Dave Doeren's assessment of NC State's performance in last week's 44-27 loss at West Virginia was that it was out of character for his young team. "That's not who we are and that's not what we can be," he said, vowing to return home and fix what went wrong.
After a week that included what the coach called the Wolfpack's best Wednesday practice of the season, Doeren and his team are ready to get back onto the field and show how much they've learned and improved.
The Wolfpack is a 19-point favorite and should take care of business in front of a sellout crowd in its first night game of the season. But as Doeren knows from his days at Northern Illinois, Mid-American Conference teams are never a pushover.
With that in mind, here are three keys that will help State avoid an upset and start rebuilding some momentum for its ACC opener next week at Florida State:
BE ANGRY, STAY ANGRY
One of the things Doeren had to say about West Virginia on Saturday is that the Mountaineers played angry and were determined to come home and make up for an ugly road loss the previous week. It's an attitude he'd like his team to duplicate in its return to Carter-Finley Stadium. Angry doesn't mean out of control and undisciplined, especially when it comes to after-the-whistle penalties. But it does mean being more physical than the opposition, finishing blocks and runs, being relentless and rising to the occasion when the inevitable adversity arises. "I expect a very angry football team," Doeren said Thursday. "We've got to put that into execution and thought into our jobs."
PRESSURE THE QUARTERBACK
This was also a key last week, but the Wolfpack didn't do a good job of executing it As a result, it was riddled for 272 yards and three touchdowns by West Virginia's Austin Kendall, a passer that had been pedestrian at best in his first two games this season. This week's quarterback, Ball State's Drew Plitt, is far more accomplished. He's already thrown for 1,040 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and is capable of doing some severe damage if allowed to sit back in the pocket and find his receivers. State's pass rush should be improved with the return of starting defensive end Joseph Boletepeli and perhaps his senior bookend James Smith-Williams. But regardless of who's on the field, they've got to do a better job they did did in Morgantown.
STRETCH THE FIELD
Another recurring problem, one that can be at least partially traced to the season-ending injury to deep threat receiver C.J. Riley in the first half of the opening game against ECU. Even without Riley, there should still be plenty of downfield options on the Wolfpack's roster. The problem is that to this point, quarterback Matthew McKay has had a problem getting it to them. He's got the arm strength. Accuracy has been the issue. The lack of a vertical passing attack was easily overcome in those two opening wins against ECU and Western Carolina, but not so much against an equally talented Power 5 opponent. It's a lot harder to move the ball on the ground and through the air with a short passing game when the defense doesn't have to respect a vertical threat. If McKay isn't able to bring that element to the offense, it might be time to give backup Bailey Hockman a chance to see if he can.
This is State's last chance to tune things up before opening the ACC season next week at Florida State. There are still a lot of rough edges to smooth out, but against a mid-major opponent -- albeit a good one -- under the lights, with a sellout crowd behind it, this will be a time for the Wolfpack to shine ... State 37, Ball State 17