N.C. State looks to end losing ways at Wake Forest

RALEIGH, N.C. — Former N.C. State quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon have one thing in common (well, besides starting at least one game for an NFL team): each of them suffered at least one loss at Wake Forest.

And of that trio, only one (Rivers, in 2001) ever won there. That one was a struggle too, as Rivers and a Wolfpack team that included NFL wideout Jerricho Cotchery rallied from an 11-point deficit to notch a 17-14 win. Ever since, it’s been a field of nightmares for the Wolfpack.

N.C. State has lost five straight in Winston-Salem, only one coming by double digits (to the 2007 Wake Forest team coming off of an ACC title).

Sometimes, coaches like to downplay streaks, especially first-year head coaches who don’t want to dignify what happened in the past as significant. They’re there to rewriter history, after all.

But Dave Doeren doesn’t feel that way about this one.

“I do believe in studying what’s gone on, and this streak is hard to ignore,” he said, chuckling and shaking his head. “There’s been some very good football teams go up there with really good quarterbacks that have come home not feeling good. I also know during that ten-year span, Wake was at their peak as a program a little bit too, so that’s part of it. But there’s a reason that seven of the last eight teams that have been up there haven’t won.

“I think had we only lost two in a row there, I probably wouldn’t even care about the streak but to say seven out of eight, you can’t ignore that.”

In four of the last five losses at Wake Forest, N.C. State has finished with the same or better record than the Demon Deacons. Wake finished below .500 in each of those four years as well, as it is likely to this year.

The programs have been moving in opposite directions since 2009, and yet it hasn’t mattered when the Wolfpack travel to Winston-Salem. In 2009 and 2011, N.C. State lost two games there by a combined 13 points. And in 2010 and 2012, the Wolfpack beat the Deacs (at home) by a combined margin of 66 points.

N.C. State isn’t the only team to have issues in Winston-Salem. Every other Atlantic Division team (except new addition Syracuse) has suffered a road loss at Wake Forest at least twice since 2003. Clemson and Maryland have lost there three times; Florida State, Boston College and Maryland twice. Even Stanford lost there in 2009.

But N.C. State has the most losses in Winston-Salem since 2003 (five). It’s not like N.C. State has been a great road team in general, though. Under head coach Tom O’Brien, the Wolfpack won just two Atlantic Division road games in six years.

That’s one of the changes Doeren wants to make.

“I do take pride in being a good road coach. It’s something I understand. You can’t be a great program and lose your road games and win your home games,” Doeren said. “You’ve got to be able to take your show on the road. I think that’s something that I take pride in being able to do, and this’ll be my first opportunity. I know (Wake Forest is) a tough place to play, for whatever reason. Our job obviously will be to make our team a better road team than they’ve been.”

Ideally, Doeren would rather be taking a road-tested team into Winston-Salem for the team’s first road game. But this will be N.C. State’s first of four road games this season.

This isn’t the same Wake Forest team that has given ACC contending teams a scare over the last few years, either. The Deacs are 2-3 with losses to Boston College, Louisiana-Monroe and Clemson (a thorough beating by the Tigers). They still have some weapons, though, one of those being wide receiver Michael Campanaro.

In the 2011 game, Campanaro had five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, plus a 40-yard touchdown pass on a trick play. And that was just in the first half.

Last year in Raleigh, Campanaro was held to just five catches for 14 yards, which is a big reason why the Wolfpack won handily (37-6). But he did yet again have a successful touchdown pass (this time a 39-yarder) on a trick play.

“Hopefully, we can eliminate the trick plays this year,” N.C. State senior cornerback Dontae Johnson said, shaking his head. “I keep reminding the secondary, he has thrown a pass and he can throw a pass. Hopefully, we’ll eliminate the trick stuff and come out with a win.”

Johnson was matched up with Campanaro most of the game last year, and he said his length and quickness defending the shorter receiver in the slot was part of what limited Campanaro. Like most cornerbacks, though, he is looking forward to the matchup against one of the ACC’s best receivers. Even if Wake Forest’s offense has been struggling this season, he knows that Campanaro can and will make plays. And if the Wolfpack’s defense can’t limit him, he’ll make a lot of them.

“Definitely trying to have other receivers and other players make plays for them instead of having to target their go-to guy,” Johnson said. “We’ve still got to play our game plan as a defensive unit, make sure our guys are in the right places at the right time because all their receivers are great players and they all can make plays.

“If you go to sleep on those receivers, they’ll burn us for a big one and we can’t have that. So we’ve got to make sure we know where Mike is and then make sure everybody else plays assignment football and just do their job.”

Johnson in particular is not a believer in the mystical nature of Groves Stadium or BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, in spite of how many Atlantic Division teams’ aspirations have died on their field turf.

“It’s really nothing about Winston-Salem. They’re playing at home. Teams that play at home tend to do a lot better,” Johnson said. “I feel that any team playing at home definitely gets an advantage. Winston is just one of those tough places to play in, but any team that’s playing at home has an advantage over the away team. We’ve got to make sure we do our job as a team and if we take care of the little things on the field, then the crowd will be a non-factor and we’ll come out on top.”