Dave Doeren had plenty to say last year after N.C. State beat North Carolina. He didn’t have to say nearly as much to his team Saturday after its win over Syracuse.
“I said, ‘Y’all know what this week is,’ and everyone nodded their heads,” Doeren said. “It’s a chance for us to win No. 8 and obviously it’s a chance for us to play our rival and play them at home.”
With that, State-Carolina week was underway. Technically, it had been for a while.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
It began even before the Wolfpack was done with its 42-29 win over the Orange, victory long assured despite a late stumble by the second string right about the time North Carolina clinched the Coastal Division title with its overtime win at Virginia Tech. And with both teams winning, what would surely have been a pressure cooker anyway will be positively supercharged.
“I grew up cheering for State,” said Garner’s Nyheim Hines, N.C. State’s versatile freshman back. “Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, even in basketball. It’s great to finally be here.”
Bring it on. Hines isn’t the only one looking forward to this game. Both of these teams have played too many humdrum games this season, thanks to a collective strength of schedule with all the punch of a lukewarm cup of decaf. Next Saturday is a football triple espresso, at least by Triangle standards.
After last year’s loss, and Doeren’s “blue-collar” rant in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels would have no shortage of motivation against N.C. State even if they weren’t on the fringes of the national discussion, even if they weren’t riding a 10-game winning streak.
N.C. State may no longer be able to deny the Tar Heels a division title and trip to Charlotte, but the Wolfpack can still put a dent in whatever hopes North Carolina may have of playing in a New Year’s bowl – not that South Carolina didn’t do a pretty good job of that Saturday by losing to the Citadel – while burnishing their own bowl resume.
While North Carolina was playing a game freighted with meaning on so many levels Saturday, emerging as division champions from Frank Beamer’s final home game at Virginia Tech despite a late fumble that allowed the Hokies to force overtime, it was hard to shake the feeling this was merely an appetizer for the Wolfpack no matter what happened in Blacksburg.
The North Carolina game is the second of two at Carter-Finley to close out this season. The first was against Not North Carolina. Which happened to be Syracuse, the kind of game-that’s-not-THE-game that has so often tripped up the Wolfpack. Not this time. N.C. State gets full credit for taking care of business against Syracuse given the giant light-blue blob on their radar screen, rapidly approaching.
“We never talked about them all week,” Doeren said. “We talked about getting on track and winning this game.”
N.C. State ran the ball effectively, threw the ball efficiently and even scored a defensive touchdown. Perhaps most notable in that respect was N.C. State’s season-best 276 rushing yards against Syracuse. Of North Carolina’s many strengths, run defense isn’t always one of them. The Tar Heels have given up more than 200 yards six times this season, including 254 in the increasingly baffling season-opening loss to the Gamecocks.
The Wolfpack certainly looks fully tuned up in that department, and surely will be in other, less tangible departments by Saturday.
“We know who we’re playing and they’re down the street and they’re our rivals,” N.C. State receiver Jumichael Ramos said. “We know that we got this win and we’ll start to focus on this opportunity.”
It’s that time of year. The Tar Heels are on the verge of a truly historic season. The Wolfpack stands in their way. Next week was here before this week was even over.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock