by Mike Potter
It's the second straight renewal of one of those rivalries that has been interrupted by the odd scheduling resulting from ACC expansion.
Duke will visit N.C. State on Saturday in one of those games that used to get a lot of blood pumping around the Triangle. But the series has lost some of its luster in recent years as the schools are in different divisions and don't play every year. State won 27-17 in Durham last season.
The Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1 ACC) definitely needs to get back into the win column after last week's 30-24 loss at Wake Forest on what I'll call "Stinker Saturday," a day on which all four of the Triangle's Division I college football teams lost and the Carolina Hurricanes did their part as well.
Duke (2-3, 0-1) is looking for a moderate upset after playing the Triangle's best game of the day last week in a 34-26 home loss to No. 6 Virginia Tech. But as Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said it was still a loss. And if they're going to go to that bowl game he's dreaming about they'll have to pull off some upsets.
This would seem to be a reasonable chance to get one, since the Blue Devils won't be traveling a whole lot further from their hotel to Carter-Finley than to a home game at Wallace Wade Stadium.
If this one were played under those ancient rules that discouraged the forward pass, State would be favored to win about 42-0. Fortunately for Duke's chances for success there may be 75 or more passes thrown on Saturday.
"We have the No. 1 pass offense in the conference coming to town," State coach Tom O'Brien said. "We certainly didn't do a great job last week. Riley Skinner did a great job against us throwing for 361 yards. Certainly we have some concerns about their throwing the ball against us this week. We're going to try to the best job we can against another four-year starter at quarterback in (Thaddeus) Lewis.
"Last week we didn't prepare for 56 passes out of 80 plays. ... Duke has averaged calling 41 passes per game so we've been spending more time on that. If they come out in the hambone or the wishbone we'll have to refer to what we did a week ago."
State has a potential All-American at quarterback in Russell Wilson, which was the conference's rookie of the year last season and the quarterback on the ACC's preseason all-conference team. Meanwhile Lewis is one of the best quarterbacks few people have heard of, since Duke is not currently a consistent winner.
Cutcliffe said he's impressed with the Wolfpack's wide array of weapons.
"N.C. State is a team that's extremely well-balanced," the Duke coach said. "It's one of the reasons before the season started I thought they would have an excellent season and I still think they will. They're well-coached with a good offense, and obviously a great player in Russell Wilson with some playmakers around him. Defensively they have a tremendous front that's very difficult to deal with and an excellent kicking game particularly in the area of returns."
One of O'Brien's biggest concerns seems to be whether or not his team can simply play smart.
"We have to cut down on the stupid penalties, the pre-snap penalties," he said. "If we tackle better on defense and take better angles on the football, we'll feel better about our chances."
And Cutcliffe knows his team has to win the air war to have a chance.
"We have our hands full," he said. "It will take a lot of improvement for us to have a good chance in Raleigh. ... North Carolina State doesn't give up many rushing yards. We're built better to throw the ball than to run it. Everybody knows we're going to put the ball in the air a good bit."
N.C. State (3-2, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-3, 0-1 ACC)
[4 p.m. Saturday, Carter-Finley Stadium]
Duke leads series 39-36-5
Audio: WDNC-620, WRAL-FM 101.5, GoDuke.com, GoPack.com.
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 28.4 to opponents' 27.0. Rushing 91.0 to 152.6. Passing 285.6 to 210.4. Individual leaders - (rush) Desmond Scott 23-134 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 94-163-2-1142 7 TD, (receive) Austin Kelly 25-299 2 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 45 1 fum. rec.
N.C. State: Team scoring 35.0 to opponents' 17.8. Rushing 134.8 to 66.8. Passing 265.8 to 172.4. Individual leaders - (rush) Toney Baker 58-300 5 TD, (pass) Russell Wilson 94-158-2-1244 14 TD, (receive) George Bryan 22-134 4 TD, (tackle) Willie Young 35 with 7 sacks 2 forced fum.
Best message board tidbits on the game:
Section2Chuck on StateFansNation.com. "There will be no excuse if we lose to Duke or if we (only) win a close game. We should be burying Wake and Duke by least 3 TDs every time we play them. We are a state university, they are private schools. It's like (Vanderbilt) beating (Tennessee). We should be destroying those two teams on a regular basis."
Jobe01 on DevilsIllustrated.com "(Virginia Tech) is a bit deeper than State. State has started different DBs almost every game this system, so they're young in those positions and quite exploitable. I think we need to work on their secondary, protect our QB, and use the run with (Desmond) Scott and (Patrick) Kurunwune when it makes sense. This is a game we should win in my opinion."
State will win if ... The Wolfpack can have a balanced offense that can keep control of the football. Russell Wilson is one of the best young quarterbacks in the country and can move the ball through the air or on the ground. Behind the running of Toney Baker and others, the Wolfpack has a rushing attack Duke would be very, very hard-pressed to match. And if defensive end Willie Young can get to Lewis a few times, the Blue Devils could be put into some tough situations offensively.
Duke will win if ... The Blue Devils can be competitive in possession time. N.C. State may be capable of rushing for 200-plus yards in this one, but the Duke defense has to keep that from happening and perhaps force a turnover or two. Lewis will obviously need another solid game such as the one he had against Virginia Tech, while the defense needs to get pressure on Wilson. And 100-plus yards on the ground would be a big plus.
Can those wild Red Wolves hold off the French Blue Devils? Odds are very good that that will happen. Plain and simple, Duke has to play its game better than State plays its game to have any chance. But if both teams give the effort they did last week, that gives the Blue Devils a chance for an upset.
Players to watch ...
State: #16 QB Russell Wilson, # 22 RB Toney Baker, #84 TE George Bryan, #97 DE Willie Young.
Duke: #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, #21 RB Re'quan Boyette, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey.
Injury report ...
Duke: RB Jay Hollingsworth (ankle) probable, OT Jarrod Holt (concussion) probable, RB Kyle Griswould (leg) OUT, CB Randez James (hand) OUT, LB Abraham Kromah (leg) OUT, WR Tyree Watkins (leg) OUT.
State: CB Rashard Smith (ankle) questionable; DE Jeff Rieskamp (hip) OUT, Sknee) OUT.
Vegas line: State by 14 1/2
Joe Schwartz's score prediction and explanation: N.C. State 38, Duke 17
With the re-emergence of Toney Baker and the dual-threat Russell Wilson, who despite ending his interception-free streak last week is averaging three touchdown tosses a game, N.C. State's offense will prove too much for the Duke defense. N.C. State has beaten its Durham rival in 11 straight. There's no reason that streak will end Saturday.
My score prediction: N.C. State 35, Duke 31