The old football adage “if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have one” reared its ugly head this week for North Carolina State’s season opener.
Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren announced plans to open the season Thursday night against William & Mary at Carter Finley Stadium, alternating series between sophomores Ryan Finley and Jalan McClendon.
This move might seem doomed to fail, except the accepted football wisdom doesn’t apply to Doeren, who is in his fourth year at N.C. State after two at Northern Illinois. He has earned some points over his career for identifying quarterback talent.
At Northern Illinois, little-known quarterback Jordan Lynch led the Huskies to the 2012 Mid-American Conference title and the Orange Bowl with a No. 16 ranking. He finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting. That season landed Doeren the N.C. State job.
Once he arrived at N.C. State, he brought in Jacoby Brissett as a transfer from Florida. Brissett had to sit out 2013, but he passed for over 2,600 yards in two seasons as a starter in 2014 and 2015. He was a third-round draft pick by the New England Patriots.
Whatever Florida didn’t see in Brissett, it was spotted first by Doeren first and then Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Doeren now hopes he can cultivate his new quarterbacks’ talents.
“Both of them (McClendon and Finley) have done a really good job of learning from mistakes and coming back and working the next day to get better,” Doeren told the media at the conclusion of fall camp. “That’s why we’re going to play them both. I’m excited to see them play. I need to see what game day does to these two guys.”
McClendon, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, was highly recruited out of Charlotte West Mecklenburg. He backed up Brissett last year, playing in seven games. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 69 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Finley, a 6-4, 200-pounder, is a transfer from Boise State who had earned the Broncos’ starting job in 2015, but suffered a season-ending injury early in the third game. He was 46-of-70 for 485 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions.
When Brett Rypien played well in place of him, Finley opted to follow Boise State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz to Raleigh. Drinkwitz was hired after Doeren let Matt Canada go.
Doeren said he and Drinkwitz have studied how McClendon and Finley have fared leading the team in fall camp. They’ve placed them in various situations over the course of 20 drives. Their play has been close enough that Doeren decided to separate them under the pressure of gameday. Some players respond better than others.
“Jacoby Brissett was a great example — maybe as good of a game-day competitor at quarterback I’ve been around,” he said. “You want to see what gameday does to some guys. Some guys get bigger on gameday and some don’t.
“We’ll see how it goes. Eli has his feel on what’s going to happen with those guys. We’ll see in between series how they’re doing and how the guys are responding to them on the field. It usually works its way out.”
In spring drills, the competition was between McClendon and redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers, a 6-2, 188-pounder from Lithonia (Georgia) Arabia Mountain. However, Meyers fell behind in fall camp with an ankle injury. Doeren said to get Meyers’ talent on the field, he has been working at both wide receiver and quarterback.
“Playing wide receiver will help him learn the quarterback position,” Doeren said.
William & Mary is a Football Championship Subdivision member, but the Tribe has 16 returning starters and is ranked No. 10 in the FCS preseason coaches’ poll. Head coach Jimmy Laycock enters his 37th season with a career record of 238-174-2.
William & Mary has a history of pesky play against Football Bowl Subdivision members. In the last five such games, the Tribe beat Virginia in 2009 and lost four games by less than a touchdown (Virginia, 2015; West Virginia, 2013; Maryland, 2012; and North Carolina, 2010).
Football history says facing a team undecided between two quarterbacks will help William & Mary at least keep the game close.
Unless, that is, Doeren has decided he knows more about his quarterbacks than he has let on.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055