This Saturday, Oct. 8, the North Carolina State football program will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first-ever game in Carter-Finley Stadium – versus South Carolina -- on Oct. 8, 1966.
Notre Dame will be on hand to help elevate the hype to a level perhaps never seen or heard in the 57,600-seat venue in Raleigh. The Wolfpack will wear throwback jerseys, reminiscent of the ones they wore from 1972-75 when a young fella by the name of Lou Holtz elevated N.C. State’s football profile.
There’s speculation that Holtz will help conduct the coin toss amongst the captains while phrases such as “the biggest home game ever” are emanating from Raleigh.
Just another road game for the Irish with the typical fanfare surrounding it.
Only this time, Notre Dame, making its first-ever trip to Carter-Finley Stadium, may have a traveling companion -- Hurricane Matthew – which threatens to arrive inland about the same time the Irish and Wolfpack clash for just the second time ever.
Coached by Dave Doeren in his fourth season since arriving from Northern Illinois, where he won 23 games in 2011-12, it’s been a rough go for the Wolfpack – 3-1 this season -- with nine losses in 2013 and a combined 15-11 record in 2014-15.
Yet N.C. State is loaded with talent/playmakers, led by an elusive running back (Matthew Dayes), a jack-of-all-trades “fullback” (Jaylen Samuels), a couple of upstart receivers (Stephen Louis and Kelvin Harmon), a graduate transfer quarterback from Boise State (Ryan Finley), and a defensive line that some consider to be the best among Notre Dame’s 12 regular-season opponents in 2016.
Finley is fourth nationally with a 72.4 completion percentage, nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Teamed with first-year offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who came with Finely from Boise State, the Wolfpack average 9.1 yards per pass attempt (16th nationally).
Finley has weapons at his fingertips. Dayes rushed for 865 yards (6.5 per carry) and 12 touchdowns in 2015 before injuries cut his season short. He’s on his way to a 1,000-yard season again with 437 yards, a 5.8-yard average and three of the Wolfpack’s 12 rushing touchdowns.
The wildcard – and wildcat of the N.C. State offense – is the 5-foot-11, 223-pound Samuels, who will literally get touches of the football in every way imaginable. He leads the Wolfpack in receptions (20) and receiving touchdowns (4). He’s touched the football 34 times offensively with seven scores.
The Louis-Harmon receiving tandem has caught a combined 20 passes for 465 yards (23.2 average) and three touchdowns. Louis averages 25.2 yards per his 13 receptions.
Just how good N.C. State’s defensive front really is remains up for debate. Ranked 13th nationally against the run at 99 yards per game and 3.47 yards per rush, skepticism accompanies their gaudy numbers because of the opposition -- victories over William & Mary, Old Dominion and Wake Forest, and a road loss to East Carolina.
The defensive tackle tandem of Justin Jones and B.J. Hill is well-respected. The Wolfpack average eight tackles for loss per game and have totaled 11 sacks on the season. It’s not the same defensive front without Mike Rose, who paced the Wolfpack in sacks last season with 10½. But the Irish haven’t exactly been stout in the running game, particularly last week against an undersized, undermanned Syracuse defensive front.
N.C. State is a plus-15 in turnover margin in its last 30 games.
Yet the Wolfpack can be wildly inconsistent and undisciplined. They fell behind early at East Carolina and allowed the Pirates to score the final 10 points of a 33-30 loss. They committed 13 penalties for 144 yards in last week’s victory over Wake Forest to keep the Demon Deacons in a game in which they were getting dominated in the trenches.
N.C. State is 99th in the country in penalties per game at 7.5.
The crowd for the 50th anniversary of Carter-Finley Stadium will be hyped, but not because of the Wolfpack’s overwhelming success at home. In Doeren’s first three years on the job, N.C. State was 10-11 at Carter-Finley. They’re 3-0 this season, but the William & Mary-Old Dominion-Wake Forest start to the home slate hasn’t exactly been a gauntlet.
Doeren is 7-18 versus ACC competition. His only home victories over ACC teams have come against Wake Forest (2014, 2016) and Syracuse (2015). Of Doeren’s 21 losses with N.C. State, 18 have been by double digits.
The Irish have struggled mightily at true road venues since 2013 with losses in nine of the last 14.
Which Irish team will show up in Carter-Finley Stadium Saturday? Which Wolfpack squad will emerge? Plenty of mystery and intrigue in a rare matchup between college football strangers.