The trees in the neighborhood behind the south end zone of Alumni Stadium have started to turn colors. For about three quarters, that’s all N.C. State had to show for its trip to Boston College: a good view of the fall foliage.
The way freshman quarterback Devin Leary played in the fourth quarter of the 45-24 loss to Boston College, the Wolfpack (4-3, 1-2 ACC) might be able to salvage a little more than an appreciation of the New England scenery.
Many N.C. State fans have been clamoring for more of Leary and got three quarters worth of the redshirt freshman from New Jersey on Saturday. He completed 15 of 33 passes for 259 yards with three touchdowns.
He wasn’t perfect, and his first touchdown pass didn’t come until N.C. State was down 31-3, but Leary at least offers hope. The way this season is slipping away from the Wolfpack, trying to rebuild while being decimated by injuries, hope is a powerful drug.
With a trip to N.C. State’s personal abyss up next (at Wake Forest on Nov. 2) and then a home date with Clemson on Nov. 9, N.C. State needs any kind of hope to cling to.
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren had a familiar, exasperated look on his face as he met with the media in the concourse underneath the home stands of Alumni Stadium after the game.
It was six years ago, in Doeren’s first season in 2013, when Doeren had the same look of despair after Boston College stud running back Andre Williams ran wild against N.C. State for an ACC-record 339 yards in a 38-21 win over the Wolfpack.
Doeren came back here in 2015 and ‘17 and got a measure of redemption. In a certain regard, he probably felt like he was back at square one on Saturday, as he watched helplessly as his defense couldn’t stop A.J. Dillon (223 yards) or his backup, David Bailey (181 yards).
Injuries are a part of the equation. N.C. State’s secondary is down to options No. 5, 6 and 7 at cornerback. Safety De’Von Graves was moved over as an emergency starter after junior starter Chris Ingram wasn’t able to play. Senior starter, and emotional leader, Nick McCloud missed his sixth straight game with a knee injury.
But injuries don’t explain the whole story. The N.C. State offense, with co-coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald in charge for the first time, is trying to run the same plays that worked for a Nyheim Hines, who had 110 rushing yards in a 17-14 win here in 2017, or a Kelvin Harmon, who had 128 receiving yards in a Wolfpack win over BC in Raleigh last year. The problem is this offense doesn’t have playmakers like either of those former greats.
“There are a lot of things we’ve got to look at,” Doeren said of the play calling and lineup changes. “It’s infinity right now.”
After losing 14 players from the previous two teams to the NFL, this was always going to be a “reset” year for Doeren. You add in four new assistant coaches and all of the injuries and you have the current DEFCON Level 2 crisis the Wolfpack faces.
It needs two more wins to get back to a bowl for a sixth straight season under Doeren. The only time he didn’t make a bowl was that first year, or what he often calls “Year Zero.”
Except he’s not in the same position he was in 2013. He knew then he had Jacoby Brissett as his quarterback going forward. Even more important than winning two more games is finding the right quarterback going forward. Leary just might be the answer.
He got his first extensive action against BC but probably five or six weeks later than he should have. Doeren has been stubborn about Leary or loyal to his other quarterbacks, depending on your view.
Leary said he has noticed the attention from Wolfpack fans on social media and elsewhere but he’s trying not to buy into any outside hype.
“I’m here for the team,” Leary said. “Whatever I can do for the team, that’s my role and I understand that 100 percent.”
N.C. State’s problems are “multitude,” as Doeren said after the game, but it needs to find a hero over the next five games. That might have to be Leary’s role.