RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State hopes a new quarterback will lead to some bigger passing plays — and to a win against Syracuse.
Bailey Hockman will make his first start for the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) when they play host to the Orange (3-2, 0-1) on Thursday night.
Coach Dave Doeren moved Matthew McKay, who started the first five games, to the third string while elevating Hockman to the first-string role and making promising redshirt freshman Devin Leary his backup.
N.C. State beat three outmanned opponents at home but is 0-2 against Power Five conference teams, losing last month at West Virginia and at Florida State.
"You either fight or you fail. We're going to fight," Doeren said. "That's how we're made here. These guys are going to stick together and they're going to compete. We're going to try to find solutions and stay positive."
Syracuse has taken a similar mindset after dropping from the national rankings following a two-game losing streak in which the Orange were outscored 104-26 by Maryland and then-top-ranked Clemson.
At the very least, they don't seem to have any question at QB, with Tommy DeVito established as the starter. The sophomore ranks fourth in the ACC in passing (246.8 ypg), prompting coach Dino Babers to concede that "we're in a better situation maybe with our quarterback situation than they are."
"I think this is a really pivotal swing game for both programs," Babers said.
Some other things to know about the Syracuse-N.C. State game:
The Wolfpack throw it frequently, ranking second in the ACC with an average of 41.4 passes, but are last in the conference with an average of just six yards per attempt. Only eight of N.C. State's completions have gone for 20 or more yards, and only four FBS schools have fewer. The Wolfpack's longest pass play of the year was a 48-yard touchdown from McKay to Tabari Hines in the opening victory over East Carolina.
"We're not explosive in the pass game right now," Doeren said. "We're not getting enough explosive passes. We're not getting pass interference calls on downfield plays, so we feel like this gives us a shot."
The Wolfpack will be short-handed with RB Ricky Person Jr. and OT Justin Witt both out, though Doeren is confident they will return at some point. CB Taiyon Palmer is out for the season with a knee injury. The injury to Person means N.C. State's rotation of running backs is down to three players — Zonovan Knight and Jordan Houston, who have each started games this season, along with Trent Pennix. The injuries to Person and Witt make it four offensive starters from the opener who won't play this week.
The Orange have regrouped following those back-to-back losses, with DeVito throwing eight touchdown passes with one interception in wins over Western Michigan and FCS foe Holy Cross. "For everyone this season the first couple of games we were trying to find our rhythm and find what we want to do on offense," said tight end Aaron Hackett, who has three TDs in the past two games. "Just settling down and finding our identity on offense has been huge for him (DeVito) and the rest of us."
Senior Chris Elmore is listed as the starting tight end for the Orange and is the team's best blocker. Don't be surprised if he shows up on defense, too, against the Wolfpack. The 6-foot, 295-pounder is at home on both sides of the ball, having played defensive tackle in high school in Chicago. In last week's win over Holy Cross, Elmore got his first college dose of defensive line play, something he cross-trained for in the spring, and recorded one tackle.
"If we can find a way to play him 50 to 70 plays, it's normally in our favor" Babers said. "It's normally not in the opponent's favor with Chris Elmore on the football field."
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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