It’s just a game, but given the opponent and the circumstances, NC State’s win on Saturday night may have been the launch of Dave Doeren 2.0.
At the very least, a 45-42 win over Wake Forest brings the raffia flavor of 2019 out of NC State’s mouth after losing its last six games.
Running back Ricky Person ran for two touchdowns and launched another to lead a renewed Wolfpack offense under new coordinator Tim Beck.
The defense, chewed on by Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker (131 yards, three touchdowns), got two stops in the last 6 minutes when they needed it most.
In the end, this time, it wasn̵
The way the game unfolded, it was the highest-scoring match ever between State and Wake, was just as unexpected as the result.
Even Wake Forest, who won last year’s game 44-10 in Winston-Salem, wondered after NC State scored his top three: Who are these guys?
It’s been a tough 12 months for Doeren, to say the least. Injuries and losses increased every week last season. As well as questions about his future this offseason.
Chosen to finish 11th in the championship, Doeren was put in the hot seat by ESPN primarily for his 21-35 ACC record in his first seven years.
Doeren has been agile since the end of the disastrous 2019 season. He hired Beck, renewed the defensive staff and steered the ship into a shocking offseason.
Despite an uneven pitch interrupted by COVID-19 issues and with little spring practice, NC State’s offense hit the ground with Beck. Literally.
The Wolfpack hit the ball 49 times for 270 yards. They have run the ball many times once in an ACC game last year (at Georgia Tech) and haven’t hit the 250 mark in the league.
Person (99 yards) and Bam Knight (97 yards) were an effective one-two on the ground with Beck relying on ground play to set the pass play.
Bailey Hockman started in Devin Leary’s place as quarterback and took the Wolfpack out quickly to a 14-0 lead. After averaging 22.1 points per game last season, finishing 107 in the country, NC State had 21 in the first 17 minutes of play.
NC State had 60 players absent from its practice on September 1 after the program was suspended for a week due to COVID-19 issues.
Among the players sidelined during training in early September due to contact tracing protocols was Leary, who started the last five games of 2019 and would be the owner of this game.
Doeren said after the game that Leary missed 20 days of training.
Hockman looked comfortable in the first half and completed his first 12 passes. He was effective as a runner – he ran for a touchdown and shot for one – and finished 16 of 23 for 191 yards and with one glaring mistake.
Beck, who cut his teeth as a heavyweight playcaller in Nebraska before two rough stops in Texas and Ohio State, quickly realized that running play is this team’s strength.
After NC State had a 35-21 lead in the second half, Hockman received an interception for a touchdown and Walker’s third touchdown, with 9:12 remaining, gave the Deacs their first and only advantage of the game, 42 -38.
If the “pick six” hadn’t sunk the other NC state teams, stifling the lead as late as they would have. But this group had another surprise in them.
Beck composed an eight-play, 75-yard response, capped by a 3-yard touchdown managed by Person for the decisive points.
Given how Doeren, ages 2-6, usually found a way to win the games he was supposed to (at Syracuse in 2014, at North Carolina in 2016), it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Given the way it happened, it was. And perhaps the best guy for a team that doesn’t have to worry “oh no, here we go again” after another defeat to Wake.
Instead, he can continue pedaling through the pandemic with a new lease on life.