Even Jacoby Brissett admits he was a little frightened to see the stethoscope come out on the sideline, to check and see if he’d suffered a punctured lung after taking a brutal shot to his ribs.
“I was trying my hardest not to let them put that on me,” the N.C. State quarterback said. “Just tried my best to control myself.”
Fortunately, Brissett only had the wind knocked out of him and went right back into the game. You didn’t need a stethoscope to see Brissett has heart. There’s no doubting that. He’s also not playing well enough for the Wolfpack to win right now, and there’s no doubting that either.
Brissett isn’t to blame for N.C. State’s 56-23 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday. There’s plenty of that to go around. But he missed throws when the Wolfpack had a chance to take control, and he was at the center of a bizarre second-quarter sequence that packaged and delivered the game to Georgia Tech.
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Last year, with Brandon Mitchell, Pete Thomas and others at quarterback, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren’s complaints about the position were a weekly fixture. But Brissett, we were repeatedly assured, would fix all that.
Here we are, seven straight home ACC losses later, with the Wolfpack averaging 15.8 points per game since scoring 41 against Florida State – Brissett is 71-for-144 with four touchdowns and four interceptions over that five-game span – and quarterback play is still an issue. Maybe it runs a little deeper than that?
But Brissett did have chances Saturday. Among many missed throws in the first half, Brissett missed a wide-open Bryan Underwood down the sideline on the game’s second play – a killer whiff. There have been too many of those for Brissett in recent weeks.
“Obviously, we’d love to get him back in a rhythm where that’s a completion and a touchdown and we’re all happy, right?” Doeren said. “I have no doubt he’s good enough to do what we need him to do and we’ve got to get him back there.”
When Brissett threw behind Underwood at the goal line, with N.C. State up 13-7, things really started to fall apart. The errant throw deflected off the foot of a Georgia Tech defender and right to Quayshawn Nealy, who was on his way to the other end zone before Jaylen Samuels ran him down and forced a fumble.
Given a second chance, albeit on the other side of midfield, Brissett threw another interception two plays later, and this one did go back for a defensive touchdown. On the next drive, Brissett coughed the ball up and Nealy made it all the way to the end zone this time.
If giving up 14 free points in 2:14 wasn’t painful enough, Brissett stayed down on the turf, the wind knocked from his lungs, the right side of his torso burning.
Somehow, Brissett put himself back together and returned to the game, taking hit after hit, staying in until the very end. A month after he took every snap in a 41-0 loss at Clemson, Brissett stayed this one, leading the offense down the field at the end with the Wolfpack down 40.
Doeren said he asked Brissett if he wanted to come out, and Brissett refused. It’s easy to admire Brissett’s fortitude, but a coach has a duty to look after the best interests of his most important player.
N.C. State still has two games to play, both against in-state rivals, with bowl eligibility still on the line. What’s the benefit of leaving Brissett in this game, on a day he took a beating, with the cause long lost and the stadium deserted?