RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren wants a team that runs the ball with toughness, both to wear down defenses and maintain the workman-style identity of his program.
The formula provided one of the best rushing seasons in the program's recent history last year, as well as the starting point for this year's offense to continue the Wolfpack's upward climb.
Doeren called it a "run it to win, throw it to score" mentality."
"It starts with the attitude, we tell them that's the first thing," he said Sunday during the team's preseason media day. "You have to want to run the football."
N.C. State did that well in 2014, averaging 204.5 yards per game for its best total since 1992 and its 12th-best total in school history. More impressively, the Wolfpack averaged 5.2 yards per carry — the program's best total in at least a half-century — behind quarterback Jacoby Brissett along with running backs Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes.
N.C. State ranked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards per game.
The highlight came when the Wolfpack ran around, through and over rival North Carolina on the way to racking up 388 yards rushing with only 11 pass attempts in a road rout — a dominant performance that illustrated the blue-collar mindset that Doeren has frequently mentioned. It was part of a five-win turnaround in Doeren's second season.
Thornton, a senior who ran for a team-best 907 yards, quipped that the wins "don't have to be pretty, they can be dirty."
"In the sense of we're not flashy," Thornton said. "We're downhill, physical. We're a physical running team with an outstanding quarterback that can throw the ball."
While both Thornton and Dayes averaged 5.5 yards per carry and combined for 17 rushing scores, Doeren credited the development of the offensive line. And Brissett's presence is just a big of a factor.
The Florida transfer threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns, to go with 529 yards rushing. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Brissett also has enough size to take multiple hits and still run with a physical style in an offense that also gets rushing production from its receivers.
"I think that's the main part of our offense: keeping the defense off balance and being able to use all our weapons without any restrictions," Brissett said. "With the athletes we have, that's a main focal point we want to stress and try to put something against the defense that they can't account for every play."
N.C. State rotates its running backs to keep them fresh. Only once last year did a Wolfpack player get 20 carries in a game: Thornton's 28-carry, 161-yard day against UNC. It might mean that N.C. State could put up yet another strong season on the ground, yet continue the program's drought of 1,000-yard rushers that dates back to 2002.
"Basically it's just going to push me to give that maximum effort every rep because I know I'm sharing reps with other guys that are also good backs," Thornton said. "Of course, with the system we have, it's sort of hard for one guy to get 1,000 yards, but it's definitely possible after seeing the numbers that were put up last year."
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