Now, he could be the front runner after one game.
"He's the only healthy back we had left," coach Tom O'Brien said. "I think by the end of preseason scrimmages, he had shown us some good things and he continued that. Getting him in this week will make him better for next week."
Thornton rushed for 145 yards on 21 carries in the 52-14 victory over The Citadel. The three-man competition had consisted of Mustafa Greene, Tony Creecy and James Washington. Greene is suspended (apparently indefinitely), while Creecy and Washington missed the last non-league game for N.C. State with injuries.
Thornton appeared capable of filling in admirably.
"Regardless if I was going to get in or not, I'm going to go 110 percent," Thornton said. "The game is won in practice. That's where you put in all the hard work."
Strange as it might seem with a depleted backfield, but the Wolfpack's 282 rushing yards against The Citadel were the most for N.C. State in a game in seven years. The output was more than twice as much as the previous season high.
WHAT'S AHEAD: N.C. State embarks on its ACC schedule with a game at Miami, marking its third game away from Raleigh this season. Three teams in the Atlantic Division (in which N.C. State is a member) already have one conference loss.
-- A string of defensive stops on third downs ended when The Citadel converted in the third quarter. The Wolfpack had stopped 16 consecutive third-down attempts by opponents. Still, The Citadel was held to 2-for-9 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
"You have to give our defensive coaching staff and players a lot of credit," coach Tom O'Brien said. "It was a great day for our defense."
-- The Wolfpack has a knack for exploiting lower-division opponents in special teams. WR Rashard Smith returned a punt for a touchdown. It's the second year in a row that N.C. State scored on a punt return against a Football Championship Subdivision team because its most-recent punt return for a touchdown came against Liberty to begin the 2011 season.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Shadrach Thornton racked up 145 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns against The Citadel. That was only part of the story because it came in his collegiate debut and he became the first N.C. State player to top the 100-yard mark in his first game in 31 years (since Joe McIntosh posted 131 yards against Richmond). Thornton was the first Wolfpack freshman to reach 100 yards in a game since Andre Brown in 2005.
LOOKING GOOD: A group of ball catchers might be emerging. It was a pressing question about who would come to the forefront at the start of the season, but QB Mike Glennon connected with eight different players on passes against The Citadel. That's the type of variety that the Wolfpack is hoping will help sustain the passing attack.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The issue of pass protection won't go away and it's something that continues to be a work in progress for the Wolfpack, who yielded three sacks to The Citadel. One of those came late in the game with the second-string offense on the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We wanted to score, but we didn't want to do it real fast so we could win the time of possession. We were able to do that and wore them down defensively at the end." -- Coach Tom O'Brien, whose team held more than a five-minute edge in time of possession against The Citadel.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- CB David Amerson has recorded one interception in each of the last three games. That gives him 16 for his career, tying the school record. The Wolfpack is 10-2 across the past two years in games when Amerson has at least one interception.
-- WR Bryan Underwood has caught one touchdown pass in each of the four games this season. He caught the only touchdown pass thrown by either team in the game against The Citadel.
-- QB Mike Glennon hasn't thrown an interception in 88 total passes during the Wolfpack's three-game winning streak. For the second game in a row, he was able to watch from the sideline late in the game as the Wolfpack had a large lead and backup QB Manny Stocker took some snaps against The Citadel.
-- RB Mustafa Greene missed his second game in a row as he sat out because of a team-related suspension. Because he missed last season with a foot injury, he has played in only two of the last 17 N.C. State games.
-- WR Quinton Payton made five catches for 100 yards, hitting the century mark for the second time this season. The other time came in the opening loss to Tennessee.
-- RB Tony Creecy sat out the game against The Citadel with an undisclosed injury. He had been the Wolfpack's leading rusher through the first three games of the season with 130 yards, a total eclipsed in one game by teammate RB Shadrach Thornton.