NC State football: Pack where it needs to be heading into ACC play
So far, so good for NC State.
The Wolfpack wrapped up the nonconference portion of its schedule Saturday night with a commanding 41-10 win against UConn. With victories over East Carolina, Charleston Southern and Texas Tech before, NC State is 4-0 as it heads into ACC play.
It’s right where the Wolfpack wanted to be, where it needed to be in this year of lofty goals and aspirations. To this point, everything is right on schedule.
“We’re hitting on a lot of the cylinders that we wanted to,” coach Dave Doeren said. “We’re in a good spot. There’s always things that can be better, but all the things that I was disappointed about a week ago were corrected in this game. We were able to play a lot of guys, and I feel like we’re in a good spot.”
That spot is indeed a good one, and it’s one NC State hasn’t been too familiar with over the years. The last time the Wolfpack entered ACC play undefeated was 2018, though the Pack had a nonconference matchup with West Virginia canceled that season because of a hurricane.
Under Doeren, NC State has never gone through a nonconference slate that included a Power 5 team unscathed. That is, until this year.
The Wolfpack has handled its business up to this point. It got lucky in the opener at East Carolina, benefiting from some kicking problems from the Pirates.
But it got things back on track immediately, and last week it picked up a signature win out of conference play against Texas Tech. Then Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, It took it to an inferior UConn team, setting things up for a potential top-10 matchup next weekend at Clemson.
“I was proud of them,” Doeren said. “There’s a lot of teams that don’t play the way they are supposed to in games like that. But we got better. We got done with the preseason, or the nonconference part of our schedule, and we’re ready to play 3 straight games against undefeated teams.”
Saturday’s win against the Huskies was the culmination of a preseason gone to plan. The ECU game gave NC State a jolt that it maybe needed, and the result was 3 commanding wins to close out September.
Of course, everything isn’t perfect for the Wolfpack. Devin Leary played well again against UConn – throwing for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns – but the way he played against ECU and Texas Tech left much to be desired.
NC State’s receiving corps looked the best it has all season against the Huskies, as Devin Carter finally showed up to the party with 63 yards and a touchdown. But a good performance against a measly UConn team doesn’t completely erase the struggles of before.
But still, the Wolfpack is undefeated. It hit some bumps in the road along the way, but NC State is right where it had to be heading into a marquee trip to Death Valley.
The defense certainly is the reason, as the Pack played another shutdown game Saturday. UConn averaged 3.4 yards per play and mustered just 8 first downs.
Texas Tech’s vaunted offense scored just 14 points against the Wolfpack. Charleston Southern managed 3 and averaged 2.4 yards per play. East Carolina scored 20, but a good chunk of that was thanks to a shortened field.
The Wolfpack’s defense is a dominant force, as expected. Against the Huskies, it flexed the full extent of its muscles against another Football Bowl Subdivision program.
“We pride ourselves on the way we play,” linebacker Drake Thomas said. “We want to play aggressive. We want to play hard. We want to play physical. But we like to play confident, too. We like to play with a little bit of swagger. I think that’s a key to our defense and the way we play.”
For NC State, the real season will start next weekend at Clemson. The Pack handled its business, fairly dominantly to this point. Now its eyes are on the Tigers, as NC State heads into an ACC opener that will go a long way in determining the Atlantic Division.
“It’ll be a great challenge and opportunity,” Doeren said. “We did the things that I wanted to see us get better at. After I grade the film, there’s going to be a lot of things we have to do well to win that game. But we’re excited about the opportunity. It’s a great environment down there. It’s going to be a heck of a football game.”