WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State rolled to a fast start only to stumble once it opened Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Wolfpack will have to earn a rare road win against Wake Forest to rebuild some of that lost momentum.
Heading into Saturday's game, North Carolina State (4-2, 0-2 ACC) Is looking for its first league win after a home loss to Louisville followed by a loss at Virginia Tech. Those two games have seen the Wolfpack's offense slow significantly, while a defense that beat up four overmatched nonconference opponents is having trouble consistently stopping the run against league opponents.
North Carolina State is coming off a bye, which gave coach Dave Doeren some extra time to work on fixing the problems that surfaced in the 0-2 ACC start. That worked last year, with the Wolfpack emerging from an off week to end a four-game skid and win four of five to close the season.
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''We were really hard on ourselves as coaches'' during last year's bye week, Doeren said. ''We looked at everything, we took things out and added things that fit us better. We brought the players in and really explained it, coached it, detailed it and the players bought into it. We need to do the same thing. We have done that. Now it's a matter of execution.''
The first obstacle: finding a way to beat the Demon Deacons (3-4, 1-3) in Winston-Salem for the first time since 2001, a skid of six games.
As for Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons are coming off a 50-14 loss at North Carolina, an unusually lopsided score for a team that has generally played opponents - including still-unbeaten Florida State - tough in Year 2 of Dave Clawson's ground-up rebuild of the program.
''We're capable of playing better than that,'' Clawson said. ''We did not execute on defense and we didn't finish drives on offense. Those are fixable problems, but we've got to be willing to pay the price on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to fix them.''
Here are things to know about Saturday's North Carolina State-Wake Forest game:
QB HEALTH: Both of Wake Forest's young quarterbacks are hobbled by injuries. Sophomore starter John Wolford left last week's game with an ankle injury, while freshman Kendall Hinton was pressed into duty despite not being 100 percent due to hip and back pain. It's unclear exactly how healthy either will be by kickoff Saturday.
WOLFPACK'S RUN DEFENSE: N.C. State ranks 12th nationally in rush defense (100.2 yards per game), though both Louisville and Virginia Tech ran for at least 200 yards and broke free for a run of at least 59 yards. Cornerback Juston Burris said: ''It has to be an all-out effort to get the ball down and that's what we need to get better at.''
REPLENISHED LINE: The bye week came at a good time for North Carolina State's offensive line. Left guard Alex Barr returned against Virginia Tech after missing three games with an ankle injury and got some time to recover during the bye week. Doeren said Thursday that junior guard Bryce Kennedy should return from missing three games due to injury, prompting him to joke, ''We actually have a two-deep now.''
HOLDING THE BALL: North Carolina State enters this game ranked No. 1 nationally in average time of possession at more than 36 minutes per game, while Wake Forest is ranked No. 21 at more than 32 minutes. Offenses will need to finish drives and capitalize considering there might not be many possessions in this one.
TACKLIN' DEACONS: Clawson was clear: his Demon Deacons will have to do a better job of tackling players in open space and cutting down on big-gain plays allowed. ''If we do better at that, this will be a competitive football game,'' the coach said. ''If we play like we played last week on defense, these guys are capable of doing the same thing.''
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college football site at http://collegefootball.ap.org .