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McKay better than OK so far for Wolfpack

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Dave Doeren is not concerned with his starting quarterback. 

The move to Matt McKay as the primary signal caller in 2019 is bound to have its ups and downs. 

The redshirt sophomore is starting for the first time in his college career and it is hard to not compare him to the previous quarterbacks in N.C. State’s recent history, which includes five players who are currently in the NFL. 

That is a lofty standard to which to be held, but Doeren is more interested in the current plight of his program and the progression of the McKay as it relates to his career. 

That said, the past can be used as a reference point in a more productive way and in no way was a sluggish first quarter against Western Carolina worthy of major concern.

“We responded,” Doeren said after the Pack started slowly in its 41-0 win. “As the game went on and we settled down at quarterback, we got the run game going. That two-minute drive at the end of the half was really good by Matt.”

Unlike East Carolina, which tended to load the box in an attempt to stop the run and force McKay to throw more often, Western Carolina used an odd front in hopes of limiting the Pack QB’s effectiveness. That meant the first-year starter had to make the correct read and hit his home run tosses when the chances arrived. McKay was 18-of-28 passing for exactly 200 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass play against the Catamounts was 28 yards.

“I felt like we did a little better job of converting third downs, but there’s a lot more adjustments as a whole I know we can make, McKay said. “They played a lot of eight-man coverage and a lot of different looks. We’ve just got to make the right reads and execute ready.”

The focus on stopping the pass meant the Wolfpack trampled Western Carolina for over 300 yards rushing in Saturday’s shutout win. While McKay did not have as an effective game throwing the ball deep as he would have liked, when the defense was in search of N.C. State’s rusher he was solid when it came to selling the run in favor of the intermediate passing game. 

“He’s done a really good job on some of his passes coming off our play-action game,” Doeren said of McKay. “That’s one area I’ve been impressed with him — just the consistency of letting our guys be able to make a play.”

McKay will face his stiffest test of the early season Saturday at West Virginia. 

With the starting quarterback position his “new normal” and two comfortable wins under his belt, McKay is treating this game seriously and he expects an improved Mountaineers team on Saturday. 

Despite that, the Mountaineers were pummeled in their outing last week against Missouri. The expectation is that the Wolfpack is getting a road, nonconference contest against an ideal Power 5 team at the perfect time. 

“We definitely have to come in and learn (from the last game),” McKay said. “Going to West Virginia, we have to work hard, prepare, and treat them like the best.”

Doeren expects a hostile reception for McKay’s first career road starting assignment. 

“We now get to go on the road and play in a great stadium, Doeren said. “We’re excited to play West Virginia, a very storied program that we know a lot about.

“It’s easy as a quarterback when things don’t go well and you can go to the bench with your fans behind you. It won’t be like that. I told him the other day they’ll probably learn some new words they haven’t heard, just smile with people yelling at you. There’s nothing more rewarding than going into another stadium and playing really, really well.”