ATLANTA -- The NC State football team is playing an opponent that is 0-2, hasn't won in more than a month and is coming off a 45-0 loss at home in its most recent game.
And the Wolfpack is a two-point underdog.
That, more than anything else, might be the most definitive statement on the Wolfpack's recent struggles.
Las Vegas oddsmakers aside, coach Dave Doeren's injury-riddled team could not have picked a more opportune opponent against which to break its own four-game losing streak and keep its flickering bowl hopes alive. But it still has to go out, execute and get the job done.
Here are three keys that could help NC State make that happen:
Keep the Yellow Jackets down
Tech coach Geoff Collins has described his team as resilient and insists that its confidence hasn't wavered despite the beating it took from Virginia Tech last week. But that confidence can be seriously challenged if the Wolfpack can strike early and put the Yellow Jackets into a familiar position of having the play from behind. Just look what happened to State against Wake Forest and Clemson. The less incentive the Wolfpack gives Tech, the better off it will be. Though scoring hasn't come easily for quarterback Devin Leary and his offense, getting off on the right foot and scoring a couple of early touchdowns would go a long way toward getting State back on the winning track.
Win the turnover battle
This is easier said than done, considering that it's been seven games since State's defense recorded a takeaway and that its offense has turned the ball over 11 times over the course of its four-game losing streak, mistakes that have led directly to 59 points for the opposition. That's a losing proposition regardless of the competition and a trend that the Wolfpack must reverse to have any chance at beating Tech. One thing going for State is the fact that the Yellow Jackets have been nearly as turnover prone as it has, losing the ball 14 times in 10 games thus far.
Don't get caught looking ahead
State is literally in a must-win situation when it comes to gaining bowl eligibility. At 4-6 overall, it needs to win its final two games in order to earn its sixth straight trip to the postseason. It doesn't get any more cut-and-dried than that. But before the Wolfpack can accomplish its goal by winning twice, it must first win once. It can't afford to take that first victory for granted simply because tonight's opponent has won only twice, ranks last in the ACC in scoring offense and 12th in scoring defense.
Both teams have been decimated by injuries. Both have been forced to play too many youngsters before they're ready. Both teams have had trouble holding onto the football and scoring points. But only one of these teams is transitioning to a total new offensive system it does not yet have the personnel to run and only one still has a shot of salvaging its season with a bowl bid. While the folks in Vegas usually know what they're talking about and should be taken seriously, in this case all signs are pointing in the Wolfpack's direction. Call it an upset if you like ... State 20, Tech 13