Football previews: NC State trying not to overlook Furman as No. 6 Clemson comes to town next

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2021

By Aaron Beard

AP Sports Writer

North Carolina State looked sharp in its opener only to fall flat in its marquee nonconference road game that included a pair of key season-ending injuries.

And with the six-time Atlantic Coast Conference champions looming on the schedule, Dave Doeren needs his Wolfpack to regroup quickly in Saturday’s home game with Furman.

“They’re the players that need to play better, I’m the coach that needs to coach better, I own that,” Doeren said. “And I look at it as a great opportunity to make our team better. There’s a lot of football left for us to be excited about, and it starts this week.”

N.C. State (1-1) opened with a 45-0 win against South Florida, an all-around sharp performance that had Doeren praising his team’s maturity. That raised expectations for last weekend’s trip to Mississippi State from the Southeastern Conference.

But the Wolfpack gave up a game-opening kickoff for a touchdown and trailed the entire way in a 24-10 loss that included losing all-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson and safety Cyrus Fagan to season-ending injuries.

Now comes the matchup with the Paladins, ranked No. 25 in this week’s Championship Subdivision coaches poll, followed by a visit from No. 6 Clemson.

“I think through a loss, you can get a lot of really, really valuable lessons – and maybe we needed that,” Doeren said. “Maybe we needed to get punched in the mouth, we read our press clippings too much after the opener, I don’t know.”

Furman is 2-0 for the first time since 2014 after a 26-0 win against Tennessee Tech, the program’s first shutout since 2004. The Paladins have allowed an average of 230 yards to rank ninth in the FCS ranks.

“I think we’ve only played a little over 50 snaps a game, which I know (the defensive players) appreciate that too,” Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. “I hope we can keep that because … we hardly had anybody play more than about 25 snaps in the game. That’s a pretty good recipe when you’ve got some good players, you build depth, keep guys fresh. That’ll certainly help us as the year goes on.”

No. 21 UNC aims to end skid against Virginia

A shaky opening-night performance dealt a quick blow to North Carolina’s goal of winning its Atlantic Coast Conference division championship. The 21st-ranked Tar Heels know they can’t afford another early stumble with yet another loss to Virginia.

The Tar Heels and Cavaliers meet Saturday night with Virginia seeking a fifth straight victory in the long-running series between neighboring-state programs.

North Carolina (1-1, 0-1 ACC) opened the season as the Coastal Division favorite only to lose at No. 15 Virginia Tech in a game that saw star quarterback Sam Howell sacked six times and harassed into three interceptions. UNC regrouped with a lopsided win against Georgia State, but Mack Brown’s team is dealing with concerns with a veteran offensive line that hasn’t gotten off to a good start with communication and injuries.

“I told them it’s important to our program,” Brown said. “But at the same time, it’s about us. It’s not about who we play. We’ve got to play better.”

Virginia (2-0, 0-0) has opened with a pair of easy wins, beating William & Mary and Illinois by a combined score of 85-14. And the Cavaliers haven’t lost to the Tar Heels in the every-year-since-1919 season since October 2016.

That include s last year’s 44-41 game  with the Cavaliers rolling to a 21-point lead behind a big performance from quarterback Brennan Armstrong, then holding off a frantic UNC rally. Brown said his players know they’ve lost four straight meetings, noting: “They’re on social media, they read, so they know.”

As for Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, he wasn’t interested in dwelling on the Cavs’ run.

“It’s not even on my mind,” he said. “Looking back doesn’t help anyone.”

Virginia has lost 22 of 30 road games under its sixth-year coach, a frustration for Mendenhall considering he said winning half of the road games on the schedule should be enough to be in contention in the division. Conversely, the Cavaliers have won 19 of 22 home games.

They have won the past two meetings in Chapel Hill, with the November 2019 win standing as Virginia’s last road win against any opponent. They lost all four road games last year in a 5-5 season.

North Carolina sophomore Josh Downs has stepped into the lead-target role for Howell, grabbing 16 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns in two games. He’d love to replicate the success of his predecessor against the Cavaliers, too.

In the 2019 meeting, UNC receiver Dyami Brown had six catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Brown followed with 11 catches for 240 yards and three more scores last fall.

Holmberg, Duke ready to take on Northwestern

No one was sure exactly how Gunnar Holmberg would handle his first year as Duke’s starting quarterback. He’s offering some early positive signs entering Saturday’s visit from Northwestern.

The graduate student and captain is completing 71% of his passes for the Blue Devils (1-1), keeping the offense moving through running back Mataeo Durant while helping Duke avoid last year’s turnover-marred play.

“They see Gunnar’s commitment level,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s always been there. I think it’s more he leads through how other people respect and see his work ethic, which probably still is the greatest form of leadership there is.”

Duke was the only Atlantic Coast Conference school without a returning quarterback with starting experience. Holmberg has thrown for 498 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

He’s made one major mistake: a fumble on a hit as he ran toward the goal line in the loss at Charlotte But Duke followed with a turnover-free win against North Carolina A&T, something it failed to do last season while committing a national-worst 39 turnovers.

“I think when you go out there and it shows what you do from the practice field to the game field, you have a chance of having great ball security,” Holmberg said. “We’ve been good with that.”

Northwestern (1-1) has recovered a fumble in each of its first two games, a loss to Michigan State in Big Ten play and a home win against Indiana State. Last year the Wildcats ranked in the top 20 of the Bowl Subdivision ranks in forcing turnovers, fueled by safety Brandon Joseph – an Associated Press first-team All-American – tying for the national lead with six interceptions.

“They usually come in bunches – turnovers, that is,” Northwestern coach Pat Fizgerald said last weekend. “That’s kind of our goal each game, is to have three turnovers. So not to be at that point right now is something that we’ve definitely got to improve on.”

Duke won the last two meetings in 2017 and 2018, with the first being a 41-17 win on its home field. Before that, Northwestern had won seven of eight meetings dating to 2000.

The Wildcats must slow Durant, who ran for a Duke-record 255 yards and three touchdowns against Charlotte. He followed with 41 yards and three more TDs touchdowns against North Carolina A&T.

The senior leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing and the FBS ranks with those six TDs.

Joseph showed last week he can be a dangerous punt returner in addition to top defender.

Joseph ran back the first two of his career for 111 yards, helping the Wildcats set a school record with 166 in all. He became the first Northwestern player with more than 100 in a game since Venric Mark set a school record with 134 against Syracuse in 2012.

Raymond Niro III also had a good outing against Indiana State, returning two for 55 yards. Fitzgerald wouldn’t say who would be the primary punt returner against Duke.

Demon Deacons host struggling Seminoles

Wake Forest and Florida State are in very different positions heading into Saturday’s meeting to open Atlantic Coast Conference play.

The Demon Deacons (2-0) didn’t face much of a test in either of its first two wins against overmatched opponents. That’s far better than what faces the Seminoles (0-2), who are just trying to win a game after last weekend’s stunning loss to a lower-division opponent. “We’ve got to go out there and play at an extremely high level,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “We cannot have the lapses, we can’t put ourselves in challenging situations because against well-coached football teams, teams that have those type of playmakers, you’ll get exposed.”

The loss on a final-play touchdown to Jacksonville State already did that. A week after taking highly ranked Notre Dame to overtime, the Seminoles lost for the first time in 27 matchups against Championship Subdivision teams.