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Wake Forest Football Preview: NC State Wolfpack

The Deacs are back home to take on their most familiar opponent.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In week 11, the Deacs return to Allegacy Stadium to take on the team they have played more than anyone else, the NC State Wolfpack. The Deacs and the Pack have played some 115 times dating back to 1908, including every year since 1910. That makes the rivalry the 2nd longest consecutively played rivalry in the nation—unfortunately, that streak will be coming to an end in 2025. The series has been incredibly balanced in recent history—after last season’s win, the Wolfpack gained a slight 12-11 edge since the turn of the millennium.


  • Opponent: NC State Wolfpack
  • Date: Saturday, November 11th, 2023
  • Location: Allegacy Stadium | Winston-Salem, NC
  • Vegas Win Total O/U: 6.5
  • 2022 Record: 8-5, 4-4 in the ACC
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 21—NC State 30 (2022)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 68-42-5

After finishing 9-3 in 2021 and returning star QB Devin Leary, there was a lot of hype surrounding NC State going into last season with the Pack starting the season at #13 in the nation in the AP poll. The hype didn’t really pan out, as Leary went down with an injury against Florida State, and the Wolfpack finished the season 8-5 with a loss to Maryland in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

The offense was the major culprit for State’s struggles last season. The Wolfpack finished the season 94th in the nation in scoring offense with 24.3 points per game and 105th in the nation in total offense with 340 yards per game. Even before Leary went out due to injury against FSU, the Pack were averaging less than 350 yards and just over 27 points (aided heavily by a 40-point outing against UConn) per game against FBS teams. When Tim Beck left to become the head coach at Coastal Carolina, Doeren hired former Syracuse/UVA OC Robert Anae to fill the role.

With Leary transferring to Kentucky, Anae’s first order of business was to find a QB, and it just so happened that Brennan Armstrong, Anae’s former QB at Virginia, was sitting in the transfer portal. Armstrong had a miserable 2022 season, completing a career low 54% of his passes for 2,200 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions behind an offensive line that allowed almost 3.5 sacks per game. However, with Anae has his OC in 2021, Armstong was considered one of the best QB’s in the ACC and threw for nearly 4,500 yards and 31 touchdowns. That probably made the decision to transfer to rejoin forces with Anae and transfer to NC State a pretty easy one.

With the quarterback position solved, Anae’s next step is to find a running game. The Wolfpack were one of the worst rushing teams in the nation last season, averaging just 114 yards per game—only Boston College and Virginia Tech, the two worst teams in the conference last season, ran for fewer yards per game in the ACC. Not only did they not gain many yards, but they only scored 8 rushing touchdowns all season, with only 3 of those touchdowns coming from a running back (and that running back transferred to Kentucky). Boston College and Colorado State were the only 2 teams in the nation last season to score fewer rushing touchdowns than NC State. Getting back 3 starters on the O-line and leading rusher Jordan Houston (136 carries, 544 yards) should help, but the Wolfpack will probably need to make some significant scheme and play calling changes to get things going on the ground this season.

The passing game should be fine for the Wolfpack this season, as Anae has typically gotten the best out of his quarterbacks (Garret Shrader improved his completion percentage by 12% and threw for 1,200 more yards in his 1 season with Anae at Syracuse), and Brennan Armstrong is a very experienced player who knows the system. The Pack do have to replace two very good receivers in Thayer Thomas (Minnesota Vikings) and Devin Carter (transferred to WVU), who combined for 82 receptions for 1,048 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.

On defense, it feels like NC State is always one of the best teams in the conference. Last year was no different, as the Pack gave up just 19.2 points and 327 yards per game, good for 13th and 19th in the nation respectively. The Wolfpack do have to replace a lot of talent from last season, most notably linebackers Drake Thomas (101 tackles, 19 TFL, 7.5 sacks) and Isaiah Moore (82 tackles, 15 TFL, 3 sacks) and safety Tanner Ingle (83 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 int).

The good news for the Pack is that they get back veteran linebacker Payton Wilson, who decided to forego the NFL Draft to return to NC State for his final season. The one-time 1st team All-ACC linebacker finished last season with 82 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and 1 interception. The Pack will also have 1st Team All-ACC CB Aydan White, who finished 2022 with a team high 4 interception and 9 passes defended.

It seems like the unique 3-3-5 alignment of the NC State defense always gives Wake Forest trouble. The Wolfpack can put speed all over the field, which gives them a lot of versatility in coverages and blitz packages. In the last 2 games against NC State, the Wolfpack sacked Sam Hartman 7 times and pressured him into throwing 6 interceptions. I expect NC State will be just as aggressive this season, so it will be interesting to see how Mitch Griffis handles the pressure.


NC State really struggled on offense last season, but they were able to put up 30 on the Wake Forest defense starting a third string quarterback. Now, they have an absolute gunslinger under center in Brennan Armstrong and a very good offensive coordinator in Robert Anae. The NC State defense is always good and always dialing up pressure to torture opposing quarterbacks, which is something Wake Forest has not been great at handling over the past couple of seasons. While I think the Wolfpack will probably be the better team overall next season, the home team is 19-4 in this game since 2000, so I think Wake sneaks away with a win in this one.