NC State leaned heavily on the ground game in its 41-0 thrashing of Western Carolina. The Wolfpack put up 309 rushing yards as a team on 5.8 yards per carry. The trio of freshman Zonovan “Bam” Knight, sophomore Ricky Person and freshman Jordan Houston proved lethal once again as the backs combined for 243 yards on 6.75 yards a carry with four touchdowns.
In the first quarter, NC State only mustered three points as quarterback Matthew McKay struggled early on. In the second half, co-offensive coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald turned to the run game to jump-start the offense, which responded with 21 points.
“We started slow on offense, then got the run game going,” said head coach Dave Doeren. “It's great for Bam to get his first 100-yard game. I thought Jordan Houston gave us a good spark in the second half with his change of pace.”
Freshman Zonovan Knight led the way for the Wolfpack, with 119 yards and two touchdowns. Known as Bam for his home-run hitting ability, Knight has been garnering buzz since NC State's spring game. Heading into fall workouts, he let the hype get to him.
“I don't think he handled it well, to be honest,” Doeren said. “I think he had a big head this summer, and read his press clippings too much. His attention was grabbed in camp. Our defensive kids got after him and put him back in his place. He has a really good finish to camp. I think he thought it was going to be easy. It's not easy. It's hard.”
Practicing against one of the better rush defenses in the country humbled Knight, and it also meant he's probably been more challenged during practices than the first two games of this season. Bam has learned to not only use his quickness, but to add toughness to his game.
“He's physical, he gets north/south. He's not afraid to throw his body in there,” Doeren said. “You see him jumping over guys, diving through. He runs through contact. For a guy that's not like Reggie [Gallaspy]—you know, 220—I mean, he's a 200-pounder but he runs hard.”
Person is the veteran of this group, and while talented, NC State's coaching staff seems reticent to give him the lion’s share of carries given his injury history. While he sees a good deal of action, freshman Jordan Houston becomes Knight’s handcuff during the second half.
“The past two games I've gotten more in the second half,” Houston said. “He’ll keep me in for a good four or five plays, just to get some momentum. I'm feeling more and more comfortable each game.”
Against East Carolina, Houston had a few bursts that showed his potential, and today he found the end zone for the first time in his collegiate career.
“It felt great. I feel like all the hard work is paying off,” Houston said. “Just gotta get used to it now, I feel like it's the first of many.”
Depth is a recurring theme with this Wolfpack team, and it's more important for this unit than any other on the team. NC State will only go as far as its run game can carry it, and that may be pretty far.
“Coach Kitchings was telling us that the running back core was probably going to be the best part of the offense this year,” Houston said. “We have to live up to that expectation. We're just working hard to try and make people believe that.”