Shortly after NC State’s 35-28 win at Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon, Wolfpack quarterback Brennan Armstrong was unavailable for postgame media as he was receiving treatment in the locker room.
Armstrong, who is a bruising runner, rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries against the Hokies’ physical defense — and he was feeling it afterwards.
“He’s doing good, he’s sore,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said Monday. “He ran for over 100 yards. He took every snap in the game. He was just sore and wanted to get him the treatment that he needed. He’s good, and like anybody that plays physical football, you’re going to feel it sometimes after a game.”
While he was banged up from a tough day of hits as a ball carrier, Armstrong’s ability to put his head down and run has had a positive impact on NC State’s offense. It is hard to measure how much he has motivated the team with his skills, but Doeren gave his best attempt at it.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” Doeren said. “You want to play for a guy like that, man. He’s got heart, he’s tough, he creates plays when they’re not there. And the plays we ask him to run, he runs in a physical way. I think it definitely gets the guys blocking for him excited.”
Armstrong, a Virginia transfer, is NC State’s leading rusher with 117 carries for 522 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He has more than double the next closest number of attempts and yards of the next closest rusher, sophomore Michael Allen.
But Armstrong’s tenacity as a ball carrier has helped elevate NC State’s offense this season, especially over the last two weeks as he has put his body on the line to get close to 100 rushing yards in both contests.
“It sets just a standard of play, like how hard you should be playing this game,” Doeren said. “He’s having fun out there, man. That’s the thing that’s also contagious, just how much he’s enjoying playing the game.”
The veteran quarterback may be setting the standard on the field, but he also set a perfect example of how to be a teammate over the past month.
After he was benched for sophomore quarterback MJ Morris, Armstrong did not sulk. Instead, he did the opposite as he encouraged the offense to rally around Morris and he assisted with whatever the unit needed as the backup.
Armstrong’s example spoke volumes about his character, and Doeren raved about his quarterback’s way of handling that “difficult time.”
“He showcased what leadership looks like,” Doeren said. “I ask the players from time to time, ‘Are you being the teammate that you want your teammates to be?’ And I think there’s no question that Brennan does that.”
Armstrong gained respect from his teammates and coaches for that, and then how he played once he was reinserted back into the lineup. In his past two starts, the quarterback has thrown for 316 yards, rushed for 185 and combined for six total touchdowns.
The sixth-year quarterback’s mindset may have rubbed off on some of the Wolfpack’s receivers too. Graduate Bradley Rozner, and redshirt sophomores Anthony Smith and Dacari Collins have been on the sideline for extended periods of the season, but the trio has broken into NC State’s offense as of late.
They’ve used a similar mindset to Armstrong — to keep chipping away every day — and it has paid off now. Collins played his most number of snaps (46) of the season against the Hokies, while Rozner recorded his highest total (17) since Week 7 at Duke. Smith has seen action on the offense and has been a staple on the special teams unit.
“There’s been several receivers that worked their way up,” Doeren said. “At the beginning of the year they weren’t getting a lot of time, and they just kept working. Sure they want to play more, but they also understand if they do the right things over and over and over, they’re going to be rewarded — and they were.”
Collins started at Virginia Tech in place of redshirt sophomore wideout Julian Gray, who was held out of the game due to injury. The Clemson transfer will start against North Carolina this weekend, too, Doeren said.
The 11th-year coach said that all three players have come in and made plays when their number was called, but he keyed in on Collins specifically.
Collins started the season near the bottom of the Wolfpack’s internal depth chart, but he rose through the ranks and is at an impactful position now. Now, Doeren wants him to keep that same level of play each week.
“We’re excited, he’s just got to stay one day at a time,” Doeren said. “I told him the other day, I’m proud of him. He’s needs to stay in that one day at a time place. It’s going to be fun to get out there and compete with these guys this week. Hopefully there will be more of that — guys continuing to fight.”