Like many others around the country, NC State coach Dave Doeren and his players spent last Saturday watching college football on television.
Their level of interest, however, was far different from that of the casual fan.
Because the Wolfpack’s scheduled opener against Virginia Tech was delayed by a week because of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus last month, the team was able to scout its new first opponent Wake Forest by tuning in to the Deacons’ game against top-ranked Clemson.
“The scouting aspect obviously gives us an advantage on who they are replacing their lost starters with and how they’re using them,” Doeren said Monday during his first regular media conference of the season.
“For them not to have film on how (new offensive coordinator Tim Beck) is going to call it or how (new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson) is going to call it obviously helps us. I think it’s the personnel piece, maybe, that’s the biggest advantage for the team that hasn’t played because you can see their guys and they can’t see ours.”
How much of an advantage that element of the unknown might provide depends on which side of the equation your team is on.
The way Deacons coach Dave Clawson sees it, having already played a game — especially one against an elite opponent — is far more important than the opportunity to scout an opponent.
Not only does it allow him and his staff the ability to identify areas in need of improvement under game conditions, something they can work on during the following week at practice, it also helps young players seeing their first action get a feel for what game speed is all about.
“We have a lot of good young players play a lot of football for the first time,” Clawson said of the silver lining to his team’s 37-13 loss to the defending national runner-up Tigers. “We’ve replaced our entire starters at the offensive skill positions.”
The Deacons did move the ball effectively at times against Clemson, with junior quarterback Sam Hartman completed 8 of 18 passes for 182 yards when he wasn’t on his back or running for his life.
Redshirt freshmen receivers Donovan Greene and Taylor Morin both stepped in to help make up for the loss of All-American candidate Sage Surratt, who opted out of the season over coronavirus concerns.
Wake also showed some grit by continuing to battle after falling behind 37-3 after three quarters, outscoring Clemson’s reserves 10-0 over the final 15 minutes while getting some valuable experience for several young players.
“If we can get those guys reps and plays against an opponent the caliber of Clemson, that’s only going to help us down the line,” Clawson said.
While State also has some holes to fill, especially after it was announced that starting linebacker Louis Acceus will be lost for the season, the Wolfpack will feature more of a veteran lineup bolstered by several players that missed all or most of last season because of injuries.
It’s the reason State has been established as a four-point favorite even though Wake has dominated the series recently with three straight victories.
It was part of a clean sweep of the Wolfpack and fellow in-state ACC foes North Carolina and Duke last season that allowed the Deacons to claim a mythical “state championship.” It’s a title Clawson is already talking about defending.
Saturday’s game will be the 115th between State and Wake dating back to 1895. The teams have met every year since 1910, making it the longest continuous rivalry between current ACC opponents.
Bragging rights, however, are the least of the Wolfpack’s worries as it looks to get the new season off to a winning start and put the six-game losing streak with which it finished 2019 far into the rearview mirror.
“It’s just another game to me,” junior running back Ricky Person Jr. said. “Coach has been saying it’s rivalry week, rivalry week. People try to put a label on games, but for me, it’s just go out there and play.”