NC State

Trip to West Virginia provides unbeaten NC State with rare opportunity

You have to watch film to learn about a team, not the ticker.

The latter has not painted a flattering picture of West Virginia football this season. If you only go by the score, scrolling across the bottom of ESPN, you only see the Mountaineers had a 38-7 loss at Missouri and 20-13 win over James Madison so far this season.

That’s not exactly a reason to burn a couch (as some diehard WVU fans are apt to do) but there’s more to the Mountaineers (1-1).

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“From the film, you can see they have great players,” N.C. State guard Joe Sculthorpe said. “Big, strong, fast players, so we’re looking forward to testing our strength against theirs. That’s really what it’s about.”

That’s the same thing N.C. State coach Dave Doeren saw as he went through his preparations for Saturday’s game (noon, FS1).

“I think you’ve got to look at the history of their program and how those guys played last year and this year,” Doeren said. “We expect a really good football team to show up against us.”

West Virginia went 8-4, 7-6 and 10-3 the previous three seasons with an 18-9 record in Big 12 play. While N.C. State is off to a 2-0 start in Year 7 under Doeren, after relatively easy home wins over East Carolina (34-6) and Western Carolina (41-0), the Mountaineers are going through a coaching transition under Neal Brown.

Dana Holgorsen left for Houston after the 2018 season, his eighth in Morgantown, W.Va. Holgorsen had his second top-25 team in three years last year and starred quarterback Will Grier in one of the top scoring offenses in the country (No. 8 in the FBS with 40.3 points per game).

Brown, who had a successful run at Troy, has come in and had to rebuild without an NFL quarterback and four other draft picks. Running the football, in particular, has been a struggle. In two games, WVU has 56 rushes for 64 yards, or 1.1 yards per carry, which ranks last among 130 FBS teams.

“They’re still trying to feel their way out,” Doeren said. “I know, having been in a first year as a head coach twice now, it takes some time as a coaching staff and as a locker room to kind of figure out what it is. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad football team. They’re not. You watch them, they’ve got good players, they’re fast. Their (defensive backs) will hit you. They’re aggressive.”

For N.C. State, it’s the first test against a “Power 5” opponent and the first road game. Including bowl games, Doeren has split his past six games against Power 5 opponents from outside the ACC. You have to go back to Texas Tech, in 2002, to find the Wolfpack’s last road win over nonconference Power 5 opponent.

So there is something to prove for N.C. State here and an opportunity, which hasn’t come around very often.

“It’s a good first test with a Power 5 school,” receiver Emeka Emezie said. “ECU and WCU, they’re good teams but you know with a Power 5 school there are different elements with it. You just really come in and lock in and understand it’s a big game.”

But playing another Power 5 school or being on the road can’t change how N.C. State got 2-0, or to 9-4 in the previous two seasons.

“We have to work on us and prepare the same way each game,” Sculthorpe said. “It’s about us, first.”

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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