MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — North Carolina State seems to have learned how to win on the road. Now, the Wolfpack will try to keep that success going in an unfamiliar venue.
They visit South Alabama Saturday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium as 17-point favorites to win a fifth straight game away from home for the first time since 1973-74. Coach Dave Doeren said understanding how to prepare is the biggest factor.
“When you’re a team that lets outside things bother you, the road is really difficult,” Doeren said. “We’ve learned through trial and error that sometimes you have to get beat enough to understand, ‘Hey, you just have to do what he’s saying.'”
North Carolina State (3-0) ranks second in FBS in total defense, giving up just 188.3 yards a game, and eighth in scoring defense (11.7 points per game). South Alabama (2-1) has struggled to score at times, averaging 25.3 points.
The Jaguars have already played one team from a power five conference this season, and it didn’t go well. They lost 48-9 at Nebraska, but bounced back with what coach Joey Jones called the program’s biggest win.
South Alabama topped San Diego State in overtime on the road.
Now, the Jaguars are big home underdogs.
“I don’t worry about those things, but we are playing an ACC opponent who is very good and off to great start this year,” Jones said. “We’ve had two long trips to Nebraska and California, so to come home is exciting. The fact that we are playing N.C. State is exciting. I think our crowd is going to be into it like they always are.”
Here are some things to watch in the game:
RUNNING STRONG: N.C. State once again lists junior Matt Dayes as the starter at running back with senior Shadrach Thornton as his backup. Thornton, the team’s leading rusher last season, missed the first two games while serving a suspension for an offseason violation of athletic department rules. In his first game back last week, Thornton rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown behind Dayes, who had 108 yards and a score in a 38-14 win at Old Dominion.
FROM BIRMINGHAM TO MOBILE: Doeren says he’s watched some film from UAB last season to prepare for the Jaguars, who brought in a dozen former Blazers players and two assistants — including offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent and quarterback Cody Clements — who left when that program was shut down. “They’ve really benefited from another program’s demise,” Doeren said.
NO APOLOGIES: Doeren is defending N.C. State’s nonconference schedule, which includes one FCS team (Eastern Kentucky), two teams that recently were at that level before moving up (Old Dominion and South Alabama), plus another Sun Belt school (Troy). He points to the large number of freshmen on the depth chart who are getting their first taste of college football and says “I’m not going to apologize for being 3-0.”
THEY MEET AGAIN: South Alabama’s program has matured since the last time these teams met. The Jaguars made their first bowl appearance last season. North Carolina State won the first two meetings 35-13 and 31-7 in 2011 and 2012.
KEEPAWAY: South Alabama may have a hard time getting the ball back. The Wolfpack lead the nation in time of possession (40 minutes, 36 seconds per game) while the Jaguars are 107th, at less than 27 minutes a game.