Wolfpack losing key veterans after 2 straight bowl trips
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dave Doeren's third year at North Carolina State ended with another bowl appearance, but didn't close with the optimism-building flurry from a year earlier.
Instead, the Wolfpack ended with two straight double-digit losses, including to Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl. And with several key personnel losses, North Carolina State (7-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) will have some big holes to fill for next year even as it gains another year of maturation from an otherwise young roster.
Doeren said the work starts through recruiting and game-by-game evaluation of what went right and what went wrong this season.
''Whether you're 12-1 or 7-6, you do it,'' he said after Wednesday's 51-28 loss to the Bulldogs in Charlotte. ''You've got to be super hard on yourself as a coach. Like I told our staff, it's not our players' fault. It's ours. We always look at ourselves first. What can we do to help them be the best them?''
North Carolina State ended last year with a road rout of rival North Carolina followed by a win against UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl, finishing 8-5 for a five-win improvement. The Wolfpack then started 4-0 this year against a soft nonconference schedule, but couldn't keep rolling once ACC play began.
The regular season ended with N.C. State falling behind rival UNC 35-7 in the opening quarter of a 45-34 loss, followed by giving up 569 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs.
In the end, North Carolina State didn't beat a team that made a bowl game and its seven wins came against teams with a combined record of 30-53, according to STATS.
The most pressing question in 2016 will be replacing two-year starter Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer who provided a run-pass threat that stabilized an offense that struggled mightily without him in Doeren's first year.
His backup, redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon, threw just 14 passes all year and didn't get any work late in the bowl because Doeren said Brissett told offensive coordinator Matt Canada he wanted to finish out his final game.
Brissett is one of seven senior or graduate starters from the bowl depth chart, including three on the offensive line. The list of departing veterans includes Associated Press all-ACC picks in left tackle Joe Thuney and defensive end Mike Rose.
There's plenty of talent expected back, including AP all-ACC performer Jaylen Samuels with a combined 16 rushing and receiving touchdowns, and rising senior tailback Matt Dayes, who ran for 12 touchdowns before missing the final month with a foot injury.
''It's not where I want it to be,'' Samuels said of the program after the bowl loss. ''But there's a lot of room for improvement. We're going to learn from this loss, take it to the offseason, work as hard as we did last year and try to come back better.''
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