NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the competition for quarterback
Bradley Chubb was undoubtedly the star of N.C. State’s memorable win over Louisville in a Thursday night showcase game during the 2017 season.
The All-American defensive end was all over Louisville quarterback, and Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson and spent the night building a highlight reel which would propel Chubb to the top of the NFL draft.
Behind the scenes, Matt McKay also had an important hand in that 39-25 win over the Cardinals. Then a freshman on the scout team, McKay played Jackson’s role in practice.
“He did a good imitation of Lamar,” N.C. State receiver Thayer Thomas said. “He did a great job preparing the defense. You could see how it showed on the field.”
McKay, entering his third year with the Wolfpack, is in line to replace Ryan Finley as N.C. State’s starting quarterback. He is competing with Bailey Hockman, a sophomore transfer, and Devin Leary, a redshirt freshman, for the job.
McKay, who was Finley’s backup last year, remembers taking his turn with Jackson’s famed No. 8 jersey in practice in 2017. The previous season, Jackson had stomped all over the Wolfpack defense in a humiliating 54-13 loss at Louisville.
McKay just wanted to help Chubb and company get ready for a little payback.
“That was fun,” McKay said. “I was out there running around and just going crazy on the defense. I was trying make plays and everybody on the scout team was just trying to make the defense better.”
Mixing the best parts of Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Finley
No one expects McKay to be Jackson, one of the best college football players of the last 25 years. McKay, who is 6-4 and 214 pounds, is also not trying to be another version of Finley, a three-year starter who was the All-ACC quarterback last season.
He wants to mix the best of his passing and running skills and do what he did as the scout team quarterback: help N.C. State win. There are parts of former Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s to McKay’s game and there are tricks Finley taught him.
“I see a little bit of both,” McKay said of his two immediate predecessors at N.C. State.
Finley was a pure pocket passer. He didn’t like to run, or get hit, but he knew how to find his playmakers. Finley devoured game film and spent hours each week on preparation. That’s an aspect, McKay has picked up from Finley, a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I think Ryan did a great job preparing Matt for this moment,” Thomas said. “(Matt) has developed into a pocket passer. He really goes through his progressions, finds the open guy and then if he has to run, he runs.”
McKay gets labeled as a runner because of what he has shown in a limited amount of college game experience. In six games last year, McKay completed 7 of 8 passes for 87 yards. He ran 13 times for 36 yards and a touchdown.
He is more than “just a runner,” everyone within the program is quick to note, but it’s not a slight to point that McKay has the ability to run. He ran for more than 2,300 yards with 39 touchdowns in high school at Wakefield. He also threw for almost 6,000 yards and 58 touchdowns as a three-year starter.
“He has an extra dimension,” said senior defensive end James Smith-Williams. “Matt is a really talented guy.”
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren’s teams at Northern Illinois featured a running quarterback. Brissett ran for 899 yards and nine touchdowns in his two seasons as the Wolfpack starter in 2014 and ‘15. Doeren’s preference to have a balanced offense might start with a more versatile option at quarterback.
Matt McKay maturing as a leader
Doeren already sees one way McKay is like Brissett, a backup for the Indianapolis Colts who is in his fourth NFL season.
“He reminds me of Jacoby leadership-wise,” Doeren said. “He says stuff when he needs to say it. He motivates guys in his own way.”
That’s one aspect McKay has made an effort to improve. He been working on being more vocal and being a more assertive leader.
“I used to be quiet,” McKay said. “It’s up to me to be that voice and push them and encourage them.”
One person who knows McKay well, his younger brother Tim, has already noticed a difference. Tim, a freshman offensive lineman, enrolled in January and went through spring practice. He said his older brother has changed through spring practice, summer drills and training camp.
“I think he has definitely matured,” Tim said.
There is caring side to his older brother, Tim said, but don’t let the soft smile and bright eyes fool you.
“He has a ‘dog’ mentality,” Tim said. “He’s trying to win at everything he does.”
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Matt McKay has always been ahead of schedule. He started Kindergarten a year early. He was 17 when graduated from high school (and going into his junior year academically of college, he’s still only 19).
But McKay got to N.C. State and he had to wait. It has been a different experience for him. He could have gone to different school (he was also recruited by Pittsburgh, Temple and West Virginia) and likely could have played sooner. Instead, he has put in his time and the work at N.C. State.
He was the scout team player of the year his first year and he won strength coach Dantonio Burnette’s “Alpha Wolf” award this summer for leadership.
There is a standard to uphold at quarterback at N.C. State. Just in the 2000s, the program has sent five of its starters into the NFL. In 10 of the past 11 seasons, N.C. State has had a future NFL quarterback as its starter.
McKay stands to be next in line. He also knows he has to make his own name. He already has taken his own path.
“Everything is a process,” McKay said. “It’s a journey that you have to go through when you get here. Some people are going to play right off the bat and some people are going to wait a little bit longer. As long as you manage your time and just keep working, everything will be alright.”