If you’re looking for signs for how good this N.C. State team could be, Saturday’s 38-14 road win over Old Dominion was the Wolfpack’s sixth straight win.
That’s the last three games of 2014 and the first three of 2015 but the last time N.C. State won six straight was in 2002.
That was the year legendary quarterback Philip Rivers led the Wolfpack to a 9-0 start and a school-record 11 wins.
“That’s a long time,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “Let’s keep it going, man, one at a time, keep it going.”
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Old Dominion, a program that’s just seven years old, won’t be confused for Ohio State any time soon but N.C. State (3-0) showed it could go on the road and play at a high level.
Foreman Field was sold out on Saturday for the first trip by a Power 5 conference team to the 20,000-seat stadium.
The crowd was loud and ready but N.C. State was up for the moment. Given the Wolfpack’s problems on the road in recent years, and against teams without the biggest brand names, that was a sign of progress.
The defense held the Monarchs to minus-3 rushing yards on 21 carries and the offense ran for 256 yards and four touchdowns — by four different players.
The return of senior running back Shadrach Thornton (92 yards, 1 touchdown), after a two-game suspension, opened up the playbook a bit, which meant more plays for touchdown machine Jaylen Samuels and more running from quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
There wasn’t much variety in the first two home comfortable home wins over Troy and Eastern Kentucky, there was no need for it, but after Old Dominion tied the score at 7 early in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Matt Canada got creative and N.C. State took control of the game.
Brissett, who threw for 179 yards and a touchdown, started a quick-strike drive with a 21-yard pass to Samuels, who scored the game’s first touchdown, a 3-yard run.
Brissett went back to Samuels for a 5-yard gain and then Matt Dayes, who had his third straight 100-yard game, ran for 25 yards, followed by a 21-yard option keep by Brissett for a touchdown.
Four plays, 72 yards in just 1 minute and 54 seconds. The Monarchs (2-1) wouldn’t get that close the rest of the game.
“When people think about Old Dominion and that’s just like a school you’re supposed to beat but we took this game very seriously,” said Samuels, who scored his sixth touchdown of the season on a 10-yard catch to put the Wolfpack up 21-7 at the half.
“Our first road game: We knew it was going to be a good environment. We just handled our business on the road.”
Doeren was impressed with his defense, which held ODU running back Ray Lawry to 15 yards on 11 carries. Lawry entered the game as the top rusher in the country.
Lawry did hit a 70-yard screen pass for a touchdown for ODU’s first touchdown but that was the only time he got loose.
“That was the plan, to see if the quarterback to beat us and pack the box,” Doeren said. “Other than one drive, I thought they did a pretty good job.”
N.C. State’s defense, which held ODU to 148 yards of total offense, focused on keeping Lawry in check.
“We just got in his face and we put hats on him,” senior defensive end Mike Rose said. “We were trying to get to him before he could really get going.”
While ODU was out-matched on offense, the Monarchs’ defense couldn’t stop the run, even with a reconfigured offensive line.
Senior Alex Barr, who hurt his foot against Eastern Kentucky last week, didn’t play. Junior Bryce Kennedy started in Barr’s place but had to leave the game with an undisclosed injury. That meant left tackle Joe Thuney shifted over to guard and redshirt freshman Tyler Jones played tackle.
“All credit to those guys,” Thornton said of his offensive line. “We had some guys go down but we had some guys step up and make some plays for us.”
Doeren was happy his team didn’t turn the ball over and only had two penalties. Mostly he was just happy to get another road win, with still five more games in the next seven away from home.
“The guys are playing good,” Doeren said. “We’ve got to get up and do it all over again and go to South Alabama next week.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio