Friedlander: NC State's hopes to salvage season rest on the success of its offensive 'tweaks'
RALEIGH, N.C. – There is no trade deadline in college football, at least until the transfer portal opens up at the end of the season.
There is no waiver wire.
So when injuries happen and holes need to be filled, options for finding the “next man up” are limited to a team’s existing roster.
Those options have been less than appealing for coach Dave Doeren at NC State since losing quarterback Devin Leary for the season 2 games ago against Florida State.
The Wolfpack haven’t scored a touchdown in their 6 quarters without Leary and are grasping for any glimmer of hope as they look to salvage something, anything, from a season suddenly on the brink.
About the only thing they have going for them right now is the open date that provided Doeren and his staff a little extra time to step back, assess their options and try to find ways of making the best of a bad situation.
“I think it came at a great time,” Doeren said of the off week, adding that it gave offensive coordinator Tim Beck and the offense an opportunity to “tweak things and have a little bit more time to evaluate it.”
The Wolfpack coach didn’t offer any hints as to what those “tweaks” might entail. We’ll have to wait until Thursday, when his team returns to action against Virginia Tech at Carter-Finley Stadium to find out.
But there’s not a lot of mystery as to what they could be.
Doeren and Beck have either altered their game plan to better suit Chambers’ skill set or they spent a majority of the time off preparing prized freshman MJ Morris to step in and take over the offense.
If it’s the former, things figure to look a lot like they did during the second half of a loss at Syracuse 2 weeks ago, when State used a series of short passes and Chambers runs to dink and dunk its way down the field.
Both of its scoring drives consumed more than 8 minutes and took 14-plus plays to complete before eventually stalling in the red zone, proving that you can only run so many quarterback draws on 3rd down before the opposing defense catches on.
“It’s just kind of the beginnings of what we can do,” Doeren said. “We’re not going to run the triple option, you know? But we do have a quarterback that can do some things. We want to utilize that and still want to feed our receivers, running backs and tight ends.
“So you’ll see it grow probably as it goes. But we’ve got to be careful about doing too much and then not doing things right.”
The triple-option offense Doeren mentioned is the antiquated run-oriented attack once used at Georgia Tech by former coach Paul Johnson. But there’s a more modern variation of it that could provide a workable answer to the Wolfpack’s offensive questions.
An RPO philosophy similar to the one used by Atlantic Division rival Wake Forest would provide Chambers with opportunities to make plays with his own legs while forcing defenses to respect the possibility of a handoff between the tackles. If the opposition commits to stopping the run, the quarterback can always pull the ball out and throw to an open receiver downfield.
That would be just fine with Chambers, who arrived at State last summer as a walk-on graduate transfer from Charleston Southern.
“That’s every QBs dream,” Chambers said. “Even the QBs that run the triple option, they still want to throw the ball. But whatever’s called, we’re going to run it and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability.”
While the Wolfpack’s newly “tweaked” offense does figure to involve a few more pass plays, don’t expect to see Chambers start winging the ball all around the yard.
Or far down the field.
His 24 completions so far this season have gone for an average of just 4.7 yards. That’s slightly lower than the 6.0 yards he averaged while throwing for 2,510 yards and 17 touchdowns for his FCS team a year ago.
By comparison, Leary threw for 8.0 yards per completion during his successful 2021 campaign.
Should the Wolfpack find itself in a situation of having to gain large chunks of yards through the air, Morris would be the most likely candidate to do it.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Doeren hand Morris the keys to the offense and turn him loose if things don’t go well early for Chambers against the Hokies.
State’s hopes for winning its first ACC championship since 1979 went out the window with a loss to Clemson and its goal of the second-ever 10-win season in program history is teetering on the edge of a cliff. So if the Wolfpack staff thinks that Morris is their quarterback of the future, there’s no better time to find out than the present.
At this point, it’s the only other option they have left.