Pack hits the road in tough November

First test is Saturday at Clemson

Staff WriterNovember 2, 2010 

  • N.C. State plays three of its final four games on the road.

    A look at the schedule:

    Saturday: At Clemson - Tigers have won six straight in series.

    Nov. 13: Wake Forest - Pack suffered devastating loss at Wake in 2009.

    Nov.20:At UNC - Tom O'Brien is 3-0 at N.C. State vs. Tar Heels.

    Nov.27:At Maryland - Ralph Friedgen, O'Brien vying for ACC coach of year.

— Ever since he was a small boy, N.C. State defensive end David Akinniyi said, he has heard about the intimidating environment at Clemson's Death Valley.

Akinniyi and N.C. State will begin their November road odyssey at Clemson at noon Saturday. The Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1 ACC), ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press poll, has an unusual opportunity in this, the final month of the regular season.

With wins in its final four games, N.C. State would clinch the ACC Atlantic Division title and a spot in the Dec. 4 ACC championship game in Charlotte. But the Wolfpack plays three of its final four games on the road.

"It's always pressure when you go on the road," Akinniyi said Monday.

Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said Clemson, along with N.C. State and Virginia Tech, is one of the most difficult road environments in the ACC. So this game starts a challenging stretch for N.C. State.

The school's sports information staff went back through the media guide to determine that this is the first time since 1973 that N.C. State will play three November road games.

"So every 37 years we go on the road three times in November," O'Brien said. "We just caught the wrong year."

Although the season ending schedule is daunting, it's not quite as statistically unusual as O'Brien is trying to make it. N.C. State also played three of its final four games at opponents' stadiums in 1985 and 1979.

In both 1998 and 1999, the Wolfpack played four of its last five games away from Carter-Finley Stadium. N.C. State played neutral-site November games against North Carolina in Charlotte in both of those seasons.

This season's next opponent, Clemson, doesn't appear as formidable this week after falling 16-10 at Boston College on Saturday. The Tigers are 4-4, 2-3 in the ACC, and are missing leading rusher Andre Ellington, who's out for at least two games with a toe injury.

N.C. State's rushing attack, meanwhile, churned out a season-high 189 yards on Thursday night in a 28-24 defeat of Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium. O'Brien said the Wolfpack will continue to use a three-back rotation of Dean Haynes, Mustafa Greene and James Washington, even though Haynes lost a fumble and suffered a head injury against Florida State.

An N.C. State offensive line that starts four sophomores demonstrated progress opening holes for the backs against the Seminoles.

"We came off the ball better than we have all season, getting after it up front, and I think it certainly paid dividends for us," O'Brien said.

O'Brien is concerned that his team hasn't strung together back-to-back strong performances in a while. After winning at Georgia Tech on Sept. 25, the Wolfpack lost to Virginia Tech.

A win over Boston College on Oct. 9 was followed by a loss at East Carolina a week later. O'Brien said that N.C. State and many other teams in college football have had trouble building on their success.

But tight end George Bryan said the Wolfpack is eager for a strong finish after becoming bowl eligible with last week's win.

"We don't really want to go just to a bowl," Bryan said. "We want to go to a bowl that means something and is a really nice bowl."

N.C. State will have to string together some road wins to do it. or 919-829-8942

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