Winning on the road has never come easy for N.C. State.
Dave Doeren was aware of this problem when he was hired three years ago and has tried to teach the Wolfpack how to “take its show on the road.”
Since six of N.C. State’s next eight games will be on the road, starting with Saturday’s trip to Old Dominion (2-0), school is back in session for Doeren. The Wolfpack (2-0) went 3-2 on the road last year, its first winning road record in 11 seasons.
“We feel like we’ve proven that we can play well on the road,” Doeren said. “We played some of our best football, really, on the road last year.”
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It didn’t get much better for N.C. State last year than its last road trip: a 35-7 win over North Carolina.
Its first road game in 2014, a 49-17 rout of South Florida on Sept. 13, set the tone for the rest of the season after four winless road games in 2013.
It takes a certain mentality and focus to win on the road, Doeren said, one he has recognized in practice this week.
The team has spent the week in its new indoor practice facility, which has the same field-turf surface as Old Dominion’s Foreman Field, and with the music cranked up to simulate the crowd noise.
“Hopefully we can keep that frame of mind, where it doesn’t matter what’s going on around us,” Doeren said. “The team looks like it has that kind of focus.”
Saturday’s game is the first visit by a Power 5 conference team to ODU, which started its football program in 2009. The game sold out in minutes with the proximity of N.C. State to Norfolk, Va., and the size of the old stadium (20,118).
N.C. State’s road losses last year were to Clemson (41-0) and Louisville (30-18). The Wolfpack has won six of its past seven games since the Louisville loss Oct. 18, including a rare Atlantic Division road win (3-23 since division play began in 2005) at Syracuse on Nov. 1 to kick-start the flourish to the end of the 2014 season.
The first two home games haven’t been much of a challenge this season. Troy hit some big plays but never threatened N.C. State’s offense in a 49-21 Wolfpack win. Last week, the offense started out sloppy against Eastern Kentucky but the defense held the Colonels to just 17 yards in the second half in a 35-0 win.
With the running game already humming behind Matt Dayes (242 rushing yards, five touchdowns) and Jaylen Samuels (four touchdowns), N.C. State should get even more of a boost from the return of senior running back Shadrach Thornton from a two-game suspension.
“We just have to do a good job of controlling every situation that we can,” Doeren said.
This trip to Old Dominion, and the one next week to South Alabama, offer N.C. State a chance to replicate the early success it had last year at South Florida. ACC trips to Virginia Tech (Oct. 9), Wake Forest (Oct. 24), Boston College (Nov. 7) and Florida State (Nov. 14) will prove to be more challenging but this gives Doeren and the Wolfpack a chance to walk before it has to run.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio