Sadly, there’s no dart board, roulette wheel or hat with a bunch of names scribbled on tiny pieces of paper in the coaches’ box in Vaughn Towers at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
It is fun to imagine N.C. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada relying on such whims to call plays and pick out who gets the ball in the Wolfpack’s offense.
Instead, there’s a process, and a shared philosophy with coach Dave Doeren, to how Canada figures out who will get the ball and when.
“A dart board does sound good,” Canada joked.
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Canada doesn’t need one; his way works just fine. Last season N.C. State averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game for the first time since 1992.
The Wolfpack also finished the season with nearly the same amount of passing yards (2,652) as rushing yards (2,659).
“You couldn’t do that if you tried,” Canada said, marveling at how the statistical balance worked out.
With its more-the-merrier approach, N.C. State was one of eight Power 5 conference teams to have three players with at least 100 rushing attempts last season.
Senior running back Shadrach Thornton, who is suspended for the first two games, led the team with 164 carries for 907 yards. Junior running back Matt Dayes had 104 carries for 573 yards and quarterback Jacoby Brissett had 124 carries for 529 yards.
Run-obsessed Georgia Tech was the only other ACC team to have three players hit the century mark. Texas (6-7) was the only one in the group of those Power 5 teams with a losing record. Oregon (13-2) played for the national title and the Yellow Jackets (11-3) won the Orange Bowl.
Dayes, who will be busy in the Wolfpack’s opener against Troy on Saturday night, has no problem with Canada’s system.
“Honestly, I have no idea how he picks it, but I like it because I get the ball a lot,” said Dayes, who also caught 32 passes for 321 yards. “I’m not complaining.”
There are plenty of touches to go around in Canada’s offense and that’s by design. The more options you have, the more the defense has to prepare, he said.
Canada doesn’t rotate backs by the series, quarter or down, rather the play calls are based on the matchups with the defense.
“Our entire offensive plan is to take what the defense gives us and use the matchups to our advantage,” Canada said. “The more players you use, the more possible matchups you have that are in your favor, which gives you more options.”
That means different looks and sets for Dayes and Thornton. This season, sophomore Jaylen Samuels – who might be the only player in the country listed as a “RB/TE” – and freshman Nyheim Hines will be active and used in a lot of different ways in the Wolfpack’s offense.
Doeren saw the same type of philosophy work at Wisconsin, where he was an assistant for five years. His two Northern Illinois teams, while led by strong running quarterbacks, also shared the running workload.
Players need to stay fresh and healthy, Doeren said. There’s a reason the NFL has gone down the same road, especially at running back.
“The (running backs) all want the ball, but they also know they want to play for ‘x’ many plays and make it through the season,” Doeren said.
The by-committee approach not only worked with Thornton and Dayes last season but also helped attract Hines, Reggie Gallaspy and Johnny Frasier in the most recent recruiting cycle. All three were among the highest-rated running backs in the state.
Doeren wants N.C. State to have a “run to win, throw to score” philosophy. The Wolfpack might not run as much as it did at the end of the 2014 season – 46 attempts, 362 yards against Wake Forest and 58 attempts, 388 yards against UNC – but Doeren believes no matter how much college football changes, you still have to be able to run to win.
“It starts with the attitude and the mentality,” Doeren said. “That’s the first thing: you have to want to run the football and you have to take pride in running the football.”
N.C. State did that last season. Its 204.5 rushing yards per game average was up almost 100 yards per game from the season before Doeren was hired (111.1 in 2012).
The Wolfpack finished the season with a 5.2 yards per carry average, the highest since the school started tracking the stat in 1953.
With its top runners, including Brissett, and four linemen with starting experience back in the fold, N.C. State will try to be a run-to-win team. And probably with a lot of runners.
“Individual statistics are great, and guys have goals, but all that matters is winning,” Canada said. “We’ll do whatever we think we have to do to win the game.”
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Learning to run
N.C. State has improved its running game under Dave Doeren, who was hired after the 2012 season. A look at the Wolfpack’s rushing averages the past five seasons:
Yards per carry
Yards per game
Sharing the ball
N.C. State was one of eight Power 5 conference teams to have three players with at least 100 rushing attempts last season. Oregon, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Arizona, Kansas State, Washington and Texas were the others. N.C. State’s leading rushers last season:
Shadrach Thornton, RB
Matt Dayes, RB
Jacoby Brissett, QB