Wolfpack, Deacons, Mountaineers looking for breakout weekend

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2020

By Aaron Beard

AP Sports Writer

RALEIGH — North Carolina State spent a week watching other Atlantic Coast Conference teams play after having its original opening game postponed amid coronavirus clusters involving Wolfpack athletes and elsewhere on campus.

Coach Dave Doeren’s squad finally gets its turn to play on Saturday night when instate foe Wake Forest visits the Wolfpack.

“I think we’re starving for a routine,” Doeren said. “And so this allows us hopefully to have one, just to get into gameweek and know that we have an opportunity to back-to-back similar weeks as we move forward. Because we’ve had the opposite. Every day has really been a day where change could happen.”

N.C. State had to pause all sports activities Aug. 24 due to a cluster tied to athletics, with the football program not returning to practice for a week. By then, N.C. State had postponed the scheduled opener at Virginia Tech for two weeks to Sept. 26.

That turned Saturday’s visit from the Demon Deacons (0-1, 0-1 ACC) into the new opening game in a long-running series that has been played every year dating to 1910. It’ll be the first chance for the Wolfpack to show improvement from a four-win season after being picked to finish 11th in the 15-team league race.

“I just feel like we have … a lot of people talking down on us after last season, a lot of people not expecting much from us,” offensive guard Ikem Ekwonu said. “I feel like now more than ever, we’re a prideful team. We have pride in ourselves. And we have confidence in ourselves.”

For Wake Forest, the goal will be to move forward after a 37-13 loss to top-ranked Clemson and go for a fourth straight win in the series.

“We did some things in that game (against Clemson) that wouldn’t allow us to beat anybody we play,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “And as a coach, my focus is in fixing those problems. So when we play N.C. State, if we’re going to lose, let’s have N.C. State beat us, let’s not have Wake Forest beat Wake Forest.”

Some other things to know about Saturday’s Wake Forest-N.C. State game:

N.C. State’s home game will come in a largely empty Carter-Finley Stadium amid state and county health guidelines limiting mass gatherings.

Athletics spokesman Fred Demarest said the team had been allotted 50 tickets to distribute among players for family members to attend within health guidelines. Additionally Thursday, a group of N.C. State parents sent a petition to Gov. Roy Cooper seeking to have an exception made to allow all parents or family members to attend.

Wake Forest, along with fellow in-state ACC school North Carolina, had opened in essentially empty stadiums. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown has also publicly lobbied for an exception to allow players’ family members to attend games.

KICKING QUESTIONS: Preseason All-ACC kicker Nick Sciba had a bumpy start to the season for the Demon Deacons by making 2 of 4 field goals against Clemson after missing just one all last season. That comes with the Demon Deacons having a new snapper and holder. “He’s just got to learn to trust the new operation,” Clawson said.

NEW OFFENSE: This will be the first look at the Wolfpack’s new offense under coach Tim Beck, who had plenty of obstacles installing a new scheme as Devin Leary begins a second year as starting quarterback. That’s because the Wolfpack got in just five spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college and professional sports, followed by the interrupted preseason camp. “We did have some setbacks obviously with the virus, but I feel like our players have been pretty resilient,” Beck said.

DEACONS’ ROLL: Wake Forest has won the past three meetings, two coming on dramatic finishes. Wake Forest won 30-24 in 2017 when Wolfpack receiver Emeka Emezie lost a fumble at the goalline with 1:51 left. Two years ago Wake Forest ended a five-game skid in Raleigh by scoring the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Last year, a nationally ranked Wake Forest team beat N.C. State 44-10 at home in Leary’s first start at QB as a redshirt freshman.

BEST MATCHUP:  Wake Forest’s defensive front vs. North Carolina State’s offensive line. The Demon Deacons are looking to their defense as a strength, particularly with the Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr at defensive end. Basham has recorded at least one tackle for loss in 18 straight games, the longest streak in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. That front will face a Wolfpack offensive line with four returning starters — including center Grant Gibson (12 starts in 2019) and guard Joe Sculthorpe (11) — to protect second-year quarterback Devin Leary as N.C. State plays its season opener.

No. 23 Appalachian State enters Top 25, visits Marshall

No. 23 Appalachian State (1-0) at Marshall (1-0), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS).

Line: Appalachian State by 4 1/2.

Series record: Appalachian State leads 14-8.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? The Mountaineers entered the Top 25 this week. Appalachian State has won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles and wants to join other league teams in receiving national attention after Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Coastal Carolina beat Big 12 opponents last week. Marshall has its own hopes of moving into the rankings after a 59-0 win over FCS Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 5.

KEY MATCHUP: Marshall QB Grant Wells vs. Appalachian State’s defense. Wells, a redshirt freshman, threw for 307 yards and four TDs against Eastern Kentucky in his first start. Appalachian State held Charlotte’s Chris Reynolds to 11-of-30 passing and intercepted him twice.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Appalachian State: WR Thomas Hennigan; The senior had five catches for 120 yards, including a 51-yard TD, in the 35-20 win over Charlotte. He had five games with at least six catches a year ago, including an 11-catch game.

Marshall: RB Brenden Knox. The junior was named the Conference USA preseason offensive player of the year after rushing for 1,387 yards and 11 scores a year ago. He had 85 yards and a TD in the opener.

FACTS & FIGURES: The teams were Southern Conference rivals from 1977 to 1996 and last met in the 2002 season. … The Mountaineers ran the ball 50 times for 308 yards last week, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. … Appalachian State was a late replacement on Marshall’s schedule after the Thundering Herd lost two home games and a road contest to the coronavirus pandemic. Marshall is allowing fans under a reduced capacity at its home games. …. Appalachian State finished last season at No. 19 after going 13-1. …. The Mountaineers allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week.

Top ACC matchup: No. 17 Miami vs. No. 18 Louisville

At Louisville: The Hurricanes and Cardinals jump into the rankings ahead of a key contest Saturday night. The teams weren’t originally slated to play until the ACC revamped its scheduling model due to the coronavirus pandemic, matching a Louisville team picked to finish fourth and a Miami team picked to finish sixth. The game features the Week 1 league leader in total offense in Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham (threw for 343 yards, ran for 24), while Miami QB D’Eriq King ran for 83 yards in his Hurricanes debut as a graduate transfer from Houston.

UNC graduate DB Wolfolk ruled academically ineligible

CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina graduate defensive back Myles Wolfolk has been ruled academically ineligible for the 12th-ranked Tar Heels.

Team spokesman Jeremy Sharpe said Thursday that Wolfolk “fell behind” in his graduate work during the past semester. He had graduated in December with degrees in sociology and communications.