Sitting at 5-5 and fifth in its division in the ACC, the NC State Wolfpack is no one’s idea of a powerful football team, or honestly, even a very good one. Led by second year coach Dave Doeren, its lone ACC victory in the past 1.75 seasons came a couple of weeks ago against an equally weak Syracuse team, leaving the team on the edge of bowl eligibility. Now comes equally poor Wake Forest, a team like NC State that has shown some life against ranked teams but no major victories to call its own. At 2-7 and with no wins in the conference, on paper, this looks like Doeren and the Wolfpack’s best chance to gain entry to the post-season.
It’s a win that Doeren really needs, as the last thing he and the Wolfpack faithful want is a trip to Chapel Hill with its post-season on the line. While Carolina is not exactly the class of the ACC in its own right, it does have a powerful offense that will be difficult for the NC State defense to stop, and on defense, the Tar Heels probably have just enough to slow down a sputtering Wolfpack offense and win in a shoot out. That said, State needs to take care of business against the Deacons and go into the Carolina game with a chance to not only have a seven-win regular season, but also a win against its arch-rival. Two late season wins would erase the mid-season disappointment of Wolfpack football, send the team to a low-tier bowl after a couple of weeks of additional practice and a chance to go into 2015 with something it hasn’t had in years: momentum.
On the other hand the worst-case scenario is not pleasant: three losses in a row, no post-season and Doeren trying to close out recruiting on a seat that will be red-hot next year. Murmurings of “who can we get” are already starting at tailgates and on message boards, and if on the afternoon of November 29th the Wolfpack is sitting 5-7, those murmurs will turn into a chorus, making it all the harder for the young coach to achieve success in Raleigh. Add to the mix and Athletic Director not known for accepting mediocrity and you can see how Doeren would be coaching for his job in 2015.
While it’s hard to call State the favorites in any ACC football game recently, they have to like their chances for the late afternoon tilt this weekend. The Deacons sport the worst rushing offense in the Bowl Subdivision of college football, and managed to gain but 7 yards last week in a loss to Clemson. They’ll probably do better against State, however, but at the same time, State should be able to control the Deacs on the ground enough to force them into a one-dimensional attack. When they did that against Syracuse, they won. They must do the same Saturday or the Carter-Finley faithful will again leave disappointed. Or more likely, angry.
On offense, State should be able to gain yards on the ground if it utilizes its running backs effectively. That will also take the pressure off of the suddenly shaky Jacoby Brissett, and will also serve to take pressure off of the Wolpack’s defense.
All of that is dependent on a good game plan, good in-game coaching adjustments and solid execution by the players on the field. In other words, Doeren and his charges hold their future in their own hands. How much they want to win may tell the tale of the tape not only this weekend, but also for the immediate future of the program.