N.C. State coach Dave Doeren had a football game to play Saturday night but couldn’t resist watching a lot of another one.
The one in Winston-Salem. The Clemson-Wake Forest thriller finally won, 51-45, by the Tigers in a second overtime.
Curious? Yes, Doeren was that and more. His Wolfpack, after a 41-10 breeze over Connecticut, will go to Clemson next week for an ACC game that could have all the college football trimmings — possibly ESPN GameDay on hand, a top-10 matchup, the Wolfpack defense facing off against a Clemson offense that Doeren said is significantly improved from last year.
A look at the Pack’s 2022 schedule showed a good chance that it could be 4-0 going into its ACC opener against the Tigers. East Carolina, Charleston Southern, Texas Tech and then UConn on Saturday have been taken care of, each “W” gained in a different way.
The ECU win was a scare, a one-point escape in Greenville. Charleston Southern was a blowout. Texas Tech was a showcase under the lights at Carter-Finley and a quality 27-14 victory, and then UConn a predictable 41-10 win at home.
There were facets of the victory Saturday that should make Doeren feel more confident about what could shape up as the Pack’s biggest game of the regular season. Granted, it was against a UConn team that was badly outmanned. But good there were things for the Pack. “I think we’re hitting on a lot of cylinders we want to,” Doeren said.
Three of the reasons why N.C State should feel good ahead of its game at Clemson:
Devin Leary back in rhythm
Pack quarterback Devin Leary was making all the throws Saturday, making good reads and good decisions, delivering the ball on time. And the wide receivers were doing their part, latching on to some tough throws for nice catches.
“It was good to see Devin get in a rhythm,” Doeren said. “Almost everything we talked about during the week we got to see. We wanted to see guys make contact catches. The ball got spread around to numerous receivers.”
Devin Carter had a touchdown, his first of the season. Porter Rooks and Keyon Lesane had touchdowns, the first of their Wolfpack careers. Leary was sharp, completing 32 of 44 passes for 320 yards and four scores, his longest connection a 75-yarder to Thayer Thomas on the first snap of the game.
“I think it was just perfect timing,” Carter said. “We work really hard at practice, so whenever you practice and it (translates) to the game, it just clicks, it just happens. I think it’s a credit to our practice.”
Defense playing with swagger
Wolfpack linebacker Drake Thomas, like his head coach, said he was able to see a little of the Clemson-Wake game on TV. Both had to be impressed by what they saw of Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei throwing for 371 yards and five scores in a shootout with Wake’s Sam Hartman.
Clemson finished with 559 yards in total offense but had 500 yards and 38 points in regulation.
“I thought the quarterback really played well today and it’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Doeren said. “He’s accurate, his guys played well for him and protected him. … From an improvement standpoint from last year to this year you can see DJ is playing a lot better.”
But so, too, is the Wolfpack defense, Thomas said.
“We pride ourselves on the way we play,” he said. “We want to play aggressive, we want to play hard, we want to play physical. But we want to play confident, too. We want to play with a little bit of swagger. That’s the key to our defense, how we play and who we are.”
No major injury concerns
The Pack will be as healthy as Doeren probably could have hoped for after four games, although his heart rate might have spiked in the second half Saturday when center Grant Gibson was on the ground a little too long after a play — Gibson was soon on his feet and OK.
Running back Jordan Houston, injured against Texas Tech, was held out of the game and will be available next week, Doeren said. Nickel Tyler Baker-Williams, with a foot injury, remains “day to day” but also could be ready.
Running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, who had 49 yards on four carries Saturday, was sore after the game, Doeren said, but should be good to go and the Pack will need the bruising back against the Tigers.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” Doeren said.