RALEIGH — N.C. State quarterback Brandon Mitchell will return to the practice field this week, but its unclear if he will play Saturday against Syracuse.
Mitchell has missed the past four games with a broken bone in his left foot, but coach Dave Doeren said the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-2 ACC) will need more than just Mitchells return to get out of last place in the Atlantic Division.
Doeren wasnt happy with the way his team played during a 28-13 loss Saturday at Wake Forest and he let them know about it during a team meeting Sunday.
We didnt play smart enough to win and we didnt play sound enough to win, Doeren said.
The first-year Wolfpack coach was especially disappointed by the defensive effort. The Deacons scored a two total touchdowns in their first two ACC games, losses at Boston College and Clemson, but they doubled that production against N.C. States defense.
Doeren said the main problem on defense was the team lacked fundamentals.
Win or lose, I want to see fundamentals, Doeren said. I want to see toughness, I want to see attitude, I want to see guys playing together and for each other. Thats the first game I havent seen us do that.
Penalties continue to be a problem for the Wolfpack, which was flagged eight times for 74 yards, including a key roughing the kicker penalty which led to Wake Forests third touchdown.
Junior defensive end Art Norman said the players understood Doerens message.
We all have to step it up, Norman said. We cant (play) that bad and expect to win.
Injuries havent helped the Wolfpacks cause, either. Mitchell, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during the first half of the opener against Louisiana Tech, after leading the offense to touchdowns on the first two drives.
He got off his crutches last week and out of his walking boot Sunday. He worked out Sunday on the field for the first time since the injury. Mitchell posted a 15-second video on his Instagram account of the workout, prompting hope he could return for Saturdays conference game against the Orange (2-3, 0-1).
Doeren said Mitchells status is day-to-day and he wont know if the quarterback can play Saturday until he sees what happens in practice. Doeren said he will be cautious with Mitchell.
Im not going to rush it, Doeren said. To put him out there too early is not in anyones best interest. I think you have to make sure his health is where it needs to be.
As soon as the doc says hes safe to play and Brandon looks like he has the rust off, well get him back out there.
Mitchell only played three series in the opener, but the Wolfpacks offense hasnt been able to operate at the same pace or rhythm without him.
Junior Pete Thomas has started the past four games, and has thrown for 1,163 yards, but he has two touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Thomas was missing plenty of key parts from the offense against Wake Forest. Senior receiver Rashard Smith injured his right knee during the first half. Freshman receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling missed the game with a hamstring injury as did freshman running back Matt Dayes.
Doeren said he expects Dayes, who leads the teams with five touchdowns, and Valdes-Scantling to play against Syracuse. There was no update on Smith, who tweaked his right knee on a kickoff return, or safety Jarvis Byrd, who injured a leg injury during the second quarter.
Left tackle Rob Crisp will miss his fourth straight game with concussion issues, Doeren said.
All of the absences have had an effect, Doeren said, but theyre not an excuse for some of the mental errors that are being committed.
Im disappointed in how the game went and how we played and obviously how I coached, Doeren said. I believe our fans deserve better.