One series for Devin Leary? NC State coach Dave Doeren explains.

Devin Leary has played just enough in the past two N.C. State games to prove the old adage that the most popular player on any team is the backup quarterback.

One Wolfpack fan even brought a sign to ESPN’s GameDay set in Gainesville, Fla. on Oct. 5 to campaign for the redshirt freshman from New Jersey.

Leary got a series in the second quarter of N.C. State’s 16-10 win over Syracuse last Thursday. On his first two pass attempts, he showed the kind of arm talent that has made him popular with Wolfpack fans.

On his third pass attempt, he held onto the ball too long. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren called it a “teachable moment.”

“I thought Devin did some good things,” Doeren said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “He came in and had a couple completions. He had a really nice throw, unfortunately we didn’t come up with the catch.

“He had a teachable moment where he tried to be ‘super-human’ almost on a play. Sometimes you got to just recognize the defense did enough and just run and get what you can get or throw it away. But it gives us a chance to continue to get him some reps and help him develop and be ready, in case he’s needed there.”

Leary heads into the Boston College game on Saturday as the backup to Bailey Hockman, who made his first start of the season in the Syracuse win.

N.C. State ran two running plays, for 11 yards, after Leary came in for the fourth series of the game. On first down from the N.C. State 32-yard line, Leary made a great throw down the right seam to to receiver Thayer Thomas for a 23-yard gain.

On first down from the Syracuse 45, he made another good throw, down the left sideline to receiver Keyon Lesane at the 25. Lesane extended and dove for the pass but couldn’t come up with the catch.

A holding call on second down derailed the drive. After a short run by Bam Knight, Leary had third and 17 from his own 48. This is the play Doeren didn’t exactly like. Leary had five receivers and an empty backfield. The ball was snapped with 12:22 on the clock.

Four seconds into the play, he avoids pressure from defensive end Alton Robinson and defensive tackle Josh Black and scrambles back to the middle of the field. Robinson gets another chance at him at the 36-yard line but misses him (Leary’s right shoe does come off in the process.)

Leary is then able to run up to the 44-yard line, near the Syracuse sideline, but as he is about to throw the ball, he is hit from behind by defensive end Kendall Coleman. It probably should have been ruled a fumble out of bounds but it was officially ruled an incomplete pass.

Fourteen seconds of game clock ran off during the play (and then inexplicably 3 more after the incompletion).

Trenton Gill came on to punt the ball away on fourth down. Hockman came back out for the next series and played the rest of the game.

After Leary had completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards in the final drive of the Florida State game, Doeren said before the Syracuse game that Leary would “get an opportunity.” Doeren didn’t say what his plan for Leary was against BC on Saturday.

Bailey Hockman’s first start

N.C. State quarterback Bailey Hockman (16) passes during the second half of N.C. State’s 16-10 victory over Syracuse at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Ethan Hyman

Hockman was on a similar path to Leary’s in the first three games. He was Matt McKay’s backup and played sparingly in the first two games and then not at all in the loss to West Virginia on Sept. 14.

In the home win over Ball State on Sept. 21, Hockman got a series in the second quarter and then one at the end of the game.

McKay played the first three series at FSU and then was replaced by Hockman, who went the rest of the way until a minor knee injury sidelined him for the last six plays of the game. Hockman didn’t show any effects of the knee problem against Syracuse. He had a relatively steady performance in his first start.

He completed his first pass, a nice throw down the left sideline for 27 yards to receiver Devin Carter. Later in the third quarter, he had a 37-yard connection with receiver Emeka Emezie.

Hockman completed more passes (3 of 4) down the field (attempts longer than 20 yards) than McKay did in the first five games (1 of 13). That was good for N.C. State’s offense, which had as many “explosive” (gains of 20 yards or more) pass plays (six) against Syracuse as it did in the previous four games combined.

For that reason, Doeren was relatively pleased with Hockman’s performance (16 of 27, 205 yards, one interception) despite the fact that the offense only reached the end zone once and that was on a trick play.

“I thought Bailey did some really good things,” Doeren said. “If you asked Bailey, he’ll tell you he didn’t play well but I thought he played better than he did the week before. And that’s what you want out of both of them is improvement and I think we got that.”

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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