Doeren, Teammates Have Confidence in Hockman

Brett Friedlander

When Dave Doeren said that NC State was Bailey Hockman's team following his performance in an opening week win against Wake Forest, the Wolfpack coach actually meant that it was his team until projected starter Devin Leary was ready to return from a prolonged contact tracing quarantine.

Five weeks later, State is once again Hockman's team.

Only this time, he has full ownership of the team's offense rather than just a short-term lease.

With Leary sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season with a broken fibula suffered in last Saturday's win against Duke, the job of building on the 23rd-ranked Wolfpack's promising 4-1 start now rests squarely in Hockman's hands.

"It’s his time," Doeren said. "It’s a matter of him taking advantage of the opportunity. Like I tell the players all the time, ‘you’re going to have an opportunity at some point in time. It’s up to you to be ready.’ 

"Now it’s his opportunity to go show himself and everybody out there what kind of player he can be. He doesn’t have to go be Superman, he just needs to run the offense. That’s it."

Hockman did just that against Wake Forest, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers and adding to a potent ground attack by rushing for 30 yards and a touchdown. 

He started the game by completing his first 13 passes and leading the Wolfpack to touchdowns on its first three drives, then recovered from a pick six that helped the Deacons go ahead by leading an eight-play, 75-yard drive for the winning score.

Although Hockman faltered the following week at Virginia Tech before being replaced by Leary in the third quarter of State's only loss to date, his teammates say they have full confidence in his ability to lead the offense and win games.

Starting with Saturday's rivalry matchup in Chapel Hill with No. 14 North Carolina.

"He’s prepared like a starter always," wide receiver Emeka Emezie said."He’s started games here before. He’s won games here before. I know he’s ready,”

“I think our team as a whole is rallying around Bailey because we know he is going to step up,” added offensive guard Joe Sculthorpe. “He’s going to play and he’s going to have a great game. We have a lot of confidence in him. He has a lot of confidence in himself. 

"He’s ready to show the world that he’s a legitimate college quarterback with another great game. So with that, we just have as much faith in him as we did with Devin."

Hockman rewarded that faith by finishing off the drive on which Leary got hurt with a touchdown pass to Thayer Thomas that extended State's lead from one to eight points at 28-20. He later coverted an interception by linebacker Jaylon Scott into a field goal that put the game away.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-hander finished the day 4 of 7 for 43 yards.

"He did some good things. He did some things that he could do better," Doeren said of Hockman's performance. "Now it’s just pouring all that energy into it."

Although Hockman's arm isn't as strong as Leary and he's had some issues in the decision-making department in the past -- a big reason why he was lifted in favor of Leary after two starts last season -- he is surrounded by an abundance of playmakers.

State's offense is averaging 396 yards while ranking in the top half of the ACC standings at 33.6 points per game.

Given the creativity new offensive coordinator Tim Beck has already shown this season, Sculthorpe believes the coaching staff will devise a system that will give Hockman or whoever plays quarterback a good chance to succeed.

 “Whoever is back there throwing the ball, handing the ball off, calling the offense, I have full faith in them to trust us,” Sculthorpe said. “We could play Grant Gibson back there, our center, he could play quarterback and I’d have all faith in him to handle the job because I know the coaches trust him back there.”

Even with that trust, there's no safety net remaining should something happen to Hockman.

That's why Doeren said that he and the staff are putting extra time in at practice this week preparing backups Ben Finley and Ty Evans -- neither of which have taken a snap in a college game -- just in case.

Even though true freshman Finley is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart for Saturday's game at UNC ahead of Evans, a redshirt freshman who has been in the program for a year, Doeren said there isn't much separation between them.

"They were pretty much in the same category," Doeren said. "Ty had an injury that kept him out for a long time that allowed Ben to get reps and just gain more knowledge and timing with the offense. That’s kind of where that went. Ben’s just got more reps right now."

Finley is the younger brother of three-year Wolfpack star and current Cincinnati Bengal Ryan Finley, 

"The thing you like about Ben is he’s very smart," Doeren said. "He has great spatial awareness. He sees things very well, gets the ball out quick. He can run. I think that’s the one thing that separates him from any of those guys is that he can really run. He’s a good athlete.

I was hoping we wouldn’t end up in that scenario where he has to play because you want to get the year in the weight room for a freshman quarterback. But at this point, him and Ty have got to be ready to go out there and help us."

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