. 21 and then turned his opportunity into a start.
“Then we got in the (FSU) game, and we just weren’t moving the football,” Doeren said. “So we gave (Hockman) an opportunity and we started to get some balls down the field and open up some things.”
Leary didn’t play in the first four games, so this would be his first chance at meaningful snaps in the flow of an ACC game.
Injuries on offense, defense
Either quarterback will have to play behind a tweaked blocking lineup. Right tackle Justin Witt will not be able to play against Syracuse due to an undisclosed injury.
That means senior Emanuel McGirt will move over to right tackle and freshman Ikem Ekwonu will start at left tackle.
Doeren also said that running back Ricky Person will be out for the Syracuse game, and maybe a few weeks, but is expected to return this season. Person, who has rushed for 202 yards, suffered an apparent ankle injury in the third quarter of the FSU game.
Senior cornerback Nick McCloud was also not in the depth chart. He has missed the past four games with a knee injury. Doeren said McCloud had targeted this game to return but it doesn’t look like he will be able to play on Thursday.
Taiyon Palmer, a redshirt freshman who was playing in McCloud’s stead at corner at FSU, suffered a knee injury against the Seminoles and is out for the season.
N.C. State has had some key injuries, in spots it could not afford to test its depth, affect the first five games of the season.
“I’m not going use it as an excuse,” Doeren said of the injuries. “It’s reality. You guys know all the different guys that are out and and how young we were to start. So that’s the reality.
“The challenging part of that is the chemistry of the guys that play. You don’t have the same 11 in and out all the time. I feel like we have gotten several guys better.”
That’s where the open date on the schedule helps. Doeren said the players didn’t practice on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday of last week. He also gave them completely off on Saturday.
Now it’s back to work with a critical division game on Thursday night.
“We’ve got to keep them fresh,” Doeren said. “We’ve got to keep them focused. Sometimes stepping out is a good way to do that.”