Joe, Luke and Mark offer up their ACC football picks of the week
N.C. State’s running game looked unstoppable in September.
Then the Wolfpack lost senior running back Shadrach Thornton and now it has lost junior running back Matt Dayes.
Dayes, the team’s leading rusher and the ACC’s leader in rushing touchdowns, suffered a foot injury in last Saturday’s loss to Clemson and is scheduled to have surgery on Friday and will miss the remainder of the season, the school announced.
Dayes was on pace to become N.C. State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 before injuring his left foot in the final minute of the first half of the 56-41 home loss to Clemson. The 5-9, 203-pound junior from Weston, Fla. rushed for 865 yards on 134 carries in the first eight games. He averaged 108.1 yards per game, third-best in the ACC and the most by an N.C. State running back since Joe McIntosh in 1981.
“I’m disappointed for Matt because he was having a really good year,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said in a statement released by the school on Thursday night. “But in football you’ve got to have a ‘next man up’ mentality, and I’m confident that his teammates will be ready to take on bigger roles and be successful.”
N.C. State will turn to sophomore Jaylen Samuels, who has spent the majority of his time at tight end this season. Samuels replaced Dayes in the second half of the Clemson game and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also had eight catches for 74 yards and a 40-yard touchdown reception.
I’m disappointed for Matt because he was having a really good year. But in football you’ve got to have a ‘next man up’ mentality, and I’m confident that his teammates will be ready to take on bigger roles and be successful.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren on Matt Dayes
On the season, Samuels has 208 rushing yards on 29 carries and six touchdowns. The 5-11, 236-pound sophomore from Charlotte also leads the team in catches (42), receiving yards (429) and touchdown catches (five).
When Doeren met with the media on Thursday, before the announcement about Dayes’ surgery, he said that Samuels would move into Dayes’ role and sophomore Dakwa Nichols and freshman Reggie Gallaspy would be more involved in the running game.
Asked if the offense would change with Samuels at tailback, Doeren said: “I don’t think it’s different. I just think you’ll see more of (Samuels).”
The depth at running back was N.C. State’s strength before the season started. Thornton and Dayes, the top two rushers from a year ago, were back and Doeren added three of the top running back prospects in the state in the freshmen class.
With so many options in front of the highly-touted freshmen, Nyheim Hines was moved to receiver and Johnny Frasier, who was also slowed by an ankle injury, was redshirted. Gallaspy, who enrolled in January, is the only one of the trio to take a snap at running back. The High Point native has 123 yards on 34 carries this season.
Thornton, the team’s leading rusher the previous three seasons, was suspended for the first two games of the season and then kicked off the team on Sept. 30 after a third arrest. In his only two games this season, Thornton ran for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 63-13 win at South Alabama on Sept. 26, N.C. State ran for a season-best 330 yards with Thornton (111) and Dayes (104) both cracking the 100-yard mark. The duo never played together again.
Dayes took over the load as the primary runner with at least 100 more rushing attempts than any other running back on the roster. Even after his numbers dipped without Thornton, he was on track to become N.C. State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since T.A. McLendon in 2002 (1,101 yards).
Samuels’ versatility has been a plus for N.C. State’s offense, which ranks No. 32 in the country in rushing (201.9 yards per game). He had a reserve role as a freshman but was a prolific runner, with 1,404 yards, as a senior in high school on Mallard Creek’s state championship team.
Samuels has had a large role in N.C. State’s offense this season but he hasn’t had more than seven carries in a college game. That means Nichols and Gallaspy will have to do more. Gallaspy, who runs with some power at 5-11, 212 pounds, only has seven carries in four ACC games for 13 yards. He didn’t have any carries against Clemson.
Nichols, a third-year sophomore from Rockingham, has 13 carries for 60 yards on the season. His two rushes for seven yards against Clemson are his only attempts in four ACC games this season.
The timing couldn’t be much worse for N.C. State. The Wolfpack plays at Boston College, the nation’s top-ranked run defense, on Saturday.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio