A big key to NC State's late-season push to Charlotte will be how the Wolfpack offense performs in the red zone, something that has been an issue at times during the season.
Against Clemson, Russell Wilson threw an interception to Deandre McDaniel in the end zone and Josh Czajkowski had a 30-yard field goal attempt blocked. In tight games, making plays in the red zone can be the difference between winning and losing. That proved true against the Tigers.
In its six wins, NC State has converted 80 percent of its chances (25-31) in the red zone, scoring 19 touchdowns and kicking six field goals. In its losses, however, the Pack has converted in the red zone just 65 percent of the time (11-17) while only mustering five touchdowns and six field goals.
Offensive coordinator Dana Bible said Wednesday that focus is an important part of having success in the red zone, something he said the Pack needs to be wary of down the stretch.
"There is no question, the margin for error is less down in the red zone. You're excited about your opportunity, it's right there, you can almost touch it. But you have to finish the drive," he said. "Part of the other thing is that you've worked hard to get yourself in that position to finish the drive and you are on play 12, 13 or 15 and focus and concentration may give way to fatigue. But that is not acceptable. We still have to stay on task and work your way through it."
In all three losses in 2010, NC State has had noticeable trouble finishing drives and has turned the ball over at a higher rate in the red zone. Russell Wilson has thrown interceptions in the red zone in all three losses and the Pack has also fumbled and missed short field goal attempts. For Wilson, success in the red zone still comes down to simple things, like execution of the plays Bible calls.
"A couple of turnovers here and there, just pressing as an offense as whole and just executing the plays," he said. "We just have to do a little bit better job. Sometimes the defense makes a great play, that type of thing. We just have to get in the end zone."
While Bible admitted that the red zone creates problems because of the field being compressed, he said NC State has worked to improve its efficiency inside the 20.
"The red zone is always a great place to be but its always a challenge because of the 12th man, the end line. It creates its own issues," he said. "It is still about execution and we have to be better at that part of the game and we're working hard to do that."
With a Wake Forest team that has lost seven straight games coming to Carter-Finley Stadium Saturday, the Wolfpack will have an opportunity to correct the red zone mistakes and turnovers and convert inside the 20-yard line.
The Demon Deacons rank near the bottom of FBS in scoring defense and total defense, allowing nearly 39 points a game. Opponents have converted 91 percent (39-43) of their trips in the red zone against Wake Forest, scoring touchdowns 77 percent of the time.
Despite Wake's struggles, the Demon Deacons have shown improvement since committing to the 3-4 scheme on defense and allowed just 298 total yards in last week's 23-13 loss to Boston College. Wilson said NC State will need to be prepared for a tough game against Wake Forest regardless of ranking or their record.
"Their linebackers are really athletic," he said. "Their defensive line is a bit smaller but they are quick. They rely on their toughness every single play and they play hard. We just have to get first downs when we can."
Bible said he hopes to see better execution from the offense this week, especially in key situations at the end of drives.
"When you play against a talented defense they will put pressure on you and you have to execute consistently and at crucial times," he said. "Each weekend you have a new set of challenges as far as the pressure the defensive front will put on you. That is just the lay of the land in this conference. Sometimes we get them and sometimes they get us."