RALEIGH — NC State had more than its feelings hurt in Saturday’s 35-14 loss at Notre Dame. Not only did the Wolfpack get beaten up on the scoreboard in South Bend, it also lost four key players to injury.
The good news for coach Dave Doeren’s team is that none of the four appears to be as serious as it initially seemed.
In fact, leading rusher Nyheim Hines, defensive end Darian Roseboro and defensive tackles Justin Jones and Eurndraus Bryant are all back at practice and according to Doeren, are expected play in Saturday’s ACC Atlantic Division showdown against defending national champion Clemson.
“Justin is fine, he’s at 100 percent. Darian’s at 100 percent. Eurndraus and Nyheim are feeling good,” Doeren said after practice Thursday. “We just haven’t tackled. So as long as the game doesn’t change how they’re feeling, they’re both going to play. And I know they both want to play. You just don’t know when you get into game contact … but they’re both flying around the field today and look good.”
The Wolfpack was left shorthanded, especially on the defensive line, by the rash of injuries suffered in the physical game against the bigger, stronger Irish. That attrition was a contributing factor to the ACC’s top-ranked rushing defense getting burned for 318 yards on the ground in the loss.
Jones hurt his elbow in the first quarter and didn’t return. Bryant injured his ankle late in the first half and Roseboro, who left Notre Dame in a walking boot and on crutches, made it to the third quarter before going down.
Doeren expressed his disappointment after the game that his team was at less than full strength for most of the high-profile matchup. Although the Wolfpack still has its share of bumps and bruises, the coach said it will enter Saturday’s game is as healthy as can be expected at this point of the season.
“We’re not 100, but they’re not either,” he said. “They’ve got guys banged up, so it’s just a matter of how the game goes, you know?
“All of a sudden a guy who has an ankle gets in a pile and twisted, now he’s got it again. If he can get through it — sometimes when you start playing that adrenaline kicks in and that’s the best that can happen for you. It’s just a matter of how they feel during the game. We’ll be ready if they can’t go, we’ve had to practice without them a couple times this week.”
As important as Jones, Bryant and Roseboro are to State’s talented defensive front, Hines’ status is by far the most important to the Wolfpack’s hopes of knocking off Clemson and staying unbeaten in the Atlantic Division.
The junior running back sprained his ankle while getting gang tackled on his second carry of the game at Notre Dame and never returned. His absence had a crippling effect on State’s offense, which was held to a season-low 263 yards and 14 points.
Hines ranks fifth in the ACC with 654 yards and is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Without his speed and elusiveness in the running game, State’s passing attack also suffered as did its return game on special teams.
Doeren hedged his bets earlier in the week by describing the junior running back’s recovery as a work in progress.
“I think by the time we get to Saturday, unless we have a setback, I feel real confident about it,” Doeren said. “I know he did coming off the field today. Just those things, you’ve got to continue to get through the hurdles you face on any injury, and you go block a sled or you hit a moving linebacker and you get put in a weird position, and then the next play you feel fine.
“Some of that’s mental for those guys. You get tackled and rolled up and you pop up and you’re good. You’ve got to get through those things in the game. Progression-wise, he’s doing really well so far in the recovery.”
The Wolfpack and Tigers will play at Carter-Finley Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday with television coverage on ABC.