RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State’s Matt Dayes is back from injury and determined to be the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher in more than a decade. And he’s got plenty of help, too, in a backfield that will carry a big load this season for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State opens the season Thursday against William & Mary of the Championship Subdivision with a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks. And that could cause first-year coordinator Eli Drinkwitz to lean heavily on that backfield, which has plenty of options from Dayes to do-everything threat Jaylen Samuels.
“I think it’s going to be a huge weapon,” Samuels said. “With all the running backs we’ve got . we’ve just got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. It’s going to put a lot on defenses with all our motions and shifts, just getting their eyes in the right place.”
Dayes had run for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns with five 100-yard games before suffering a foot injury that sidelined him for the final five games. The senior was limited in the spring while rehabbing the injury after surgery. He said he had some soreness early on in preseason camp but is 100 percent.
He’s trying to become the first N.C. State rusher to crack 1,000 yards since T.A. McLendon in 2002.
“I want to pass 1,000 because I know I can get 1,000,” Dayes said. “I know I have a great group of O-linemen that are going to help me do that. I’m not even worried about that right now because I know it’s going to come. I’m just trying to do what I can do for the team at this moment.”
Behind Dayes on the depth chart is redshirt junior Dakwa Nichols and sophomore Reggie Gallaspy II, who played well against Syracuse and North Carolina after Dayes’ injury. There’s also redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier, a former four-star instate recruit who first committed to Florida State before flipping to N.C. State.
Throw in Samuels — who had a combined 16 rushing and receiving scores, and the Wolfpack will have no shortage of options.
As for Drinkwitz, he’s proven he’s willing to run the ball.
He was co-coordinator at Arkansas State in 2013, helping direct a Red Wolves offense that averaged nearly 45 rushing attempts and 206 yards per game.
Drinkwitz served as Boise State’s offensive coordinator last year. The Broncos averaged about 191 yards rushing last year, ending the year with 277 yards and four scores on 56 attempts in a blowout win against Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
“Eli’s got a challenge in front of him like all offensive coordinators do in the first year of putting the pieces together,” fourth-year head coach Dave Doeren said. “The nice thing for him is he’s got some weapons around him to use and I look forward to seeing how he does that.”