N.C. State was dropping cliches on Monday about its upcoming ACC opener with Louisville like it was running against South Alabama’s defense.
“One game at a time,” “One day at a time,” “Every game counts the same” – Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren, quarterback Jacoby Brissett and safety Hakim Jones said, taking turns trying to out-vanilla each other on Monday.
N.C. State finished its nonconference schedule at 4-0 after running roughshod over South Alabama Saturday night. N.C. State ran for 330 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns against the Jaguars’ hapless defense in a 63-13 road win.
After a pair of wins against the Sun Belt conference, a road win over a Conference USA team and a home rout of a Division IAA team, business picks up on the schedule front for N.C. State.
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Louisville, in its second year in the ACC, comes into the game from the opposite direction. The Cardinals are 1-3 but have already played (and lost to) Auburn and Clemson.
The start of ACC play might feel different to those outside the program but Doeren said that’s not necessarily how the team goes about its preparation.
“We try to train our players to not care who’s on the other side, to really care about yourself and your performance,” Doeren said.
The holistic, process-first approach has netted dividends for the Wolfpack this season. It has won its first four games by an average of 34.2 points per game. Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama might not look like much on paper, but as Brissett pointed out on Monday, “You still have to win the games.”
Squaring the “one-day-at-a-time” mentality has been a big reason for the team’s fast start, Jones said.
“We treat every game the same,” Jones said. “We have the ‘faceless’ opponent approach, no matter who we play, we prepare and execute the same way.”
N.C. State hasn’t won its ACC opener since 2010 and is 0-2 in such games under Doeren. The experience from those two games – a 26-14 home loss to Clemson in 2013 and a 56-41 home loss to Florida State – might serve the Wolfpack well on Saturday, Doeren said.
“You go back to those experiences and you talk about finish,” Doeren said. “The focus is finishing. We’ve had games, like this one, where we’ve been in it or ahead and didn’t finish. Last year’s team learned how to finish as the season went on.”
N.C. State lost at Louisville, 30-18, last year. The Cardinals had 10 players from that team taken in the NFL draft, the second most in the country, but have reloaded with transfers from Georgia, Texas A&M, TCU and slew of talented freshmen, including quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“They still have great talent all around,” Brissett said. “They’ve got a bunch of new good players.”
The Cards had one of the best defenses in the country last year and return both defensive tackles, Sheldon Rankins and DeAngelo Brown, both of whom Doeren praised at length on Monday.
Louisville’s three losses have come by a combined 13 points, including a 20-17 decision against No. 12 Clemson on Sept. 17. Doeren said he won’t have any trouble getting his team to look past Louisville’s record.
“It’s not like we have to remind them that they’re good, they beat us last year,” Doeren said. “Our players will understand that.”