RALEIGH — There is something about a ranked number in front of an opponent that brings out the best in N.C. State.
Some of it is the mental focus required, which coach Tom OBrien pointed out, and some of it is self preservation, as senior offensive lineman R.J. Mattes pointed out. Either way, the Wolfpack has won seven of its past 11 games against ranked opponents, a good sign for its trip to No. 11 Clemson on Saturday.
When were playing a Top 25 team, like Clemson, were always going to come out ready, Mattes said. You cant come out dead against a team like that, otherwise youll get stomped.
N.C. State beat seventh-ranked Clemson last year, 37-13 in Raleigh, and earlier this season it beat then-No. 3 Florida State, 17-16. A win on Saturday at Clemson will require an historic effort from the Wolfpack.
State has beaten Top 15 teams in the same season only three times: No. 14 Florida State and No. 11 Notre Dame in 2002; No. 2 Florida State and No. 11 Syracuse in 1998; No. 13 Florida and No. 8 Penn State in 1975.
The Wolfpack (6-4, 3-3 ACC) hasnt won at Clemson (9-1, 6-1 ACC) since 2002 and has won only one division road game since 2005. The history is less of a concern to OBrien than his teams psyche.
The Wolfpack roller coaster keeps turning with wins followed by losses and losses followed by wins. OBrien said his players showed they were finally recovered from a four-game ACC spell, which included road trips to Miami, Maryland and North Carolina. State lost to Miami and UNC and came within a 33-yard field goal at the buzzer of losing to Maryland.
The Packs 37-6 win over Wake Forest last Saturday, OBrien said, proved to him his team was back to where we were before, which is a good sign.
If we play like (we did against Wake) and dont turn the football over and do the things we have to do, then I dont have any problem playing against anybody, OBrien said.
N.C. State put together a complete effort against the Demon Deacons, with 170 rushing yards, five sacks on defense and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Wake win, and the way the Pack played, was a striking contrast to the Virginia loss the previous week on the same field.
We want to be able to do that consistently, week in and week out, junior defensive back Dontae Johnson said. Hopefully, the N.C. State that showed up last week will be ready to play this week.
The players talked in August about the importance of getting off the up and down pattern that has been N.C. State football since the start of the 2010 season. State has gone 23-12, with a 12-10 record in ACC play, but it has won back-to-back ACC games only once in each season.
It has lost consecutive ACC games only once over the same span and posted an 11-2 record in all games after a loss.
The way we played against Wake (was) kind of frustrating because we should have played that way against UNC and Virginia, Mattes said. Hopefully, we continue with the way we played against Wake.
OBrien said the teams biggest problem has been staying mentally focused, a mode hes convinced his team will stay locked into over the final two games of the regular season and into the bowl game.
It all comes back to the state of mind. I think these kids will be excited to play this week, which is good, and then theyll be excited to play the next week.