WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren is ready to find out how his new players respond to playing on the road.
His first road trip with the Wolfpack comes Saturday at Wake Forest, a place where his team hasn’t won in a dozen years.
“I know it’s a tough place to play for whatever reason,” Doeren said. “Our job obviously would be to make our team a better road team than they’ve been there.”
The Wolfpack (3-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) last won in Winston-Salem in 2001, going through three eventual NFL starting quarterbacks and firing a pair of coaches during that five-game skid.
Now it’s Doeren’s turn.
“You can’t be a great program and lose your road games and win your home games,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to take your show on the road. I think that’s something that I take pride in being able to do. This will be my first opportunity. We’ll see how it goes with my guys.”
Wake Forest won the last two meetings here by similar scores, 34-27 in 2011 and 30-24 in 2009.
“The past is the past,” senior linebacker D.J. Green said. “That’s what we’re here for, to do something about it now.”
While this is the first road game for Doeren with the Wolfpack, N.C. State will still play in its home state. Two of the Wolfpack’s four road games are against instate ACC opponents Duke and Wake Forest, meaning the Wolfpack will leave the state only twice all season.
As for the Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2), they’ve struggled through the first month and have made a habit of falling behind early each week. They’re coming off a 56-7 loss at No. 3 Clemson and rank last in the league in scoring and total offense.
It isn’t what coach Jim Grobe expected from a veteran group. He said his team works hard in practice but there’s been no “carryover” to gameday.
“What we’re getting is good hard work out of our players,” he said. “We’re just not getting good play.”
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s N.C. State-Wake Forest matchup:
THOMAS’ DEVELOPMENT: N.C. State turned to Pete Thomas at quarterback after losing starter Brandon Mitchell in the first half of the opener with a broken foot. Thomas has won two of three starts (the only loss was to Clemson) but has thrown one touchdown pass with four interceptions to go with a pair of rushing scores in those games. Mitchell is possibly a week away from returning, so this could be Thomas’ last chance to make an impression.
TRAILING EARLY: Wake Forest’s opponents have scored first in every game and the Demon Deacons have trailed after the first quarter four times this year. That can’t continue Saturday or beyond if the Demon Deacons want to make their way back to a bowl game. “We can’t start out flat and start executing in the second half,” safety A.J. Marshall said.
BIG RUNS: N.C. State’s Shadrach Thornton ran for 71 yards for his second straight game with a touchdown in last week’s win against Central Michigan, while freshman Matt Dayes broke off a 42-yard run in that game. The duo, along with Tony Creecy, has given ths Wolfpack a reliable ground game so far. Wake Forest’s rushing defense ranks 12th in the 14-team ACC.
PRICE’S PLAY: Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price has nearly 40 career starts. But he’s not been particularly sharp in leading the Demon Deacons out of their offensive funk. Price is eighth in the league in passing yardage (196.4) and 10th in passing efficiency. Wake Forest could use a big performance from him to get the offense moving consistently.
INSTATE SUCCESS: Grobe has long shown the right touch in leading Wake Forest against instate opponents. The Demon Deacons are 31-10 against instate opponents under the 13th-year coach, including 22-10 against Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina. This is the kind of game he has always managed to coax the best out of his team, even when it hasn’t been playing well.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap