Football openers are all about answering questions.
And predictably, inevitably, even more arise.
So it was for N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina as the 2013 season began. The three each faced a different caliber of opponent UNC went on the road to play No. 6 South Carolina and all three came away with a better grasp of their football teams.
Dave Doerens first game at N.C. States head coach was a success on several levels. The Wolfpack ripped Louisiana Tech 40-14 on a steamy day at Carter-Finley Stadium, executing well on offense while forcing turnovers on defense.
But starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell suffered a broken bone in his foot after directing touchdown drives on States first two possessions. Its Pete Thomas offense to run now as Mitchell will be sidelined four to six weeks. How will that play out?
For Duke, N.C. Central offered little resistance in the opener. The Blue Devils won 45-0 as quarterback Anthony Boone made his second career start and the defense produced its first shutout since 1989, when Steve Spurrier was the Duke coach and the Devils topped North Carolina 41-0.
Speaking of Spurrier, he took care of UNC again on Thursday night. Spurriers Gamecocks beat the Tar Heels 27-10, leaving UNC coach Larry Fedora to ponder what can be done to shore up a defense that allowed big scoring plays.
What did we learn in Week One? Heres a look:
N.C. States not the same team that looked lost in the spring in the transition to a new scheme and tempo on offense. The Wolfpack came out clicking with a pair of efficient touchdown drives on Saturday.
Quarterback Brandon Mitchell (3-3, 93 yards) showed a command of the offense and ability to make the most of coordinator Matt Canadas up-tempo scheme.
When Mitchell went out with a foot injury in the first quarter, the Wolfpack offense wasnt quite the same but the combination of Pete Thomas, Bryant Shirreffs and Josh Taylor was still good enough to put up 26 points and 402 yards of total offense.
Thomas, a junior, handled the passing duties, completing 15 of 27 passes for 212 yards, while Shirreffs, who had moved to fullback in practice, was strictly a runner. The playbook will probably be expanded Shirreffs, who fan nine times for 34 yards, going forward.
The biggest upside for States offense was the play of freshman running back Matt Dayes, who led the team with 84 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and freshman receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team with 87 receiving yards.
Doeren recruited both out of the state of Florida (Dayes is from Weston and Valdes-Scantling is from St. Petersburg) to contribute right away and both did.
With Richmond coming to Raleigh this week, the Wolfpack will get a chance to refine the offense without Mitchell, who will be out four to six weeks, Doeren said, before a Thursday night matchup with No. 8 Clemson.
The Blue Devils thoroughly enjoyed themselves in their opener at Wade Stadium and their locker room was pretty joyous afterward.
The Devils sang their victory song. They smiled. For the first time since beating Carolina last fall, they had something to celebrate, ending the five-game losing streak that marred the end of the 2012 season and left Duke 6-7 overall.
Anthony Boone, replacing the departed Sean Renfree at quarterback this season, was nearly flawless in running the offense. The read option and nearly everything else offensive coordinator Kurt Roper tried worked against the Eagles as Duke rushed for 257 yards and passed for 231.
I thought Anthony Boone answered some questions for us as far as execution and putting drives together, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. We put him in situations to execute and I thought he passed that test.
Jamison Crowder, who had six pass receptions, had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown as Dukes special teams shined. But the Duke defense got much of the praise after notching Dukes first home shutout since 1978.
Thats something we take pride in, junior linebacker Kelby Brown said. Ive been looking forward to a shutout since Ive been here. It was an awesome feeling. We had a blast.
The Eagles have some offensive threats. Quarterback Jordan Reid has a good arm and NCCU has some wideouts who can make tough catches. But Duke took nearly everything away.
Central is going to be a good team in their league (MEAC), Cutcliffe said. Theyve got some weapons on offense.
But not enough for Duke. The Blue Devils worked their 4-2-5 scheme well. Cutcliffe noted the Eagles kept the running back in to block and help protect Reid even though Duke was coming with a basic four-man rush -- a good sign for the Devils.
But again, the win came against Central, a Football Championship Subdivision program. Dukes next game is in the road, against Memphis, a newcomer to the America Athletic Conference that will be playing its 2013 opener.
Im glad were on the road, Cutcliffe said. We need this test. Its not going to be easy.
Memphis hasnt played a game. Theyll be fresh. Theyre going to be different. Who knows what were going to see?
A lot of Duke players got in the opener Saturday. For the most part, Cutcliffe liked that he had to see.
North Carolina began the season with no shortage of questions about its defense all of it and its rebuilt offensive line. One of them fared decently enough during the Tar Heels season-opening loss against South Carolina. The other? Not so much.
The Tar Heels gave up a long, game-changing play less than two minutes in, when South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Roland. By the end of the first quarter, the Gamecocks led 17-0 and the Tar Heels never really recovered.
Defensively, at least, the loss against South Carolina proved the Tar Heels have their work cut out for them. There arent likely to be any quick fixes. UNC wasnt a disaster defensively; the Tar Heels forced some stops. But they missed assignments and lacked consistency, and South Carolina capitalized.
Offensively, the revamped offensive line held its own especially against the Gamecocks formidable defensive line. That was the good news. The bad: The Tar Heels up-tempo spread wasnt nearly as effective as it usually has been under coach Larry Fedora. South Carolinas defense was just too fast and too good. UNCs 10 points were its fewest since Fedora arrived.
UNCs most glaring problem last Thursday night might have been a lack of talent at least enough of it to compete against the No. 6 team in the country. Thats not to say the Tar Heels are without talent. They have at least three players who are potential first-round NFL draft picks.
But depth is thin. Injuries depleted the defense throughout the preseason, and UNC lacks experience in some key areas on that side. Offensively, the Tar Heels playmakers struggled to make any against the Gamecocks.
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