Amato is a willing and accepting target of blame due to the team's baffling issues with discipline, but two developments have led to a difficult situation for Davis. In the beginning of the season, Amato and members of the State offensive coaching staff went to great pains to note that Davis was in a better offense than Philip Rivers was in his first year as a starter. T.A. McLendon would be on hand at tailback, pushed by capable backups in Darrell Blackman, Bobby Washington and Reggie Davis. Developing tight end T.J. Williams was back after setting a school record for receiving yards by a tight end, and backup John Ritcher returned as a punishing blocker and capable receiver. Jerricho Cotchery was off to the NFL, but the progression of Richard Washington, Tramain Hall and Brian Clark, and the return of Sterling Hicks, would offset that loss. The comeback of Chris Colmer would bolster an offensive line that returned four starters.
Nine games into the season, the realization is that the supporting cast has not materialized as planned for Davis. A flurry of injuries has decimated the offensive line, injuries and immaturity have affected the running game and a lack of development by some younger players has hindered the receiving corps.
As one of the few constants on the unit, Davis has become an easy mark for those looking for what is wrong with the Pack offense.
"He has been chastised for other people's mistakes," said Amato on Tuesday. "He's been through the fire, he's been through the wars and he's been through the things that he knows are right or wrong. And you've got to learn to live with it and improve."
Not that Davis hasn't made mistakes, and plenty of them. He appears to have a stronger arm than advertised, but has displayed an unwillingness to throw the ball away or to tuck the ball and run for yardage when a play breaks down. He was expected to have better mobility than Rivers, but has run for –56 yards to this point – though that total can be deceiving since sacks are counted against a quarterback's rushing total. Davis has repeatedly thrown late across the field, which is where the bulk of his turnovers have come.
With more of the offensive production placed on his shoulders, Davis has now thrown for 1,805 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, with 14 interceptions and 151 completions in 259 attempts. He is the only quarterback in the conference with six straight 200-yard passing efforts.
To put those numbers in context, consider that Rivers threw for 3,054 yards and 25 touchdowns as a rookie, with 10 interceptions and 237 completions in 441 attempts. However, his pass completion percentage was 53.7, below Davis' 58.3 percent thus far. Also, Rivers' efficiency rating of 126.09 doesn't exactly blow Davis' (117.50) away.
The second part of the equation that has led to Davis' struggles goes hand-in-hand with the first. Two days after NC State pounded out a 17-16 win at Virginia Tech, its finest victory of the campaign to date, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was asked about his offense's approach.
"I'm an offensive coordinator, so I want to score 100 points and have a thousand yards every game," said Mazzone. "But in the end, I still want to have a win over a loss.
"As a coach, you've got to recognize the personality of your football team. Maybe our personality lends more that way. To control the ball, feed our backs, take some throws when we need to and play low-risk football."
In other words, Big Ten-style football, the type that allowed Ohio State to take down NC State just a week before. "ChestBall," it was called, in some quarters. A willingness to run the ball constantly, play field-position football and rely on a harassing defense to pull out games.
So the question becomes, "Where did ChestBall go?"
In part, the injuries to three starters on the offensive line and the never-quite-certain availability of McLendon have hamstrung that approach. However, consider that in the first four games of the season – when the Pack had a 3-1 record – Davis averaged just fewer than 20 passing attempts per contest (19.8). In the five games since – a span in which State has gone 1-4 -- he has averaged almost twice as many throws, 35.8 attempts per contest.
Rivers averaged 40 attempts per game as a true freshman, so Davis is starting to approach those numbers in terms of his role in the Wolfpack attack. And while a ratio of one touchdown to eight interceptions in the last two losses is unacceptable, the signal-caller is certainly taking too much of the criticism for the Pack's struggles.
Davis has had no part in a defense that has become increasingly susceptible to the big play and has had difficulty in forcing turnovers, or a special-teams unit that is misfiring on just about every facet of the kicking game. Still, he has been willing to accept the blame, especially against Ohio State, when he said he cost NC State the game.
Ritcher, his roommate, said that Davis has remained even-keeled throughout a difficult campaign.
"He's doing good; some of those interceptions, you can't really blame him for them," said Ritcher. "He's still in good spirits. He's frustrated it a little bit and, of course, disappointed that we haven't won more, but he's not down on himself or anything like that."
Davis would be the first to tell you that he hasn't playing winning football in the last two games. As a first-year starter, he knows he has to take the mistakes he has made, analyze them and use those lessons to make him a better quarterback.
"He's had a lot of lessons. The greatest way in the world to learn is by trial and error," Amato said. "For three years he sat there and he could learn lessons by watching and listening. Those are two other ways that you can learn, because you don't get reps and you don't get in the game. By watching and listening, you can get mental reps, but it's never the same as trial and error. ‘I went in there, I did it, it was right, it was wrong, I correct it, I correct it, I correct it.' He did an awful lot of good things.
"He's growing, he's growing, he's growing. Sometimes it's just a little difficult. He's given us an opportunity in every game, with one exception: the Miami game. He's put us in position to win the football game every other game – and you know what? That's going to pay dividends."
Maybe the rest of this season, maybe next. There are rumblings that backup Marcus Stone, who has been out the past two games with wrist and knee injuries, will see playing time tonight against Florida State. Whether Stone appears or not, Davis will certainly see action as well, and try to put the experiences of the past few games behind him, and begin the process of becoming a quarterback that receives too much credit for wins – instead of one that receives too much blame for losses.