Wolfpack, Notre Dame both riding high into Saturday

NC State Running Backs Football

FILE - In this July 29, 2017, file photo, North Carolina State's Jaylen Samuels runs the ball during the team's first NCAA college football practice of the season in Raleigh, N.C. The senior has a combined 29 rushing or receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons while lining up at running back, receiver and tight end for the Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)


By Samuel Evers

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Both are among the top-ranked teams in the country.

Both are on long winning streaks after early season losses.

Both had pretty good weeks last week.

One ripped through then-11th-ranked Southern California, beating an old rival by 35 points, its largest margin since 1966.

The other rested.

Which was more advantageous?

“Well, I think both are good,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “I don’t know if one is better than the other. I will say for our team at this time, the bye week came at a good time just because we were beat up.”

The 14th-ranked Wolfpack last played Oct. 14 against Pittsburgh, a 35-17 victory good for their sixth in a row. By the time they take on No. 9 Notre Dame this Saturday in South Bend, Ind., there will have been two weeks of film focus and refreshment.

If it were up to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, the opportune resting point for N.C. State would have dotted the schedule elsewhere.

“You know, I think I would have preferred that North Carolina State played a very physical game against Clemson maybe,” said Kelly, whose Fighting Irish have won five straight after a one-point loss to Georgia on Sep. 16. “In all seriousness, really for us it’s more about our preparation. We know what we’re going to get from North Carolina State.”

Besides a defensive line allowing the sixth-fewest rush yards in the country, the Wolfpack can boast a secondary as healthy as it’s been all season, said Doeren, and an amount of depth that wasn’t there during the last game against Pittsburgh.

Another good omen going for Doeren: His team is 3-0 over the last three seasons after a bye week. The last two were wins against Wake Forest.

Still, said Doeren, Notre Dame’s side of the coin is pretty good, too.

“From a football program standpoint,” he said, “you love to win a big game, and any time you do that, you’ve got a lot of positive momentum.”

Opposite forces

When these two teams meet on Saturday, both will have calling cards that directly oppose each other.

N.C. State is great against the run (91.3 yards allowed per game, sixth in the country) and Notre Dame, led by Josh Adam’s 967 yards, is an offense hyper-focused on the run (317.9 yards per game, sixth in the country).

For Kelly, whose Fighting Irish average 45 rush attempts per game this year -- a number up nearly 10 from last year’s 4-8 season -- it will be the same recipe with perhaps a little bit of variance thrown in.

“There’s no question that we can’t change who we are..something’s obviously going to give there,” said the coach. “I mean, we’re going to establish the run, we’re still going to be run first, but when we have opportunities to throw the ball, we have to be more efficient and throw it at a higher completion rate.”

Notre Dame is ranked just 118th out of 129 in completion percentage (.508).

No starry eyes

The mystique of South Bend -- the golden helmets, all the history and the nearly century old Notre Dame Stadium -- will all be visited by an N.C. State football team for the first time ever on Saturday.

Throughout childhood, it was a special place for Doeren. He made occasional visits as a young Midwesterner to watch them play, and, as an assistant, coached in South Bend while a part of Southern California’s program.

But this week, a game is a game and business is business.

“We don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s still a football field with two locker rooms, and we’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can,” he said, “and not let something that doesn’t have anything to do with winning or losing be a part of the game.”

It’s just the third time these two teams have played, the second time a 10-3 win for the Wolfpack last season during Hurricane Matthew. All three have come after 2003.

High praise for Chubb

Dislocated finger and all, Wolfpack defensive end Bradley Chubb is no exception to a well-rested defense.

On Wednesday, Doeren spoke glowingly about the senior and projected NFL draft choice.

“I think he’s the best defensive lineman in the country,” Doeren said. “He’s gone from a 237-pound linebacker to a 275-pound nightmare.

“At times you’ll be around a guy that you wish he did something harder or worked at more, and he’s the complete opposite of that.”