North Carolina State’s Devin Carter (88) stiff-arms Connecticut’s Chris Shearin (10) following a reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, NC, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (Karl B DeBlaker/AP Photo )
RALEIGH — On a day that when every other FBS team in North Carolina was beaten, NC State took care of its business by manhandling UConn in a 41-10 win at Carter-Finley Stadium.
While Tobacco Road unbeatens UNC, Duke and Wake Forest were all suffering losses, and App State, ECU and Charlotte were handed defeats, the 12th-ranked Wolfpack proved too much for the overmatched Huskies.
“I think we’re hitting on a lot of the cylinders we wanted to,” said coach Dave Doeren. “I think we’re in a good spot. There’s always things that can be better, but the things I was disappointed about a week ago were corrected in this game.”
The Wolfpack set the tone for the entire night immediately, scoring on the opening play of the game when junior quarterback Devin Leary connected with graduate receiver Thayer Thomas for a 75-yard touchdown.
Leary had a strong showing, throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns. The junior quarterback threw for more yards (149) and touchdowns (1) in the first quarter than he did in all of last week’s win over Texas Tech (121 and 0).
Leary also did a good job of spreading the ball around by connecting 10 different receivers. Four of them had touchdown receptions, including junior Keyon Lesane and sophomore Porter Rooks both getting their first career scores.
“I think it’s the perfect timing,” said redshirt junior receiver Devin Carter on the receivers starting to click with Leary. “We worked really hard at practice, so whenever you practice something related to the game, it just clicks. It just happens. I think it’s a credit to our practice.”
Leary wasn’t without fault, however, as he ended the first half by throwing an interception directly to a UConn defender down the middle with under a minute to go, allowing the Huskies to kick a chip shot field goal for a 31-3 Wolfpack lead at half time.
The interception marked the end of five straight scoring drives for NC State and was one of just two drives that went without points while Leary was in the game.
The only other drive on which the Wolfpack didn’t score was an attempted fake field goal run — while up 31-3 in the third quarter — by kicker Christopher Dunn that came up short and ended with Dunn in the injury tent. Dunn did not return to the game, but Doeren wasn’t concerned.
“He’s good,” Doeren said on Dunn’s status. “I don’t think he’s been tackled in a long time. It was good to get Collin Smith in there and give him an opportunity, but Chris will be fine.”
Wolfpack sophomore running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye was also on his way to further establish himself as the team’s top running back, rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown on four attempts, before an upper-body injury sidelined him early in the game.
“Demie’s going to be fine,” Doeren said. “Hey what sore. So plan on him being back. If it was a different type of game we probably could have played him today.”
For a day, the Wolfpack’s offensive woes seemed remedied, but it’s tough to assess the state of NC State’s attack against a weak opponent that was more than a five-touchdown underdog.
NC State’s defense, however, was as good as ever, stopping two fourth-down conversion attempts and holding the Huskies to just 39 passing yards and 121 rushing yards. The Wolfpack had two sacks, forced seven three-and-outs and didn’t allow a touchdown until there were fewer than four minutes left in the game and the field was packed with reserves.
“I think [confidence] is really important,” said junior linebacker Drake Thomas. “We pride ourselves on the way we play. We want to play aggressive, we want to play hard, we want to play physical, but we like to play confident too. We like to play with a little bit of swagger. I think that’s the key to our defense and who we are. Going out there making plays and three-and-out after three-and-out, it’s a confidence booster for sure.”
The Wolfpack’s offense and defense will be truly challenged next week when they head to Death Valley to play No. 5 Clemson on Saturday in an early-season matchup that will establish a frontrunner in the ACC.
“It will be a great challenge, a great opportunity,” Doeren said. “We did the things I wanted to see us get better at and there’s going to be a lot of things we’re going to have to do well to win that game, but we’re excited about the opportunity. It’s a great environment playing down there and it’s going to be a heck of a football game.”