Dave Doeren established coaching credentials with a type dual-threat quarterback he wanted running the show before he arrived at North Carolina State. That’s how he made the jump with success at Northern Illinois to a Power Five school.
And now that Doeren’s third Wolfpack fall camp opened on Tuesday, his 2015 quarterback stable provides reason to believe he can lift program above its 3-9 and 8-5 finishes his first two seasons. Senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett (6-4, 235) is a returning starter and redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon (6-5, 212) is his promising backup.
“It’s the first year I’ve had a returner at that position and the first year I had a backup that we recruited to be a scholarship quarterback,” Doeren said during ACC Media Days. “I feel like we’re in a great situation because Jalen traveled to every game last year and was in every game plan meeting with Coach (offensive coordinator Matt) Canada. He took valuable reps in this off-season, and is with Jacoby day in, day out. Jacoby is a tremendous preparation guy.”
During Northern Illinois’s magical 2012 season under Doeren, quarterback Jordan Lynch’s big numbers – 3,138 passing and 1,815 rushing – propelled the Huskies to a 12-0 record, Orange Bowl berth and No. 15 national ranking for the regular season. But Doeren missed the school’s first Orange Bowl — N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow hired him on Dec. 1, 2012 to take over the Wolfpack’s middling Atlantic Coast Conference program.
Yow wasn’t the only one that noticed what Doeren can do with the right quarterback. Two highly-touted QB transfers joined his roster before his first season.
Brandon Mitchell arrived from Arkansas as a graduate with immediate eligibility to take over as a senior starter in 2013. Brissett, one of the top recruits in the nation in the Class of 2011, left Florida with two years eligibility remaining; he sat out 2013 as a transfer.
Mitchell’s 2013 season was handicapped by a broken foot in the season opener that sidelined him five games. The Wolfpack struggled to a 3-9 record as N.C. State was forced to play Pete Thomas, a pro-style quarterback that didn’t fit Doeren’s style.
Brissett, though, has provided the style of play Doeren wants.
“If you have a team that has no identity at that position, they’re probably not very good,” Doeren said. “So (Brissett) has helped us immensely. I was excited when we got him because I’ve known him since he was a freshman. I knew what we needed.
“I was coming from a program at Northern Illinois that had tremendous quarterback play. I knew I was getting one that had that pedigree you can build around. You can have a lot of other things, but if you don’t have (a quarterback), it’s hard to reach the goals you have in your program.”
The Wolfpack were inconsistent in 2014 before finishing strongly with an 8-5 record and bowl game win over Central Florida in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
Brissett, the bowl game MVP, finished the year among only three quarterbacks in the nation with the combination statistics of throwing for more than 2,000 yards, rushing for more 300, more than 20 touchdowns passes and five or fewer interceptions. He was 221-of-370 passing for 2,606 yards, 23 TDs, five interceptions; 124 rushes for 300 yards with three TDs and long of 60.
The other two were Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner selected second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, a fifth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers.
N.C. State is only picked fourth by the media in the ACC Atlantic behind Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. But a returning starting quarterback that feels good about his team can create surprise seasons.
“Going from the 3-9 season to the 8-5 season, it showed you we could play with anybody and we’re serious,” Brissett said. “That’s going to springboard us into this year to understand that we have to make sure that we’re ready to play a lot of other teams, but a lot of other teams have to worry about playing us, too.”
Brissett nearly sparked the Wolfpack to an upset of Florida State last year. N.C. State opened leads of 24-7 and 38-28 while he finished with 359 yards and three touchdowns. But his two second-half fumbles contributed the Seminoles surviving with a 56-41 comeback victory.
He knows he must manage turnovers, but he also has shown he has the talent to lift the Wolfpack in big games.
“Each year you want to make more and more people respect you,” Brissett said. “A lot of teams respect us, but they don’t really respect us the way we want them to respect us. That’s our job this year, is to let them know we’re for real.”