The oddsmakers have established NC State as a two-touchdown underdog for Thursday night's nationally televised game against No. 3 Clemson, who opened their campaign with a huge victory over a Georgia team still ranked ninth in the country. And that is perfectly fine with new Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren and his players.
"I think the whole world thinks we're underdogs in this game, but I like that," fifth-year senior linebacker Zach Gentry, a former walk-on who has since earned a scholarship, said. "I've always thought that was a great thing, coming from where I've been, I'm a underdog. If we're an underdog this game, that's fine. I think we'll take that role to heart and that will be fun for us."
Obviously, NCSU players don't need to look back any further than last October's nationally televised 17-16 upset over No. 3 Florida State in Raleigh for proof that the underdog has a chance. Clemson, then ranked seventh nationally, also fell in their last trip to Carter-Finley Stadium, which came in 2011.
"I just say, 'look guys a lot of people are going to tell you that you don't have a chance in this game, and everyone that has played here knows that you do because of what you did last year with Florida State and the year before when they played Clemson,'" Doeren noted. "It doesn't help you win this game - but at least there are guys in the room that played in those games.
"With the crowd behind us, you never know and I think that's the thing. Our guys are really excited and State has a history of upsetting football teams. Being in the underdog role against a great football team on national television is something we're really excited for. Now we just need to go do it."
The coach said that the keys for NC State start with not beating themselves. That was a problem in the first half of the Pack's last game with Richmond and they especially can't afford to do so against a team with a potent offense like Clemson. That is why despite an off day last Saturday, Doeren and company did not treat it like they had any extra time to prepare.
"We went right back to work like it was a normal work week," he said.
On Sunday, the team gathered to watch film and put the Richmond game to bed. The players had their usual day off on Monday, followed by what Doeren said was two days of workouts similar to what a Tuesday practice is like during a normal game week. The team focused on first and second downs with a, "physical, grinder-type practices."
Then, last Thursday - seven days before gameday - was like a regular Wednesday practice, where the focus was on third downs, playing in the red zone and working the two-minute drill.
The players were given Friday off while coaches hit the recruiting trail hard, and then they had another Wednesday-like practice early on Saturday morning. That allowed the team to leave the facility around 1 p.m. and take in a full day of college football.
"I think that's really good for our players, to watch other teams play, especially this past weekend where there were some crazy endings and you can really see that having some football aptitude can help you," Doeren said. "For a young football team, we can never watch enough."
They got back to work on Sunday with what Doeren called a normal Thursday practice, and they'll hit the practice field once again tomorrow.
"I feel good about the amount of work we've gotten down," Doeren said. "We went back to the film as coaches and tried to look at what we've done well for two weeks, what we haven't done well, what we need to change up now that Pete's in there.
"It was a real productive nine days."
Brandon Mitchell update: Doeren did provide an update on fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during the season opener.
"He just got in a boot this week," the coach said. "He still has to be on crutches for I think one more week then he'll be weight-bearing after that. … He can't put weight on it yet."
Doeren also admitted during Monday's press conference that Mitchell had taken the majority of practice reps for the two weeks prior to the season opener. The bye week was huge in allowing redshirt junior Pete Thomas make up for lost time with the offense.
"It was just getting all the reps back to be more polished," Doeren said. "He did a nice job. These last eight days have been really beneficial for Pete, he really studies a lot of film and I think anyone would agree it's better to study yourself on film than somebody else. Now he has actually plays of him doing good, doing bad and it's helped him quite a bit but he hasn't seen a defense like this one yet. This is going to be a test for him."
Wildcat role expanding for Shirreffs: Doeren also talked about the development of true freshman signal caller Bryant Shirreffs, who was moved around on both offense and defense during training camp, now that he is back to being a full-time quarterback. The rookie from Georgia has seen action as the team's wildcat quarterback in the first two games.
"Now we can start to grow the package," the coach said. "He only had like three plays that he could run last week, now he might have five or six. He's getting more and more confident. He's starting to see things better in the run game and the different passes he can do off the runs have gotten a lot better.
"He's more versatile and [fellow freshman quarterback] Josh Taylor has also taken more reps in practice. He gives us another option and he can run or throw, [he's] just not as big a guy as Bryant. Those kids will keep getting better and I know Bryant is excited for the opportunity. He's still disappointed in himself for fumbling in the red zone, but I think that was a great learning play for him - trying to reach the ball out for yards instead of just covering it up with two hands."