Quar­ter­backs strug­gle in losses by NC State, Duke

The Charlotte Observer - - SPORTS - BY LUKE DECOCK

In some sea­sons, our cup over­floweth with good quar­ter­backs in the Tri­an­gle. At times, we’ve even been spoiled by the qual­ity that ends up play­ing on Sun­days. Even this sea­son, Sam How­ell is carv­ing out a niche for him­self at North Carolina that even T.J. Yates and Mar­quise

Wil­liams and Mitch Tru­bisky in re­cent years couldn’t match.

And then there was Satur­day, with How­ell and the Tar Heels off, when Duke’s Chase Brice and N.C. State’s Bai­ley Hock­man com­bined for the kind of line that gives of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors night­mares: 23-for-52 for 328 yards, two touch­downs and six in­ter­cep­tions in a pair of blowout losses in the Com­mon­wealth. N.C. State lost 45-24 at Vir­ginia Tech, Duke lost 38-20 at Vir­ginia.

With­out dig­ging too deep into the dark­est re­cesses of the record books, it was ar­guably the worst day Tri­an­gle quar­ter­backs have had since Novem­ber 11, 2006, when Daniel Evans, Thad Lewis and Joe Dai­ley were 43for-98 with six in­ter­cep­tions and zero touch­downs in a trio of Tri­an­gle losses. Not en­tirely co­in­ci­den­tally, 2006 was one of the rare sea­sons when none of the three teams made a bowl game.

Not an is­sue this sea­son!

Ev­ery­one’s el­i­gi­ble!

Both Brice and Hock­man had COVID-re­lated ex­cuses, to the point where it’s not re­ally ei­ther’s fault. Brice trans­ferred in from Clem­son and the dis­rup­tion of the off­sea­son left him no op­por­tu­nity to get to know his new team­mates. Hock­man was a sur­prise starter in the opener against Wake For­est when Devin Leary spent too much time in quar­an­tine to ad­e­quately prepare.

Hock­man played well against the Dea­cons, es­pe­cially at the start while the Wolf­pack tried to find its foot­ing, but strug­gled might­ily from the start against a short­handed Vir­ginia Tech de­fense that’s clearly more tal­ented than Wake For­est. The Hok­ies were miss­ing 22 play­ers and their de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor with COVID is­sues, not that any­one would have no­ticed if they hadn’t known. Hock­man was con­sis­tently un­der siege and pres­sured into sev­eral bad throws.

Leary fi­nally came into the game in the third quar­ter, ready or not, and com­pleted four of his first five passes, in­clud­ing a 4th-down con­ver­sion, and a touch­down that pulled the Wolf­pack within 20 on a night when very lit­tle was go­ing right, even be­fore safety Khalid Martin was taken to a hos­pi­tal by am­bu­lance af­ter a head-to-head col­li­sion, with what the team de­scribed as a hip in­jury.

Then there’s Brice, who ar­rived from Clem­son as a po­ten­tial sav­ior — he was at Clem­son, where he took over for the in­jured Trevor Lawrence in a come­back win over Syra­cuse that kept the Tigers’ na­tional ti­tle hopes alive — but has some­how got­ten worse with each start for Duke. He was use­ful against Notre Dame, con­fused against Bos­ton Col­lege and lost against Vir­ginia.

He ac­counted for five of Duke’s seven turnovers Satur­day, and his strug­gles are putting David Cut­cliffe’s rep­u­ta­tion as a quar­ter­back whis­perer to the test. Duke’s 0-3 for the first time in Cut­cliffe’s ten­ure and it feels like the sea­son is hang­ing by a very thin thread; get­ting Brice on track is go­ing to be the first and most es­sen­tial step to­ward turn­ing the Blue Devils’ sea­son around. He’s headed in the wrong di­rec­tion and so are the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils are in worse shape than the Wolf­pack, which at least showed some met­tle in the win over Wake For­est be­fore fail­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the Hok­ies’ ab­sences right from the start Satur­day. N.C. State can go back to Leary, with­out any re­grets now, and hope for bet­ter.

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