To whom Eli Drinkwitz wanted to send a message is open for debate. Was it N.C. State fans frustrated by the Wolfpack’s inability to make the most of its offensive talent last season? Was it his predecessor as offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, who insisted upon spreading the ball around his skill players despite a top-heavy talent distribution? Was it his players, establishing a Day 1 offensive meritocracy?
Any or all of those options may be correct. What is indisputable is Drinkwitz sent a message with his play-calling Thursday night in the Wolfpack’s 48-14 win over William & Mary, and he did it on the very first series when all eight plays in N.C. State’s 70-yard touchdown drive went to either Matt Dayes or Jaylen Samuels.
Dayes. Dayes. Samuels. Dayes. Samuels. Dayes. Dayes. Dayes. Touchdown.
Message sent and received: Drinkwitz may have just gotten here from Boise State, but he gets it.
Later on, N.C. State ran a jet sweep for Samuels where Samuels was NOT a decoy, for a refreshing change, and he scored. Giving the ball to your best player on a play designed for him? Novel!
The formula for offensive success at N.C. State this season, with a new quarterback and new system and patchwork offensive line with a Sun Belt transfer holding things together at center, is simple. Get the ball to Dayes and Samuels and get out of the way. In the first quarter, Dayes and Samuels combined for 13 of 19 touches. They finished with a combined 162 yards on 28 rushes and seven catches for 84 yards – and five of N.C. State’s seven touchdowns.
To be fair to Canada, he might have squeezed the most out of the first few teams of Doeren’s tenure – the Pete Thomas-Brandon Mitchell QB tandem was quite a way to start – but there’s no question he managed to make the least of the Wolfpack’s skill players last season. He seemed to operate under the misconception that N.C. State had a broad array of NFL-level talent when in fact the Wolfpack had a couple truly talented play-makers who needed to see a lot of the ball.
There wasn’t much Canada or Doeren could do when Shadrach Thornton went on his rampage of idiocy and Dayes got hurt. When Samuels, who scored 16 touchdowns despite only being on the field half the time, got a pathetic four touches in the bowl loss to Mississippi State – and scored on two of them – it became clear that the Wolfpack offensive brain trust was running on empty.
So after spending three seasons held hostage to Canada’s constant attempts to out-think himself into offensive cul de sacs, just as he did in his one controversial season at Wisconsin beforehand, State fans must have tasted freedom on the air Thursday night watching Dayes and Samuels run wild. It was like opening the blinds to find out it was morning all along.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh fans must be shuddering at the thought of James Conner and Qadree Ollison sharing time in the backfield and splitting carries and touches with Your Name Here and That Other Guy, neither of whom is in the same solar system as Conner or Ollison, both legitimate 1,000-yard ACC backs, when it comes to talent.
Cancer and a torn ACL couldn’t stop Conner from coming back for his final season, but Canada’s play-calling is a new obstacle for the 2014 ACC player of the year to overcome.
N.C. State fans can rejoice that such dilemmas are no longer their burden to carry. So, for that matter, can Doeren, who has yet to turn his recruiting success into comparable on-field success, in part because recruiting rankings are basically concocted out of thin air to drive paid traffic to subscription websites and aren’t worth the paper they aren’t printed on, and in part because recruiting talent is one thing and getting it the ball is another.
The latter shouldn’t be that hard. Drinkwitz proved on his first series Thursday that it doesn’t have to be.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @Luke DeCock