Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Matt Dayes knew what was coming: a bigger workload in North Carolina State's strong ground game with the Wolfpack's leading rusher suspended. He spent the week preparing with what coach Dave Doeren described as lights-out practices, then ran all over Troy to start the season.
The junior ran for a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns to help the Wolfpack beat the Trojans 49-21 on Saturday night.
Jaylen Samuels ran for three scores of his own for the Wolfpack (1-0), who had a mistake-free offensive performance with no turnovers or penalties. The highlight was Dayes, a key cog in a rushing attack that averaged 204.5 yards per game last year — the program's best total since 1992.
This time, with Shadrach Thornton suspended two games, he got a starring role.
"It made me think about my high school days," Dayes said. "I loved every second of it."
It certainly was a familiar scenario. Thornton was suspended for the opener two years ago. And just like before, Dayes took advantage of the extra work.
Dayes ran for 84 yards and three touchdowns in that 2013 game, which marked his college debut as well as Doeren's first game with the Wolfpack. On Saturday, he scored in close and on a 30-yard scamper in the third while getting a career-best 24 carries.
"I felt bad for (Thornton) but I knew it was a great opportunity for me to take advantage of," Dayes said.
Doeren saw it all coming, too.
"His practice on Tuesday was unbelievable, how hard he went," Doeren said. "I texted him Tuesday night and said, 'You practice like that no one's going to touch you in a game.'
"He said, 'That's what I'm trying to do.' And I said, 'Well you're going to do it because of how you practiced."
N.C. State started the work to build on last year's five-win improvement with a good offensive showing and some bumpy defensive moments.
It scored touchdowns on four of five first-half drives to build a big lead and was in control throughout. Samuels scored from 14 and 3 yards on almost identical runs to the left pylon, then mirrored that with a 3-yard run to the right for good measure — his third TD on just eight offensive touches.
Wolfpack star quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed 21 of 23 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, leading N.C. State to 450 total yards.
But the Wolfpack also surrendered big plays —including a 57-yard scoring run by Brandon Burks — that helped the Trojans (0-1) at least hang around in Neal Brown's head-coaching debut.
Brown built his reputation as an offensive coordinator with his first stint at Troy as well as stops at Kentucky and Texas Tech, and at 35, he is the second-youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision ranks.
But the Trojans' first outing was spotty. While Burks ran for 124 yards while Brandon Silvers threw a 37-yard TD pass to Bryan Holmes with 1 second left in the opening half, they generally struggled to sustain drives.
The low point came when N.C. State's Dravious Wright came untouched on a rush and leveled Silvers with a heavy hit that sent both the ball and the quarterback's helmet flying. Wright recovered the fumble at Troy's 14 to set up Samuels' third score.
"The truth of the matter is they are a better football team than us right now," Brown said. "We've got to accept that. We've got to go out and get better."
N.C. State starting cornerback Jack Tocho left the game with a knee injury, but Doeren said he was OK.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org