RALEIGH — Eight games and five ACC losses into his first season, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren finds himself back at square one at quarterback.
Doeren said Monday either Brandon Mitchell or Pete Thomas will start against Duke this Saturday. Doeren benched Mitchell in the fourth quarter of a 27-19 home loss to North Carolina and said he wants to see how the graduate transfer will respond.
Im not going to give up on Brandon and Im not going to anoint the other guy either, Doeren said. I think were in a position as a team where we may have to play both.
Mitchell won the job in August but broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener and missed five games. Thomas, a junior, started in Mitchells absence, and the team went 2-3. Thomas went back to the bench when Mitchell returned for a 49-17 loss at Florida State on Oct. 26.
Since he has been back, Mitchell has completed just 49 percent of his passes (27 of 55) and thrown four interceptions without a touchdown.
Mitchell threw two interceptions in the second half of the UNC loss and was benched after the second one with just under 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Thomas came in and completed 4 of 7 passes for 46 yards.
On the season, N.C. States quarterbacks have combined for four touchdown passes and 1,805 yards in eight games, with 12 interceptions.
The Wolfpack got an average of 3,418 yards and 30.2 TD passes the previous four seasons from Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon, now both NFL starters.
Junior defensive end Art Norman acknowledged that difference on Monday and said this team needs to adjust.
Were still a good team, Norman said. We have to play almost perfect to win, basically.
Doeren lamented the woes of the offense in the red zone against Carolina. The Wolfpack scored one touchdown on four possessions inside UNCs 25-yard line. It had a fifth possession stall at the Tar Heels 27.
Junior kicker Nik Sade made four field goals against UNC, but Doeren doesnt want his team to trade field goals for touchdowns.
Those red-zone opportunities were killers, Doeren said. If two out of those four, we get eight more points and tie the ballgame.
Neither of Mitchells interceptions came in the red zone but both came when the Pack still had a chance to either take the lead or tie the game. His first came after a 23-yard punt return by Rashard Smith set up the offense at UNCs 49-yard line down 21-19 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
The second interception came with State trailing 27-19 with 10:53 left in the game. He had a lot of time to throw but ended up forcing a pass into coverage, which UNC safety Brian Walker picked off at States 44-yard line.
You cant turn the football over when theres nothing there, Doeren said.
Doeren did note that Mitchells running ability is an asset. Mitchell ran for 105 yards against UNCs porous run defense. Thomas is not as mobile but has been more accurate on downfield routes, Doeren said.
Doeren said he will let the decision sort itself out in practice.
Well go to practice with both of those guys getting reps and well see how Brandon responds, Doeren said.