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Doeren, Wolfpack aim for strong bounceback from four-win season

By Aaron Beard, AP Sports Writer

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren saw his program take its first stumble last season after years of steady building. He’s hoping an offseason of changes and player development returns the Wolfpack to an upward trajectory.

Doeren shook up his staff with five new assistants coaches, including a new offensive coordinator. He’s also counting on the young players pressed into duty to be better prepared for their moment this time after last year’s struggles.

“I do like their hunger,” the eighth-year coach said. “I do like their growth. I like their dissatisfaction with what occurred before and the things we did over the offseason to be better for that.”

N.C. State had gone to five straight bowls and had consecutive nine-win seasons by developing young players into experienced contributors by the time they were needed for leading roles. But last year’s team had problems from the start with a roster that featured more than 50 true or redshirt freshmen, including going through three different starting quarterbacks.

N.C. State (4-8, 1-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) closed with six straight losses.

Getting improved offensive play will be critical to getting the Wolfpack moving forward again. That’s why Doeren brought in Tim Beck as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the highest-profile change of the staff overhaul.

Beck will need to get more out of Devin Leary, who struggled while starting the last five games as a redshirt freshman and completed just 48% of his passes. Leary is one of 10 returning offensive starters, while six defensive starters return as well.

“Of course none of us want to relive last year at all,” linebacker Isaiah Moore said. “We all understand that what we put on the field last year wasn’t good enough.”

Some other things to know about N.C. State for the 2020 season:

BECK’S WORK

Beck spent the past three seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas after stints at Ohio State and Nebraska. The coronavirus pandemic altered the typical offseason training plans, so it’s unclear whether that will impact how well the Wolfpack players adjust to Beck’s scheme.

“I’m a pretty confident guy and feel good about what we’re doing and the system,” Beck said.

BACK TO NO. 86

A bounceback season from senior receiver Emeka Emezie would certainly help Devin Leary’s growth at quarterback.

Emezie entered last year as the presumed successor to NFL receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. He even took Harmon’s No. 3 jersey number in a symbolic sign of being the go-to guy, but posted stats that looked a lot like his supporting-role numbers in 2018.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Emezie has gone back to No. 86.

“I just feel like it’s a change of mindset with everything,” Emezie said, adding: “I just wasn’t the player that I wanted to be.”

KICKING STRENGTH

The kicking game will be a strength with the return of punter Trenton Gill and placekicker Christopher Dunn. Gill was third nationally by averaging 47.6 yards last year, while Dunn ranked in the top 12 nationally by making 87.5% of his field-goal attempts.

VIRUS UPDATE

The Wolfpack got in five spring practices before the pandemic shut down college and professional sports. Then the program hit a bigger obstacle in preseason camp when the school paused all sports activities Aug. 24 due to a coronavirus cluster tied to athletics.

While the school didn’t specify which programs were impacted, the football program didn’t resume practice until Monday. By then, though, N.C. State had postponed its season-opening game at Virginia Tech for two weeks to Sept. 26.

SCHEDULE SCRAMBLE

The Wolfpack’s revamped schedule no longer features a visit from Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference, while Liberty remained as the lone nonconference opponent.

The ACC won’t have its traditional two-division format this year, so N.C. State shed typical Atlantic Division matchups with top-ranked Clemson and Boston College. Instead, N.C. State added five new games against traditional Coastal Division teams in Virginia Tech, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Miami and Georgia Tech.

N.C. State was already scheduled to play the three other instate ACC schools, starting with a Sept. 19 visit from Wake Forest that is the new opener.

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