Can NC State break Louisville's hex on them?
Some losses are easy to forget, others leave scars.
Louisville has handed N.C. State a pair of “forget-me-not” losses the past two seasons. The No. 24 Wolfpack (4-1, 2-0 ACC) will get another chance at the No. 17 Cardinals (4-1, 1-1 ACC), in the first game between ranked teams at Carter-Finley Stadium in 17 years, on Thursday night (8, ESPN).
In 2015, Louisville won a close game in Raleigh, 20-13, to snap N.C. State’s four-game winning streak to open the season.
Last year’s game at Louisville was the opposite of close. The Cardinals jumped all over a listless N.C. State team – still reeling from an emotional overtime loss at Clemson the previous week – for a 54-13 home win.
“Yeah, we definitely remember it,” N.C. State senior defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “We don’t want to have that feeling again.”
It was a performance difficult to forget. N.C. State lost four games last year by one touchdown or less. Even a 27-13 home loss to Miami was a one-score game until a late touchdown by the Hurricanes.
The Louisville loss last Oct. 22 was the only game in 2016 that N.C. State wasn’t competitive. The Cardinals led 17-0 after the first quarter and 44-0 at the half.
Quarterback Ryan Finley threw an interception on the Wolfpack’s first play of the game. The Wolfpack ran 11 plays in the first quarter and finished with minus-1 yard of total offense. N.C. State didn’t get a first down until the 10:02 mark in the second quarter.
“It was really embarrassing for us,” running back Nyheim Hines said.
There was a reason, other than Louisville hitting on all cylinders. N.C. State had lost 24-17 in overtime at Clemson. N.C. State could have knocked off Clemson, the eventual ACC and national champion, on the last play of regulation but could not convert a 33-yard field goal.
The sting of the Clemson loss lingered.
“We were still not over what happened the week before, as everybody knows,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
If it wasn’t Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s 36-yard touchdown – 93 seconds into the game – or Finley’s interception, then receiver Jaylen Smith’s 74-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was an early clue to the N.C. State players it wasn’t their day.
“You just knew there was something going on,” senior receiver/running back Jaylen Samuels said.
A year later, things couldn’t be more different for N.C. State. The Wolfpack has won four in a row since a season-opening loss to South Carolina. A 2-0 ACC start has the Pack in the national rankings for the first time since 2010.
The 27-21 win at Florida State on Sept. 23 also proved to the Wolfpack it could knock off one of the Atlantic Division heavyweights. Doeren entered the season with an 0-11 record against FSU, Clemson and Louisville.
Life for Louisville has been more turbulent. The athletic department has been rocked by an FBI investigation into the basketball program for paying for recruits. The latest scandal cost athletic director Tom Jurich and hall-of-fame basketball coach Rick Pitino their jobs.
On the football field, the Cardinals got wiped out at home by Clemson, 47-21, on Sept. 16. Since their outstanding showing against N.C. State last October, the Cardinals have a just 6-4 record against FBS opponents.
Louisville still has Jackson, who might have cemented his Heisman Trophy win with his performance against the Wolfpack last season. Jackson, who had a key 68-yard touchdown run in the 2015 Louisville win at Carter-Finley, could fill a career highlight tape with his two games against the Wolfpack.
Jackson leads the ACC with 1,636 passing yards and has accounted for 18 touchdowns in five games. Fueled by some ill-advised pregame trash talk from UNC’s defense, Jackson had 525 total yards and six touchdowns in his last trip to the Triangle, a 47-35 win in Chapel Hill on Sept. 9.
When it comes to pregame talk about the Cards, N.C. State hasn’t been interested in anything but humble pie from last year’s flop at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“We really didn’t show the world what N.C. State is capable of,” Hines said. “We’re really looking to prove that now.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Louisville at NC State
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh