Even N.C. State’s best play in the first half at Louisville on Saturday turned out to be a loss.
Senior running back Matt Dayes caught a 21-yard pass at 10:02 in the second quarter but took an awkward hit to his head and neck from safety Chucky Williams.
Dayes didn’t play the rest of the way in the Wolfpack’s 54-13 loss to the seventh-ranked Cardinals.
“The trainer said he was OK,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “(Running backs coach) Des (Kitchings) just didn’t feel like (Dayes) was himself, so we opted to keep him out of the game.”
N.C. State was already down 27-0 when Dayes got hit by Williams. It was N.C. State’s only first down in the game up to that point. On first down from N.C. State’s 25-yard line, Dayes lined up in the left slot and caught a pass from quarterback Ryan Finley at the 32.
He ran 14 yards while being chased by linebacker Stacy Thomas, who was in coverage on the play. Thomas tried to push Dayes from behind while Williams tackled him from the front at the 46-yard line.
Williams made contact with Dayes’ head and Dayes’ neck jerked awkwardly as he fell to the ground. Dayes was shaken up on the field but was able to walk back to the locker room. After a few minutes, he was able to run out of the locker room with his helmet on, but Doeren decided it was better to save Dayes than risk further injury.
Dayes missed the last five games of the 2015 season with a toe injury, and the Wolfpack offense wasn’t the same without him.
A week after running for 106 yards on 22 carries against Clemson’s stout defense, the Wolfpack couldn’t get its ground game going against the Cardinals.
Dayes had five carries in the first half quarter for 13 yards. His best run, a 7-yarder, was negated by a holding penalty on freshman tight end Thadd Moss. It was only the second time in seven games this season Dayes did not rush for 100 yards.
The absence of right tackle Will Richardson didn’t help the Wolfpack’s cause. Richardson didn’t play against Louisville after dealing with migraine headaches all week.
“We were hoping to get him better and we couldn’t,” Doeren said.
N.C. State entered the game averaging 186.2 rushing yards per game but managed only 14 yards on 25 rushing attempts in the loss.
“We didn’t run the football effectively,” Doeren said. “Will Richardson was out and that hurt us.
“We’re not going to be a good team if we rush for (14) yards. That’s just not who we are.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio