N.C. State will enter ACC play with a 4-0 record again.
The Wolfpack made sure of that with a dominant 63-13 road win over South Alabama on Saturday night.
Last year, N.C. State completed its schedule outside the ACC with four wins and no losses but 4-0 didn’t quite look like so sturdy.
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The Wolfpack ran for 330 yards against the Jaguars (2-2), had two different running backs rush for more than 100 yards, had four players score at least two touchdowns and forced three turnovers.
“I think we’re a lot better than we were last year at this point,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “We were in the same position, from a record standpoint a year ago, but we had to squeak out some wins and some of them weren’t pretty, a lot of it was sloppy.”
N.C. State’s 50-point win on Saturday night on the road against a Sun Belt team was its seventh straight win and by the largest margin on the road since a 65-19 win at Navy in 2002.
Last year, the Wolfpack won but struggled outside the ACC, needing second-half comebacks to beat both Georgia Southern (24-23) and Old Dominion (46-34).
This year, N.C. State has won each game by at least 24 points and by an average of 34.2 points per game.
“We’ve been very efficient,” Doeren said. “We’ve been consistent.”
Senior running back Shadrach Thornton, who ran for a team-best 111 yards and two touchdowns, has been around the program long enough to know that N.C. State has had a history of stumbling when it isn’t supposed to.
Regardless of the level of competition, and that has been in question since the schedule was released in February, Thornton said there’s a value in the way N.C. State is winning.
“It’s just a good sign of how much we’ve grown to just go out there and dominant no matter who we are playing against,” Thornton said.
The running game has been a big reason for the fast start to this season and the improvement since a 3-9 record in 2013.
After South Alabama got the ball and scored on its opening drive, N.C. State ran the ball 16 times in the first half for 190 yards.
Junior Matt Dayes, who had 104 yards — his fourth straight 100-yard game — took a jet sweep 77 yards on his first rushing attempt of the game. He also had rushing touchdowns of 2 and 8 yards in the first quarter.
Senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett didn’t have to do a lot, though he did throw for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns to sophomore Jaylen Samuels, but that was fine with him.
The offensive line, with redshirt-freshman Tyler Jones filling in for senior Alex Barr at left guard, did all the work, Brissett said.
“This game was the perfect game for them,” Brissett said. “Everything we tried to do, they accomplished. This game is totally a win for them.”
There are mistakes in the secondary that need to be fixed. The Jaguars hit passing plays for 45, 47 and 36 yards in the first half. Senior quarterback Cody Clements threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gerald Everett on the first series of the game to give USA a 7-0 lead.
It looked like it was going to be more like N.C. State’s struggle with Georgia Southern last year than another rout. Instead, N.C. State scored the next 28 points and led 42-10 at the half.
The second half, which featured a pair of rushing touchdowns by freshman Reggie Gallaspy, was a mere formality.
For sure, there will be tougher defenses than South Alabama’s, starting with Louisville next Saturday, but N.C. State will know soon enough if its success is a product of what it has done or the level of the competition.
Five days after the Louisville (1-3) game is a trip to Virginia Tech (2-2). The talent on both of those teams exceeds their unimpressive records and that of what N.C. State has faced in the first four weeks.
The ACC answers will come soon but Doeren likes the ones he gotten so far from his team outside the league.
“The consistency is the best thing that I like about where we’re at,” Doeren said. “We’re definitely an improved football team.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio