The NC State football team dropped its third game in a row Saturday, this one in a 55-10 blowout at home against Clemson. While the Wolfpack was never expected to compete with the No. 5 Tigers, much of the 45-point beatdown can be laid at the feet of the injuries the team has suffered. Coming into the season, the one strength the Wolfpack for sure had going for it was depth, and according to head coach Dave Doeren, that depth is gone now.
“We’re down to no depth, and we had three walk-on linebackers in at the end of the game,” Doeren said. “Payton [Wilson] sprained his shoulder. Don’t know how long he’ll be out. Calvin [Hart] did the same thing. So, guys are beat up right now, and we didn’t have Louis [Acceus] or Isaiah [Moore]. Brock [Miller] was backing up all three [linebacker] spots, and he got hurt in the game. It’s tough.”
Here’s a quick list of all the injured contributors for the Wolfpack:
RB1 Ricky Person: Out for past four weeks
TE1 Dylan Autenrieth: Out for season
WR2 C.J. Riley: Out for season
LT1 Tyrone Riley: Out for season
RT1 Justin Witt: Out for season
LB1 Isaiah Moore: Out vs Clemson
LB2 Louis Acceus: Out vs Clemson
LB3 Payton Wilson: Left game vs Clemson
LB4 Brock Miller: Hurt during game vs Clemson
LB5 Drake Thomas: Hurt during game vs Clemson
LB6 Calvin Hart: Hurt during game vs Clemson
CB2 Chris Ingram: Out for season
CB3 Teshaun Smith: Out for season
CB4 Taiyon Palmer: Out for season
FS2 Isaiah Stallings: Out vs Clemson
SS2 De’Von Graves: Left game vs Clemson
NC State’s injury situation seems to be approaching critical mass. Eight starters missed the game on Saturday, and multiple freshmen were forced into action as a result. Freshman offensive guard Dylan McMahon, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Derrick Eason, redshirt freshman linebacker Payton Wilson, and freshman linebacker Drake Thomas joined redshirt freshman Devin Leary, freshman offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu and freshman running back Jordan Houston in the starting lineup on Saturday.
The young players on this team have gone from competing hard in practice just to see the field to having to take on the job with little to no replacement behind them, and that lack of rotation is likely contributing to even more injuries. Sophomore De’Von Graves, who went from backing Jarius Morehead up at safety to playing every snap at corner, went down during the game Saturday and didn’t return. Similar situations affected Thomas and Hart, who each were hurt during the game.
“Any guy going down is really devastating,” Leary said. “Everyone plays a huge role on our team. Seeing guys go down during the game is really heartbreaking, but the ‘next guy up’ mentality is what we preach a lot.”
The Wolfpack is running out of ‘next guys.’ At 4-5 on the season, Doeren faces a tough challenge: getting these young players to play like veterans and win two out of the last three games of the year to get to a bowl. Freshmen are going to make dumb mistakes, and they’re going to have to learn even quicker now that the luxury of subbing in an older player isn’t an option.
“I wouldn't say morale is bad,” Doeren said. “I think the guys are mad more than having bad morale. These guys want to win, and they're all frustrated. They all understand, at the same time, we're playing with a short deck right now. They get that. They're playing hard. We're not playing smart enough to win, not giving ourselves a chance with turnovers or poor decision-making in special teams at the end… It’s our job to keep them positive and find a way to win these games.”