Most people would be worried to watch their team and primary replacement do so well without them.
That wasn’t the case for N.C. State running back Shadrach Thornton. While Thornton was suspended for the first two games, running back Matt Dayes led the Wolfpack with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in wins against Troy and Eastern Kentucky.
Dayes had 108 more yards in Saturday’s 38-14 road win against Old Dominion. Thornton also made the most of his first opportunity, with 92 yards and a touchdown to help the Wolfpack improve to 3-0.
“It was just encouraging,” Thornton said of how well Dayes played in his absence. “I’m happy to see that. We’re going to be hard to stop.”
The duo had its way with the Monarchs, with catch-all sophomore Jaylen Samuels and quarterback Jacoby Brissett also adding rushing touchdowns and the team piling up 256 rushing yards.
Dayes is the first N.C. State running back since T.A. McLendon in 2002 to rush for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. Dayes, who has 350 yards and six touchdowns, is also on pace to become the first 1,000-yard rusher since McLendon in ’02.
That was Thornton’s preseason goal, but it was made more difficult when he was suspended for the first two games for violating a university rule. It was Thornton’s third suspension in as many seasons under coach Dave Doeren. Thornton said he was humbled by the time off.
“It just made me respect the game more,” Thornton said. “It definitely gave me a different perspective about the game.”
Doeren was pleased with how Thornton took the punishment in stride. He said last week that Thornton has been the best version of “him” in Doeren’s three-year tenure.
And Doeren was encouraged with Thornton’s first game action.
“He ran hard, he had a lot of yards after contact and he took care of the football,” Doeren said. “Him and Matt keep each other fresh.”
While Thornton was watching Dayes take over in the first two games, he had no shortage of support from his teammates.
As good as Dayes has been, the Wolfpack’s running game was noticeably better with Thornton, even behind a makeshift offensive line.
“We missed Shad a lot the first two games,” said Samuels, a hybrid tight end/running back who scored two touchdowns in Saturday’s win. “For him to come in and have the game that he had, it was pretty impressive. It brings more weapons to our offense.”
Thornton bulled his way for 11 yards on his first carry of the season with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first quarter. He popped his second run for 11 more yards. While Dayes showed off his ability to make defenders miss, Thornton just hammered would-be tacklers.
“I love Shad,” senior defensive end Mike Rose. “He’s a hard runner. It’s good to see a running back who milks the clock for us and keeps the defense off the field.”
Thornton, who has been the team’s leading rusher the past three years, said he was anxious before Saturday’s game. The toughest part after waiting two weeks was to wait for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“I was gnawing my finger nails all day just ready to get out here and get back to football,” Thornton said.
After this latest suspension, Thornton knows he’s out of chances, and he’s intent on making the most of his last one.
“I’m just ready to focus on ball and school and come out and continue to dominate,” Thornton said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio