by Joe Schwartz
N.C. State (3-1) vs. Wake Forest (2-2)
[3:30 p.m., Saturday, BB&T Field, Winston-Salem]
Video on ESPNU, Audio on WRAL-FM 101.5
Key stats … Four games into the season and the Wolfpack finally leave Carter Finely Stadium and enter ACC play. The in-state rivalry game also is big for Wake Forest, which is coming off a shocking overtime loss at Boston College last week. N.C. State leads the all-time series 61-35-6. Tom O'Brien is 7-1 against in-state foes during his time leading the Wolfpack.
Wolfpack Quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off a 322-yard passing 91-yard rushing performance against Pittsburg and adds to his NCAA record passes attempted without an interception with every toss. Even so, he wasn't happy with his play. If the perfectionist can meet his standards in this one, the Mr. Planters-looking Demon Deacon mascot will have a long day. Key to is the performance of the N.C. State defense, which was inexperienced coming into the year and lost team-leader Nate Irving for the season but is leading the national in total defense, giving up a stingy 201 total yards per game. Wake's defense is ranked 10th in the conference, but they lead their offense leads the league in yards per game.
Wake Forest will win if … Quarterback Riley Skinner can play like a senior. Skinner led Wake Forest to the ACC crown just two seasons ago, but his fumble in last week's contest cost his team the victory. He'll need to be decisive in the pocket and try to pick apart a secondary that while successful showed vulnerability against Pitt last weekend.
N.C. State will win if … Toney Baker establishes his run game and continues to be a threat in the passing game. He's looked stronger in each game coming back from knee surgery that's kept him sidelined for almost two full seasons. Getting him involved early will be key for a team that whose supporters will be outnumbered for the first time this year.
Players to watch Tight end George Bryan is leading N.C. State in catches and has provided a good comfort blanket for Wilson. Skinner, though his late fumble was costly, did pass for a career-high 354 yards last week
Vegas line N.C. State -1
Score prediction and brief explanation N.C. State 24 Wake Forest 17. Great defense almost always beats great offense. N.C. State may struggle early in this one, but once they settle down, they should have the quality to get off to a 1-0 ACC start.