NC State Hopes That Freshman Running Back Shadrach Thornton Stays Hot

Despite King Nebuchadnezzar’s best efforts, Shadrach Thornton won’t worship at the altar of 2.5 yards per carry.

Before NC State (3-1, 0-0) kicked off against the Citadel last week, a late announcement was made that none of the Wolfpack’s three running backs (Mustafa Greene, James Washington or Tony Creecy) would be available. Starting in their place would be a true freshman whose name invoked equal parts confusion and Biblical humor: Shadrach Thornton.

(The freshman was “thrown into the fire”, if you will? Anyone?)

Thornton had 145 yards on 21 carries in his first collegiate game, and is now NC State’s leading rusher this season (Creecy, who played three games, has 130 yards). Yes, it was against the Citadel. But NC State head coach Tom O’Brien has said all year he wanted someone to claim the starting job. Thornton might be on his way to doing that. “He ran the right routes, did what he was supposed to do, which was good. With most kids, you hope that after his first experience, he’ll be better this week and more prepared to do things,” O’Brien said.

“(Miami’s) defense will pressure us a lot more than we saw on Saturday. But he’s a tough kid. From the first day of camp, we’ve always done pass protection running backs against linebackers. He wasn’t afraid. He goes up there and he’ll get in front of you. You saw him blocking downfield, so he’s not afraid to go block somebody. We’ve just got to make sure he goes to the right guy, because he’s going to have to pick up somebody in pass protection this week.”

(Side note: the name “Shadrach” is also purported to mean “command of the moon god”. No idea what that means, but it sounds awesome.)

O’Brien is right: Thornton may not be ready to make the leap to gashing the Citadel to taking on the full workload against Miami (3-1, 1-0). The Hurricanes often look equally parts horrible and unstoppable within the same game, like they did in a 42-36 overtime win over Georgia Tech last week.

Miami’s defense has hardly been dominant, but NC State will be missing two starters on the offensive line (tackles Rob Crisp and Andrew Wallace). NC State hasn’t faced a tough opponent since Week 2 at Connecticut, and the jump in the talent of the opposition will be significant, particularly for the NC State defense. Miami has enough offensive talent to get a big play or two over on the Wolfpack defense, which has been susceptible to that at times this season.

Ask Georgia Tech how quickly it can slip away: the Yellow Jackets went from trailing 19-0, to leading 36-19 in the fourth quarter, to tied at 36 at the end of regulation before losing in overtime. “(Miami) gets up 19-0 and then they get down (36-19), and then they come back and score all the rest of the points. They’ve been streaky like that,” O’Brien said. “Once they get on a run, we’re going to have to stop the run.”

Moments in NC State-Miami history: Kirby Freeman really struggled shooting three-pointers, making just 18-of-58 for 31% – wait, what? He was a quarterback, not a shooting guard? Freeman had to come in for Kyle Wright during NC State’s last trip to Miami in 2007, and he completed 1-of-14 passes (his only completion was an 84-yard touchdown) and three interceptions. That completion was so historic, Miami fans took a video of it and of the ensuing celebration. Which looks exactly how you think it will look. (Sound quality is awful.)

(NC State won in overtime 19-16.) Miami fans did not like Freeman after that game. Freeman would transfer to Baylor and in his first game as the starter against Wake, he completed 4-of-11 passes for 31 yards and two picks. He was replaced later in the season by….wait for it….Robert Griffin III.

Who did more damage to Miami: Nevin Shapiro, or the Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman quarterback tandem? Too soon?

Prediction: NC State, 31-24. This is the most ACC game ever in that no one has any real idea who either of these teams really are. Would it be the ACC thing to do for NC State to get blown out in this game, then beat Florida State at home next week? Or would a Miami blowout loss at home, which might inspire another angry radio rant or two, be the most ACC thing? Regardless of the craziness and unpredictability of the league in general, I trust Tom O’Brien’s experienced bunch (particularly his defense) much more than Miami’s right now.

Last week: 8-1 (1-1 ACC)

Season: 26-4 (2-2 ACC)


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