Wolfpack QB situation more muddled than ever

Brett Friedlander

It's said that that the most popular player on every football team is always the backup quarterback.

For the past few weeks at NC State, that player has been Bailey Hockman.

Saturday night at Florida State, Wolfpack fans frustrated over their team's lackluster offense got their wish when coach Dave Doeren sent Hockman in to replace starter Matthew McKay late in the first quarter.

Hockman didn't immediately spark comparisons to Russell Wilson, the former star whose honored jersey No. 16 he wears. Rather, he looked like a young player getting on-the-job-training in a difficult environment while going 21 of 40 for 208 yards and a touchdown in the 31-13 loss to the Seminoles.

Which, of course, he is.

But just when it seemed as though Hockman's emergence after five weeks as an understudy might finally provide a little clarity to State's unsettled quarterback situation, things became clouded again when on the game's final drive, the redshirt sophomore hobbled off the field taking hard hits on two consecutive pass attempts.

Hockman downplayed the injury, saying it wasn't serious. But by coming out of the game, even for just six plays, he gave the new most popular player on the team to introduce himself to the world.

Say hello to Devin Leary.

The redshirt freshman, who finished his high school career as New Jersey's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, showed off a strong, accurate arm while completing four of his five passes for 54 yards in his first college action.

He might even have led the Wolfpack into the end zone for a window dressing touchdown had receiver Max Fisher not fumbled the ball away at the 2-yard line.

His brief performance led to an avalanche of social media posts calling for him to get a shot at the starting job, which presumably, he will during what promises to be an eventful off week to come.

"Bailey came in and competed," Doeren said in the immediate aftermatch of the game. "I thought Devin Leary came in and did some really good things at the end of the game. I think our run game is more than adequate. We've got to be able to throw the football better. That's what we've got to work on."

While the competition between Hockman and Leary might just be starting to heat up, it's a safe bet that -- at least for now -- McKay has played his way out of the conversation for the starting job.

The redshirt sophomore had gone downhill steadily since a promising debut against East Carolina, in which he became only the third Wolfpack quarterback since 1970 to throw for more than 300 yards in his first start. He especially struggled with his accuracy on downfield throws.

He completed only one of his seven passing attempts for a single yard in the second half of last week's home win against Ball State, leading to speculation that Doeren might be ready to make change.

Doeren gave McKay one final chance in Tallahassee. That ended after three possessions in which McKay went 3 of 7 for 20 yards. In five games as a starter, McKay completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 910 yards and three touchdowns while also accounting for four rushing scores.

Matthew McKay started the first five games before being replace last week at Florida State
Matthew McKay throws a pass during Saturday's loss to Florida State (Melina Meyers/USAToday sports)Melina Meyers/USAToday sports

"Matt was not doing what I thought he was going to do. It was obvious he was off," Doeren said. "At this point, we didn't have time to wait anymore. 

"I love him to death and he's a great young man, but it's one thing when you're not completing the ball down the field, it's another when you're not completing it underneath. He just didn't give us what we needed tonight and Bailey came in and competed and Devin did the same."

While in the process, becoming his team's new most popular player.