The N.C. State football team travels to Winston-Salem on Saturday to take on in-state foe Wake Forest. The game will be State’s first away contest of the season.
The Wolfpack (3-1, 0-1 ACC) is coming off of a 48-14 victory over Central Michigan last week at Carter-Finley Stadium, its largest margin of victory this season.
State has not won in Winston-Salem since 2001, when former quarterback Philip Rivers was a sophomore. The home team has won the last six meetings in the series, which the Pack leads 63-37-6. Last season, State defeated Wake 37-6 in Raleigh.
The Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2) are coming off of a 56-7 loss to Clemson last week. Wake has struggled mightily on offense this season, ranking 93rd in the nation in rushing offense and 107th in passing. Although senior quarterback Tanner Price was benched at halftime of the loss to Clemson, he will return to start against the Wolfpack.
Head coach Dave Doeren said in his weekly teleconference that his team will need to concentrate to beat Wake on Saturday in Winston-Salem.
“We have to be able to play within ourselves and block out the distraction,” Doeren said. “We need to play exactly the same way we would in our own stadium.”
Redshirt junior Pete Thomas will once again start at quarterback for State in place of graduate student Brandon Mitchell, who is still nursing a broken bone in his foot suffered in the season opener. Thomas threw for 244 yards and his first touchdown pass of the season last week.
State used its receivers to great effect in the running game last Saturday, notably junior Bryan Underwood, who Doeren spoke highly of. Underwood also caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in the game.
“In the last two weeks he’s had his best two weeks of practice. He’s gotten the ball more because of that,” Doeren said in his weekly teleconference. “As long as he keeps doing that, he’s going to be a weapon for us.”
The Wolfpack secondary will have to keep an eye on Wake’s senior receiver Michael Campanaro. Campanaro is averaging 13.4 yards per catch this season and has a pair of touchdowns.
State did a good job defensively against Central Michigan last Saturday, limiting the Chippewas to 259 total yards and grabbing three interceptions, off of which they scored 17 points.
“Defensively, the takeaways I think are huge,” Doeren said in the teleconference. “It’s remarkable how much better we play on offense because of field position.”
Defense is an area where the Deacs have struggled this season. They rank 88th in total defense and are giving up 167.8 rushing yards per game. That plays into the hands of the Wolfpack, who rolled up 239 yards on the ground against Central Michigan.
State is expected to have its full complement of running backs for the contest. Sophomore Shadrach Thornton is listed as the starter ahead of junior Tony Creecy. Freshman running back Matt Dayes is listed as probable despite spraining his ankle last time out.
While it may seem easy to write off a team that is coming off of a blowout loss and features a home defeat to Louisiana-Monroe this season, Doeren insists that Saturday will not be an easy game for the Wolfpack.
“We definitely respect Wake. We definitely have a ton of respect for their coaching staff,” Doeren said. “This will be a game that both sides want to win very badly.”