Luke DeCock

Without Thornton, Wolfpack finds quality in quantity

N.C. State’s only preseason all-ACC player watched the game from the sidelines, in shorts with a towel around his neck. Shadrach Thornton served the first game of a two-game suspension Saturday, and he was not missed.

He might even have a little trouble winning his job back.

With Matt Dayes pounding the ball inside and Jaylen Samuels likely the most productive tight end-fullback listed on any roster in the country and Jumichael Ramos coming straight out of 2013, the Wolfpack displayed a variety of scoring threats in a 49-21 win over Troy to open the season Saturday.

And that may only be scratching the surface: Nyheim Hines had only three touches on offense, none of them as impressive as a 30-yard kickoff return, and considerably more is expected from the talented freshman from Garner, whose debut was rather subdued as Dayes and Samuels kept the ball moving.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” acknowledged Samuels, the running-catching threat with the odd hybrid position.

Jacoby Brissett completed his first 12 passes and 21 of 23 for 196 yards and two touchdowns before giving way to redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon, but that’s to be expected from the quarterback at this point in his career.

Perhaps this all was to be expected, considering Troy’s defense was supervised by Vic Koenning, who left a trail of flaming wreckage behind in Chapel Hill last season, but it was still a positive development for the Wolfpack the way players like Dayes and Samuels took advantage of the opportunity presented by Thornton’s absence.

Dayes shattered the career-highs he set in the 2013 opener, when Thornton was also suspended, and demonstrated a burst of acceleration in the open field not often seen to this point of his career. He finished with 126 yards on 24 carries, both career-highs, and two touchdowns.

“Made guys miss, took care of the ball – he ran like we thought he’d run, to be honest,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “He ran like that all through camp. He was excited about his role tonight, and it showed.”

Samuels had four carries and four catches and scored on three of them. Nine other players caught passes, including Gavin Locklear, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, and senior Benson Browne, with his first career catch and TD.

Freshman Reggie Gallaspy and sophomore Dakwa Nichols also saw late action in the backfield, but the Wolfpack started with a pass to Ramos, who might as well be a freshman again. He had one catch last season. He caught three Saturday night, including a touchdown, his first since November 2013.

Ramos considered transferring. He stuck around and caught the first pass of the season, an old weapon for the Wolfpack who is also apparently a new one.

“It was a great reward,” Ramos said. “It just shows how hard work pays off.”

This was how the Wolfpack hoped to start things, with a collection of play-making skill players surrounding Brissett, even if Thornton was supposed to be one of them. A true assessment will probably have to wait until Week 5, when N.C. State hosts Louisville, but anyone who didn’t get many chances Saturday won’t have to wait long, considering next week’s meeting with Eastern Kentucky figures to be an open audition after the first quarter or so.

“We’re going to add Shadrach after the second game, and we’ll be very intense as an offense,” Samuels said.

Thornton won’t be missed. The way things went Saturday, he may even have trouble finding his way back onto the field when he does return.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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