Duke and NC State roll into rare meeting

Duke and NC State roll into rare meeting

Duke and North Carolina State are just 20 miles apart and play in the same conference, but when the two teams square off Saturday in Raleigh, it will be a rare meeting between the two.

The teams haven’t met annually since the ACC expanded and went to a divisional format 15 years ago.

It’s the first time since 2013 that the two schools have met on the football field, and as NC State coach Dave Doeren pointed out, “It’s pretty crazy to think you could come to NC State and never play Duke your entire career. “That has happened for multiple players, so I’m excited that we get to play them.”

Duke won the past two matchups and leads the series, 41-36-5, but this is only the second time Doeren has faced Duke, and only the fourth time longtime Duke coach David Cutcliffe has faced NC State (he’s 2-1 in the series).

Both teams arrive on what they like to think is on an upward trend.

NC State (3-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) relied largely on offense for its first two victories this season, but last week, defense took the leading role for the Wolfpack.

“I think our guys have learned different ways to win games,” Doeren said. “The one thing that’s common in each of our wins is that we prepared well.”

It might be crucial for the Wolfpack to maintain focus in anticipation of Duke’s first visit to Carter-Finley Stadium since 2009, even though the Blue Devils started the season 0-4 before winning last week.

“Our guys have a lot of confidence, but they’ve also been humbled this year,” Doeren said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that we talk about. Two weeks ago, people were throwing you on the wood pile, and now they are bragging about you. You just have to remember that you are one day away from being a hero or a zero around here.”

Defense set the tone in NC State’s 38-21 victory last week at Virginia, forcing four turnovers. That allowed the Wolfpack to make up for some erratic passing of quarterback Devin Leary, who was just 11-for-25. Running back Zonovan Knight posted a season-best 101 rushing yards.

The Wolfpack’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns came on a pick-6 by Alim McNeill, and a 23-yard drive set up by a defensive stand.

NC State also should be bolstered by the return of defensive back Tyler Baker-Williams, who missed two games due to COVID-19 protocols.

“The kids played 100 snaps on defense, so they played a lot of football in that game,” Doeren said. “We were able to play a lot of players.”

Cutcliffe said of NC State, “They know how to win football games. They’re very aggressive on defense. This is a complete football team.

“With that said, we need to play a complete football game. There couldn’t be a better week to do that. If we continue to work well as a team and prepare, then we’ll have a shot. That’s all you can ask for, is to try to have a shot.”

Duke (1-4, 1-4) broke into the win column by winning on the road at Syracuse 38-24.

“When you win, it should increase hunger rather than decrease hunger,” said Cutcliffe, now in his 13th season at Duke.

So the Blue Devils figure to be energized.

“The morale and the confidence of the team has definitely boosted,” running back Deon Jackson said. “This is definitely something that we needed. The feeling of a win is great. We just want to build on that.”

The Blue Devils showed offense in the Syracuse game to the tune of 36 first downs and 645 total yards, which marked the third-highest total in program history.

Jackson (169 yards) and Mataeo Durant (163) became the first pair of Blue Devils ever to rush for more than 150 rushing yards in the same game.

“Our offensive line is growing together and have gotten better,” Cutcliffe said. “We get to see it at practice. When you can run the football and we can learn to take care of it, we can create things in the passing game. We’ve got a chance to be a good offensive football team.”

Quarterback Chase Brice has found connections with senior Noah Gray, whose 97 career receptions put him one off the school record for a tight end.

This the first of four consecutive games against in-state opponents for Duke, though although the Devils are off after this game until Oct. 31 against Charlotte.

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