N.C. State's season hangs in the balance when Maryland visits for the regular-season finale. The Wolfpack made sure this game mattered by plastering Clemson a week after a loss to struggling Boston College.
No doubt, this Wolfpack team is tough to figure out.
"It doesn't mean anything unless we beat Maryland," O'Brien said, referring to November victories against North Carolina and Clemson that have set the stage for the Wolfpack moving to the verge of bowl eligibility.
"We don't want to have a drop-off like after UNC," running back James Washington said.
Despite a 6-5 record, N.C. State needs seven wins because it owns two victories against Football Championship Subdivision teams.
"Our backs are against the wall," safety Brandan Bishop said. "We still have to play like it's our last game because it could be."
-- N.C. State has suffered some crushing defeats to Maryland in coach Tom O'Brien's first four seasons. In 2007, a season-ending loss to Maryland kept the Wolfpack out of a bowl. Last year, a 38-31 setback to the Terrapins denied the Wolfpack a spot in the ACC championship game. "I don't know if it has any bearing on this game," O'Brien said.
-- N.C. State's defense leads the country with 22 interceptions, half of those coming from CB David Amerson. The Wolfpack is within one interception of matching the school record of 23 interceptions turned in by the 1965 team. This year's haul of turnovers puts N.C. State at plus-1.18 turnovers per game, good for fourth nationally in that category.
SERIES HISTORY: Maryland leads N.C. State 32-31-4 (last meeting, 2010, 38-31 Maryland)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: There was some strong consistency from the offense against Clemson and that resulted in a 6-for-6 effort in the red zone. But that was a breakthrough and the Wolfpack will need to show that it can replicate parts of that. Until the 37-13 victory against Clemson, N.C. State had scored a total of 23 points in the previous three games. QB Mike Glennon played more aggressively and he seemed more at least in the pocket than in some recent games. RB James Washington continues to supply a large dose of the rushing attack.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This unit has played up to expectations the past few weeks and it certainly set a tone in the upset of Clemson. There has been some effective shuffling of personnel along the defensive front and the combined production at some of those spots, such as DT Art Norman and DT Darryl Cato-Bishop, has proved to be critical. The secondary has two of the country's top interceptors this year in CB David Amerson and S Brandan Bishop.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told them I'm still mad at them for losing the last one (to Boston College). I'm not going to forget that one. The only way for them to make that up is to beat Maryland." -- Coach Tom O'Brien, whose team is 2-1 this month but must defeat Maryland in the finale to secure a bowl bid.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Maryland at N.C. State, Nov. 26 -- N.C. State enters another crucial regular-season finale against Maryland, this time with a bowl bid at stake. Maryland spoiled the Wolfpack's quest to reach the ACC championship last season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wolfpack will want another strong start because that should ignite the home crowd and might further demoralize Maryland, which has lost seven games in a row. N.C. State's defense has been sturdy recently and the Wolfpack ought to have an idea of what to expect from Maryland QB C.J. Brown, who has been the full-fledged starter in the absence of QB Danny O'Brien.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB David Amerson -- He not only leads the country with 11 interceptions this year, tying an ACC record, but he has more pickoffs than most teams. He has more interceptions than 82 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and yet teams continue to throw in his direction.
S Brandan Bishop -- His five interceptions this year put him ninth nationally, but teammate CB David Amerson has more than twice as many so he's often overshadowed. Bishop might be called upon for more run support against Maryland.
RB James Washington -- He has racked up 20 or more carries in five of the last seven games and the 180-pounder has held up well in terms of durability. With 762 rushing yards this year, he's in range to reach 1,000 yards for the season if the Wolfpack beats Maryland and ends up in a bowl game.
-- LB Audie Cole went above the 100-tackle plateau in the last game, giving him 103 tackles this season. He leads the team in total tackles and with nine tackles for loss.
-- FB Taylor Gentry's foot injury has caused him to be listed as out for the season. The senior played in five games this season, but coach Tom O'Brien said there's a chance Gentry might petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility.
-- DT Art Norman has been playing injured at times, but he was on the field for 29 plays from scrimmage against Clemson. That limited playing time has seemed to make him more effective.