Before NC State finished up a four-game home stand against Central Michigan last Saturday, Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren was already preparing his team for its first road game of the season this weekend at Wake Forest.
“Last week, we actually went to a different hotel than we normally would, just to break routine,” Doeren said. “It turned out to be a good deal for us.”
This week, the hotel will be different again, and so will everything else for that matter when NC State (3-1) takes its show westward, about 90 minutes away to less comfy confines. Awaiting the Wolfpack’s arrival will be a Wake Forest team (2-3) which always seems to be at its best when the Red & White comes to Winston-Salem.
Along with being State’s oldest football rival, Wake has also emerged as an old nemesis over the last decade, winning the last five games played between the two teams at BB&T Field.
While he wasn’t around for NC State’s recent streak in road games at Wake Forest, Doeren left nothing to chance this week, choosing to do some historical research in hopes of gaining some clues as to why so many Wolfpack teams had come up short there.
“Every team we play, I’m going to study the past,” Doeren said. “I think that’s important for our players whether it’s home or away, just to talk about trends. I think if you study history, you can keep from repeating it if you understand it. I wasn’t a part of any of those games, but I have talked with our players to find out what they thought our issues were up there. Hopefully we can overcome it this time.”
Now in its 13th season under veteran coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest fielded an ACC title team in 2006, and then won nine and eight games, respectively, over the next two seasons. In other words, the Demon Deacons have fielded some pretty good teams over the last decade, yet many of NC State’s performances at BB&T Field over that period left fans, coaches and players frustrated against an in-state rival.
Admitting that he played perhaps the worst game of his career two years ago in Winston-Salem, NC State senior linebacker D.J. Green says recent history shouldn’t be a factor when Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kick off time rolls around.
“I’m not going to be thinking about it,” Green said. “I don’t think anything of it. The past is the past. We’re here to do something about it now. Hopefully we can change that.”
Some challenging issues abound for this year’s Wake Forest team, which is one week removed from a 56-7 thrashing at the hands of Clemson. With his offense generating only 222 yards of total offense in Death Valley, Grobe sat starting quarterback Tanner Price in the second half, choosing to turn the controls over to back-up signal caller Tyler Cameron.
Through five games, the Deacons are averaging 316 yards of total offense, a figure that ranks 113th nationally. Barring some quick fixes, Wake Forest may be challenged to move the football against an NC State defense that is coming off back-to-back strong performances against Clemson and Central Michigan.
Over its last two games, the Wolfpack has recorded 23 tackles for loss, and ranks second in the nation in TFL’s on the season with 37.
“Our goal is to have as many parties in their backfield as we can,” said Doeren. “We sell that to our players and it feeds on itself. That’s definitely a trend we want to continue”
Green credits familiarity with defensive concepts being taught by coordinator Dave Huxtable as a key factor in the Wolfpack’s early season success on that side of the ball.
“We’ve been doing this since the spring, so we have plenty of reps,” Green said. “They stay on us and we’re eager to learn. We’re getting more and more comfortable with the defense and we’re getting good results.”
In yielding an average of just 328 yards per game, Green and the Wolfpack are rated 26th in total defense in the most updated FBS rankings.
The Pack will certainly keep an eye on Michael Campanaro on Saturday. Currently the second leading receiver in Wake Forest history, Campanaro is the only player in the annals of ACC football to have caught 16 passes in a game twice in his career. The senior first made 16 receptions against Boston College last November, and then matched that total earlier this season with a 16-catch performance against Louisiana-Monroe.
Ironically enough, one of Campanaro’s least effective games came in last year’s 37-6 loss to NC State when he was held to just five receptions for 14 yards. Cornerback Dontae Johnson applied most of the stifling coverage on Campanaro that day, and those two will undoubtedly hook up on many occasions once again on Saturday.
With left tackle Rob Crisp out for a third straight game due to injury, Joe Thuney will again get the start at left tackle for the Wolfpack on Saturday. But in this particular match-up, the Pack’s offensive line will have its biggest test inside against relentless Wake Forest nose-guard Nikita Whitlock. The ACC’s leader in tackles for loss with 10, the stocky senior is the reigning ACC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week.
“Great player,” Doeren said. “I’d love to have him on our team. He’s really fun to watch and tough to play against. He’s very explosive, uses his hands well, is very quick and has a high motor. They line him up over the center where he can cause a lot of problems for your guys in the backfield immediately.”
Saturday’s game will mark the first of four road games for NC State this season, but as far as Doeren is concerned, the contest could provide a defining opportunity for his first Wolfpack squad.
“I like road trips,” said Doeren, who won eight straight ‘true’ road games as a head coach. “I like getting on the bus, watching the movie, eating some snacks and then hanging with the guys at the hotel. I told them that if they want to be contenders, they have to be able to take their show on the road. If not, they’ll win a lot of home games, but be an average, run-of-the-mill team. That’s not what we want to be.”