North Carolina State has made it through the first four weeks of the 2015 season undefeated while averaging more than 46 points per game, but beginning this week we might be able to really see if the Wolfpack has what it takes to make some noise in the ACC.
It’s certainly been a successful start for the Pack, who cruised to wins at home against Troy and Eastern Kentucky before going on the road and pounding Old Dominion and South Alabama. But even at 4-0 it’s difficult to tell just how good NC State is after playing one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country.
So while quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the Wolfpack have been outstanding, not many people in the country have taken much notice. That could begin to change this weekend when NC State welcomes Louisville into Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh for its ACC opener. The Cardinals have had their struggles this season, but represent a big step up in competition. If the Wolfpack take care of Louisville it might be time to start paying closer attention to Dave Doeren’s team.
The Pack have gained some significant accomplishments so far despite the lackluster competition. Dating back to last season, it’s the first time NC State has won five road games in a row in more than 40 years and the Pack’s seven rushing touchdowns last week broke school record. But for Doeren and his squad, measuring success begins this weekend.
“Going into Louisville, they are 1-3 obviously but have lost three close games, an average of four points in their losses to good opponents in Auburn, Houston, and Clemson,” Doeren told reporters at his weekly press conference. “I think there will be an increase of energy level with the guys. You really have to work hard as a coach when you’re playing teams in a lesser conference to make sure they work the way you want them to work. Against a team like this you don’t have to do that as much. That part is actually nicer from a coaching standpoint.
“We’re right where we want to be,” he continued. “We wanted to finish a third of the season 4-0, healthy, and playing a bunch of players… feeling like we’re better this year than where we were last year at this time. I think that’s where we are.”
It’s the start of a three-game stretch of very winnable ACC games including trips to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest before the Wolfpack play host to Clemson on Oct. 31. If NC State can enter that game 7-0, it will surely have the attention of the country and might be in position to challenge for ACC’s Atlantic Division title. But that’s a big if.
Brissett has been outstanding, completing 77 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions, but the Wolfpack took a hit this week when they kicked second-leading rusher Shadrach Thornton off the team following an arrest.
Still, the Pack have Matthew Dayes, who is averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground and has rushed for nine touchdowns. Yet everyone at NC State knows those accomplishments won’t matter a lot if it doesn’t win games against ACC competition. That begins with a Louisville team that handed the Pack a 30-18 loss last season.
“We couldn’t beat Louisville last year,” Doeren said. “We tried. We were close, but that’s the gap we need to close now. That’s the challenge that’s on the table for our coaches and players this week.”
If the Wolfpack can do that, it will be time to start paying some attention.