There wasn’t much doubt that N.C. State was going to defeat Furman.
The Wolfpack came into the contest a perfect 7-0 against FCS opponents under Dave Doeren. The question was, how would N.C. State respond to a challenge from their coaches during the week?
The Wolfpack staff looked like they pushed all the right buttons as N.C. State improved to 2-1 with a 45-7 win over the Paladins. That sets up a showdown next weekend with Clemson, which edged Georgia Tech, 14-8, Saturday afternoon.
But before the Wolfpack could look ahead to the Tigers, they had to right their wrongs from week two. After losing to Mississippi State, Doeren said his team didn’t make their “layups,” the routine plays that can be the difference in a win or a loss.
N.C. State needed to lock in this week in practice and show the kind of maturity expected from a team with so much experience. The team was up to the challenge, jumping out to a 38-0 first-half shutout and a 45-0 lead before Furman got on the board.
Quarterback Devin Leary, who was shaky at times last week, was locked in from the start, hitting 10 different receivers in the first half. Leary finished with 259 yards through the air and was responsible for four touchdowns. N.C. State had 309 more total yards than Furman (2-1) and the defense didn’t surrender 100 yards on the ground for the second straight game, the 38th time that’s happened under Doeren.
Whatever the message was, it was well received.
“We responded well,” Doeren said. “And that’s what I was looking for, a response.”
The offense responded by going a perfect 6-6 in the red zone. The defense responded by forcing a turnover after not doing so last week and had chances at several others. The special teams unit had 48 yards in punt returns and won the battle for field position. It was the complementary football that was missing last week, but popped off the screen from the start against the Paladins.
Make the layups
After coming up short versus Mississippi State, Doeren talked about the missed layups. His players used that same term after the win over Furman, acknowledging that those plays were made in full this week.
“Just taking what the defense gives us, really,” Leary said. “Just all the little things that only we could control, I thought we did a good job doing that tonight.”
On defense, that included running to the ball, making the proper reads, and filling gaps. The layups on defense led to an interception by Tyler Baker-Williams on the first offensive drive of the second half by Furman, the second of his career.
“Just making tackles, just doing the little details that makes our defense successful,” Baker-Williams said. “Makes everybody’s job a little easier.”
The defense made life really easy for the offense, with an average starting field position on the Furman 34-yard line. N.C. State’s longest drive was eight plays. Meanwhile, the defense forced six straight three-and-outs in the first half as the Wolfpack pulled away, scoring 45 unanswered after Zonovan Knight lost a fumble on N.C. State’s first drive of the night.
Knight responded with 96 of his 104 yards after losing the fumble. His bounce back from a turnover was a reflection of this team bouncing back from a tough loss and taking care of business when it needed to.
“It’s time to really, really hone in on what we have to do,” Doeren said. “I’m proud of them for going in and executing.”
It was also a bounce back game for Leary and his receiving group. Doeren felt like last week the offense was off, saying how “they weren’t playing 11 as one.”
It was addressed and the rhythm was better, prompting Doeren to say the team “played for each other” versus the Paladins.
“I think the players really learned a lot from last week’s game,” Doeren said. “There were plays when you see 11 guys doing what they are supposed to do.”
The defense didn’t give up any explosive plays, with Furman averaging just 3.7 yards per play. Doeren noted how well the defense tackled and adjusted to the Paladins’ formations and option football.
“The kids had to adjust a lot this week,” Doeren said. “I’m proud of them for that.”
N.C. State clearly didn’t overlook Furman, anticipating who comes to town next week — Clemson.
The Tigers have won eight straight in the series, the past two by a combined score of 96-17. Clemson at least will come into Raleigh looking human. There is a loss on their record and they barely survived to win over the Yellow Jackets at home.
The big game came early this season and the Wolfpack could have gotten caught looking. What the Furman game did was give N.C. State some much needed momentum heading into Saturday’s contest.
“It’s good to fix things that we need to fix,” Doeren said. “We’re going into conference play now, with the exception of Louisiana Tech, and as you know this league has a lot of teams in it that can win every Saturday. We just need to build on each week and continue to try to be better than the week before.”