It took Jaylen Samuels four words to sum up N.C. State’s start to the season.
“So far, so good,” the sophomore fullback said Saturday.
Following up a big win in its season opener, the Wolfpack whipped Eastern Kentucky 35-0 at Carter-Finley Stadium. While there were some blemishes in the victory, there were only a few.
Junior Matt Dayes again was productive running the ball, picking up 116 yards on 24 carries and scoring three times. Jacoby Brissett passed for 216 yards on a 17-for-22 night, while Samuels was a game-long nightmare for the Colonels, picking up 88 yards on six receptions and rushing for another 24 yards.
“We can make it hard for defenses to prepare for us,” Samuels said, talking about his versatility and the weapons in the N.C. State offense.
But this night, the Wolfpack defense was the story. Burned for a few big plays in the 49-21 win over Troy in the opener, the Pack responded by limiting Eastern Kentucky to 112 yards on 44 plays, an average of 2.5 yards per play.
“Proud of the defense for a shutout,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “They had eight three-and-outs out their 10 series on defense.”
The Colonels (1-1), ranked 19th in the Football Championship Subdivision, trailed 14-0 late in the first half but took advantage of a few defensive lapses by the Pack to have first-and-goal at the NCSU 2.
But Dy’Shawn Mobley, the Colonels’ star back, was held to one yard on first down. Adam Lane lost two yards on the next play as safety Hakim Jones made the stop, and defensive end Mike Rose then sacked quarterback Bennie Coney for a 6-yard loss.
The Colonels elected to got for a touchdown rather than a field goal, but Coney’s pass to the right corner of the end zone was high as the Pack defense held.
“That was great, that was big,” Doeren said. “Any time you’re in the red zone on defense and allow no points, that’s huge.
“It showed a lot. It was after a long pass, a face-mask penalty and another long pass. They had three consecutive plays that can kind of get you down. To hold them … that was big for the defense.”
Dayes had a career-high 126 yards against Troy and had a steady workload as senior Shadrach Thornton was suspended the first two games for a violation of athletic department policy. Dayes now has back-to-back 100-yard games and five touchdowns.
Dayes’ 25-yard scoring run early in the third quarter pushed the Pack’s lead to 21-0. He later scored on short runs of 1 and 3 yards.
“I wish a lot of guys were like him — show up, work hard and take pride in your work,” Doeren said. “He’s a very competitive guy. I’m proud of him. He’s had two great games.”
Thornton will be eligible to return next week when the Pack goes to Old Dominion for its first road game. Not that Dayes had any complaints.
“It’ll be great,” he said. “We’re both healthy. It will be great to have him back.”
After being generally mistake-free against Troy, the Pack’s offense stuttered early in Saturday’s game. On the first snap, Brissett was sacked and fumbled, although N.C. State recovered. The Pack had two penalties in the possession, which ended with freshman Kyle Bambard having his first field-goal attempt of the season blocked.
After a scoreless first period, Brissett got the Pack on the board with a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Benson Browne, and Samuels’ 12-yard scoring run ended a 10-play drive.
The Pack defense took it from there. Eastern Kentucky had 10 yards in total offense in the first quarter and 112 in the game — just 35 yards rushing.
“That’s what we wanted to do, stop the run,” Jones said. “Last week we gave up some big plays we should have stopped. We did a lot better job stopping the run tonight.”
EKU coach Dean Hood once was defensive coordinator at Wake Forest under former coach Jim Grobe and came away impressed by the Pack.
“They’re a good ACC team, no doubt about it,” Hood said. “I think they have a chance to win the ACC championship.”