NC State hosts Chippewas in key bounce-back game
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren has a bit of a score to settle with Central Michigan.
The Chippewas — the only Mid-American Conference to beat him during his two-year run at Northern Illinois — visit N.C. State on Saturday.
It represents an important bounce-back game for the Wolfpack (2-1) after a tough loss to No. 3 Clemson in which they never recovered from having the go-ahead touchdown taken off the board due to an official's call.
"I don't care who we are playing — it is game on," Doeren said. "It is the most important game that we have. ... Players are always going to get up for big games. It's keeping them up for the ones that aren't as big that is key from a scheduling standpoint."
On paper, anyway, this one has the potential to be a blowout: Central Michigan (1-3) has lost all three games against Bowl Subdivision schools by at least 10 points apiece, needed a late rally to beat New Hampshire of the Championship Subdivision 24-21 and doesn't rank better than 57th in any of the major stat categories on either side of the ball.
But Doeren knows firsthand how dangerous the Chippewas can be. They claimed a 48-41 victory over his first Northern Illinois team in his first MAC game in 2011 before the Huskies won their next 17 in conference play under him.
"I think there will be some similarities ... but not much," Central Michigan coach Dan Enos said. "You kind of have an idea of what they want to do a little bit here and there."
Doeren calls Central Michigan "a team I am excited to play.
"When we lose a tough game like we did, the best thing as coaches and players is to get back into preparation," Doeren said.
Five things to know about the Wolfpack's visit from Central Michigan:
STOPPING DAVIS: N.C. State could be in for a long day if it can't keep a handle on Central Michigan WR Titus Davis. He averages 19 yards per catch for his career — second-best in the FBS — and averages 101 yards receiving per game. That could be a challenge for a Wolfpack pass defense that ranks 13th in the Atlantic Coast Conference, allowing an average of 240 yards through the air. N.C. State also is the only ACC team that has not intercepted a pass.
NO RUNNING ON WOLFPACK: Conversely, the Wolfpack ought to be able to shut down Central Michigan's ground game. N.C. State ranks 26th in the FBS, allowing an average of 110 yards on the ground. The Chippewas only run for 109 yards per game and are No. 106 in the national rankings, though sophomore RB Saylor Lavallii is coming off a 144-yard performance against Toledo.
WOLFPACK BACKS: N.C. State's two most efficient rushers don't show up on the depth chart at running back. Third-stringer Shadrach Thornton took his only carry of the season 21 yards for a touchdown against Clemson, and receiver Bryan Underwood is averaging 27 yards on two carries — a mark that would be higher if an official didn't rule last week that Underwood stepped out of bounds on a critical long TD run. Junior Tony Creecy is listed as the starter with freshman Matt Dayes as his backup, and the stable of Wolfpack rushers could have a big day against a Central Michigan defense that allowed Michigan to run for five TDs in a 59-9 romp.
PISTOL PETE: Pete Thomas is settling in as N.C. State's quarterback. This will be his third start in place of injured Brandon Mitchell and Doeren says he's proud of the way he "competed extremely hard" against Clemson, though his fumble a few plays after the Underwood out-of-bounds call shifted momentum to the Tigers for good. He's still looking for his first touchdown pass at N.C. State and that could be a challenge if top receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling — who has a team-best 201 yards receiving — is questionable with a hamstring injury. Valdes-Scantling isn't listed on the depth chart this week.
CMU VS. ACC: Central Michigan is still looking for its first victory against the ACC. The Chippewas are 0-8 against ACC teams but came close in their only prior visit to N.C. State, leading 17-14 in the second quarter two years ago before falling 38-24.