A lot of talk has been made about who won’t be playing for N.C. State in the Gator Bowl.
A few of the missing players include linebacker Germaine Pratt and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, who both opted to skip the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. Another wide receiver, Stephen Louis, hasn’t played since October because of an injury.
Also missing when the Wolfpack takes on Texas A&M on New Year’s Eve (7:30 p.m. ESPN) will be coach Dave Doeren’s former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Eli Drinkwitz, now the head coach at Appalachian State, as well as offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who went to Louisville to become the offensive coordinator.
At his news conference Sunday, Doeren wanted the focus to be on the players and staff members who are on board for the game.
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“It’s kind of like an injury, to be honest with you. We have other players that are excited to play. I’d rather talk about the guys that are playing, to be honest with you,” Doeren said. “Proud of these guys, excited to see them go out and finish.”
The biggest hit might come from the wide receivers room, with Harmon deciding to leave school a year early, and the Wolfpack being without Louis for most of the season.
The 6-3, 214-pound Harmon caught 81 passes for 1,186 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Days after leading the team to a big win over East Carolina in the regular-season finale, Harmon told Wolfpack Nation he was heading to the NFL and skipping out on the team’s first Gator Bowl appearance since 2002.
Doeren said that opens the door for the rest of the receivers, including Jakobi Meyers, who was also a 1,000-yard receiver. Quarterback Ryan Finley will also rely heavily on Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas and C.J. Riley, a trio of wideouts who all made plays for the team this season.
Finley, the former transfer who will be playing in his final game for the team, said there is a culture with the wide receivers, with a “next man up” mentality.
“I don’t think we’ve lost a beat,” Finley said. “Obviously losing Kelvin is tough. He’s an unbelievable player that I was blessed to play with for a short time period in three years. Kelvin and Steph and Coach (George) McDonald kind of created a culture where it’s next man up. You really haven’t seen much of a difference, to be honest.
“I think one of our kind of strengths in that room has been depth for a long time. We’ve been able to put different situations, have five wide receivers in the game at one point in time. Those guys are ready, they played a lot of minutes, a lot of games. All have had big-time catches.”
Emezie, Thomas and Riley combined for 102 catches and nine touchdowns. True freshman Devin Carter, who appeared in three games, is expected to see more action in the bowl game, according to Finley.
“As much as we miss Kelvin, wish he was here playing with us, we’re ready to roll with these guys,” Finley said.
It’s just not on the offensive side of the ball. Pratt led the team in tackles with 105, but Doeren expects a big game from Brock Miller, who replaced Pratt and finished with six tackles against rival North Carolina, drawing praise from Doeren for his performance.
“Brock Miller played maybe one of the best games of the year against North Carolina,” Doeren said. “He’s prepared well for this game.”
Doeren has also been without a pair of coaches, and will lose one more — defensive assistant Ted Roof — who decided to stay around until after the game. Roof will join Drinkwitz at Appalachian.
Offensive graduate assistant Shawn Flaherty has continued to work with the offensive line, and Doeren said with the great leadership in that group, they hold each other accountable.
Doeren also added that while Finley and Drinkwitz could “probably finish each other’s sentences,” things have been smooth on that side of the ball with Chris Proctor, who spent this season on the staff as an offensive quality control coach. McDonald and Des Kitchings will share the offensive coordinator duties
“It’s fun seeing those guys in that role. They work well together,” Doeren said. “They’re having fun with it. I’m excited to watch these guys play, the game plan they’ve put together. Comes down to executing.”