What made the NC Central offense so dangerous? A quarterback looking the part and a change of music from a receiver

Xavier McKoy is definitely about switch up his pregame music.

No more tunes from Florida rapper Kodak Black. McKoy is going to stick with North Carolina-based rapper J. Cole. Before N.C. Central hosted Gardner-Webb at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, McKoy settled in on listening to Cole’s “January 28” from the “2014 Forest Hills Drive” album.

McKoy responded with three catches for a career-high 139 yards and an 89-yard touchdown catch. The catch and run was the third longest touchdown reception in N.C. Central history. McKoy benefited from the Eagles coaching staff opening up the playbook and allowing freshman quarterback Chauncey Caldwell to throw the ball more. Caldwell, who started his third consecutive game, attempted a career-high 30 passes, completing 15 for a career-high 333 yards and two touchdowns. It was a far cry from the Caldwell who rushed the ball 20 times in his first start versus Florida A&M and had been known more for his legs (331 yards rushing coming into the game) than his passing abilities (322 yards passing this season before Saturday).

“Offensively, we were able to grow up in our passing game,” N.C. Central head coach Jerry Mack said. “Chauncey threw the ball really well all around the field, he continues to get better each week.”

Caldwell said he feels comfortable with any new wrinkles the coaches throw at him. Coming into the game the scouting report on the Bulldogs let the Eagles know they could have some success in the passing game. Caldwell attempted 11 passes in the first quarter, the same number of completions he had a week earlier in a 13-7 win over Howard. Early on he was able to soften up the Gardner-Webb defense by targeting senior Jacen Murphy several times, connecting with Murphy six times in the first half. That opened up passing lanes for freshman Nique Martin, who caught his first touchdown of the season, a 57-yard strike from Caldwell.

Caldwell said the staff wanted to see if he was going to “find my groove.”

His groove had been running, but he looked very comfortable standing in the pocket and looking the part, instead of looking like an extra running back.

“They opened the playbook more,” Caldwell said. “They wanted to build trust. A lot of people said I couldn’t throw, so I had to prove to myself that I could throw the ball.”

McKoy, who came into the game with just five catches for 43 yards, waited until the second half to show that he could be the big-play threat the coaching staff expected when they recruited him out of West Charlotte High School. McKoy’s first big catch came on a third-and-10, when he bailed out Caldwell, who had completed just one of his previous five passes. McKoy snagged the ball with one hand on the sideline to move the chains. Three plays later, Caldwell finished off the drive with a 9-yard run.

That was one of the rare occasions when he used his legs. He had a season-low eight attempts rushing. There were times when he looked like he wanted to run out of the pocket, but instead he went through his reads, keeping his eyes up. Gone were all of the short passes and check downs, as Caldwell showed off the arm, completing long passes of 42, 53, 57 and 89 yards.

Having McKoy break out on the same day helped. The coaching staff was big on McKoy last fall, when he showed flashes during preseason camp. But he was buried on the depth chart behind some talented receivers and only caught two passes for 13 yards last season. Earlier this week the receivers were challenged by the coaches to step up and make plays. McKoy was more than ready to have a breakout day.

“This was big,” McKoy said. “I just try to go out everyday and work my hardest. As coach always says, just make plays when your time is call. That’s what I try to do.”

First, however, McKoy changed up his tunes and that put him in a “chill mind.”

“Usually I listen to music to get me hype,” McKoy said. “But I chilled out today, and I guess that’s my new music going forward.”

If N.C. Central can combine an established running game with a newfound passing attack, going forward the offense can be downright scary as the Eagles finish the MEAC schedule.

“We’re just going to get better every week,” Caldwell said. “Now that I’m getting better in the passing game the coaches are going to start to do more with the offense, and we don’t have to be so limited.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV