Plenty of silver linings for Wolfpack despite dreary spring football conditions

Young running backs, linebackers shine in the cold, wind and rain that marred State's annual Kay Yow Spring Game

Quarterback Matthew McKay handles a wet ball on a snap from center during Saturday's Kay Yow Spring Game ( photo)

   RALEIGH — Conditions for NC State’s annual Kay Yow Spring Football Game ranged from fun to miserable depending on who you asked and how much they played Saturday.

  The description preferred by Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren was productive, even with the cold and wind, and a soaking rain that fell so hard it came down sideways during an abbreviated second half at Carter-Finley Stadium.

  “There’s going to be some things we get out of it,” Doeren said after a soggy intrasquad scrimmage that saw the Red team 21-10. “There’s definitely going to be film to watch. There’s going to be some bad stuff, footing and things like that, but there are some good things in there, too.”

  Among the most positive aspects were the play of a young group of running backs given the opportunity to get more work by the absence of projected starter Reggie Gallaspy II and top prospect Ricky Person Jr.; the aggressiveness of  a rebuilt linebacking corps and a kicker actually capable of making a field goal.

  Third-year starting quarterback Ryan Finley also had a strong effort, highlighted by a 73-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Harmon on the game’s opening series while his redshirt freshman backup Matthew McKay got some much needed work under game conditions.

  There was even an unexpected show of aggression when defensive end Joe Babros got into a post-whistle scuffle with offensive lineman Liam Ryan, resulting in Babros’ ejection early in the fourth quarter.

  Although the conditions and injuries that prevented numerous key players on both sides of the ball from participating made it difficult to get a true indication of what the Wolfpack might look like this fall, Doeren said he was pleased with what his team accomplished over its 15 spring practices culminating in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.

  The fifth-year coach also tried to make the best of the bad conditions, which helped keep the crowd down to a fraction of what it might otherwise have been, by saying it was good preparation for potential bad weather games like last year’s sloppy loss at Notre Dame.

  “We had some young guys that needed to play in a non practice-like environment,” the sixth-year coach said. “I told them when we walked in there that I don’t care who’s in the stands, you’re on ESPN today. For guys to understand that this is nationally televised, even though it’s not a live broadcast … it’s important that they have that kind of day.

  “If they would have had crowd noise, that would have been a great opportunity as well. But to have to focus through the elements, that’s a big deal for some guys.”

  It was especially big for running backs Will Eason, Nakia Robinson, Erin Collins and Damontay Rhem — each of whom made positive contributions on a day in which passing the ball was made difficult by the swirling wind and driving rain.

  Eason, a 5-foot-7, 173-pound sophomore picked up 99 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, highlighted by a 67-yard burst down the middle of the field. Robinson, a more physical 5-11, 193-pound redshirt freshman, ran for 87 yards and a score on nine carries while Collins added 40 yards and Rhem 36.

  But more impressive than the numbers they put onto the stat sheet was the fact that, despite a slippery wet ball, there wasn’t a single fumble among them.

  “I thought we saw some of our running backs have some nice long runs,” Finley said. “It was good to see them break through to that second level. I thought Nakia really ran hard, Erin ran well. It was good to see us get the run game going.”

  Finley still managed to complete 8 of his 15 passes for 165 yards and the long score before calling it a day at halftime.Veteran receivers Harmon and Jakobi Meyers both had strong efforts with three catches each for the Red team.

  Although McKay’s numbers weren’t impressive — 4 of 12 for 34 yards — he displayed a strong arm and some running ability while going a better job of driving his team in the second half.

  While the Wolfpack has some important holes to fill on offense, its defense is almost a total rebuild with all but two members of the team’s front seven having left via graduation or early entry into the NFL draft.

  Those two holdovers — end Darian Roseboro and linebacker Germaine Pratt — were standouts Saturday. The most encouraging performances, however, were turned in by redshirt freshman Isaiah Moore (10 tackles) and fellow linebackers Louis Acceus and Raven Saunders (six tackles each).

  “I was very impressed with them, seeing them flying around making plays,” Pratt said. “That was great.

  “I’m happy with what we’re doing right now, but we always have to keep on improving.”

  The one area that appears to have been the most improvement is a kicking game that has been a glaring weak link for the Wolfpack over the past two years. Highly touted freshman Chris Dunn gave some hope for the coming season by making all three of his extra points and converting a 27-yard field goal in less-than-ideal weather.

  “I thought he was excellent today,” Doeren said of Dunn. “That was a tough day to kick the ball. He got it up, the ball was straight. It was routine. He’s been terrific all spring.”