After its open week in the schedule last year, N.C. State was able to put the breaks on an ACC losing streak and finish strong.
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren is hoping for a similar turnaround after an 0-2 start in the ACC and with a road trip to Wake Forest (3-4, 1-3 ACC) on Saturday.
“I think the best thing we did last year is we were really hard on ourselves as coaches,” Doeren said. “We looked at everything. We took things out, we added things that fit us better.
“We brought the players in, we really explained it, coached it, detailed it and the guys bought into it. We have done that and now it’s a matter of execution.”
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N.C. State (4-2, 0-2) won three of its final four games in 2014 after a late bye week in the schedule. In some ways, the Wolfpack finds itself in the same spot as last year.
Just like last year, it started strong out of the league and went 4-0 before dropping its first four ACC games.
This year’s break came earlier in the schedule so the Wolfpack has an earlier second chance, senior cornerback Juston Burris said.
“We know we can play better than the last two games that we played,” Burris said. “We’re going to right this ship and we’re going to turn this around.”
N.C. State hasn’t played since a 28-13 loss at Virginia Tech on Oct. 9. The Wolfpack committed a season-high nine penalties and saw a 10-0 lead evaporate in a 21-point second quarter by the Hokies.
The Wolfpack had been called for a nine penalties in the previous two games and only 18 in the first five games of the season.
The turnover margin has also worked against Doeren’s team in the first two ACC games with no takeaways by the defense and three turnovers by its offense.
“Don’t beat ourselves”
The focus of Doeren’s self-scouting started with those obvious points.
“Rule No. 1 for us has always been and will always be, ‘Don’t beat ourselves,’ ” Doeren said. “Unfortunately, that happened in the second quarter of our last game.”
Another item of emphasis was getting back to being balanced on offense. The Wolfpack had some success running against Virginia Tech, 157 yards on 40 carries, but only threw for 113 yards.
In a 20-13 loss to Louisville on Oct. 3, N.C. State ran for just 45 yards with 183 passing yards.
“I want to be a balanced offense,” Doeren said. “At times we have been, at times we haven’t and we need to be better there.”
The health of senior guard Alex Barr should be a boost for the offensive line. Barr missed three games with an ankle injury and returned against Virginia Tech. Both Barr and Doeren said Barr was back to 100 percent after the time off.
Senior safety Hakim Jones, who missed the second half of the Virginia Tech loss with a groin injury, is also expected to play at Wake Forest on Saturday. Doeren was able to hold Jones out of practice last week but he said the senior returned to practice on Sunday and is ready to get back in the lineup.
Running back Jaylen Samuels, second on the team with nine touchdowns, also needed some time off last week with a sore foot but Doeren said the versatile sophomore should be ready for the Demon Deacons.
“I love this team”
With improved health and after taking a step back to work on some problems, Doeren said he was excited to get back into conference play.
Last year after the bye, N.C. State took a 12-game conference losing streak into Syracuse and pulled out a 24-17 road win. Wins over Wake Forest and North Carolina followed before a bowl win over Central Florida closed the season and capped a five-game improvement from Doeren’s first season in 2013.
N.C. State has lost six straight at Wake Forest, going back to Philip Rivers’ sophomore season in 2001, and faces a similar challenge this year after its bye week.
Doeren’s faith in his team has not been shaken by the first two ACC losses.
“I love this team and I’m excited about coaching these guys,” Doeren said.
Burris said the players understand how to dig out of hole and are confident they can repeat last year’s turnaround.
“This is our second half of the season and we’re trying to make it better than our first half,” Burris said. “We’re always trying to improve and I think we will.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio