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After the unexpected, North Carolina State now faces the unknown.
The Wolfpack is looking to rebound from an inexplicable 27-23 loss at home to Wake Forest last Thursday, its third loss in four games.
Now N.C. State, which plunged out of The Associated Press Top 25 as well as the College Football Playoff rankings, must prepare to face a Louisville team Saturday six days after Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino was fired. Safeties coach Lorenzo Ward has been named interim head coach for Louisville’s final two games.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren, whose team dropped to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, expects there to be some new looks in certain areas for the Cardinals (2-8, 0-7 ACC).
“I think there’s naturally going to be some adjusting that we have to do in the game,” Doeren said when asked about Louisville’s coaching change. “I mean, I would assume that with the new play-caller, (offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway), Coach Galloway, that he’ll have some wrinkles. Their defensive coordinator hasn’t changed. So you expect to see the same types of things they’ve been doing.”
Doeren has his own mysteries to solve. No one thought the Wolfpack would slip up to Wake Forest on the national stage. Blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter at home to a team with a losing record seemed even more unlikely.
How will the Wolfpack respond to such a deflating loss?
“I think the best thing you can do with anyone you’re working with is be honest and own the things that are yours and ask them to own the things that are theirs,” Doeren said. “And point out the things that are correctable. And then get together with the guys.
“And to me, it’s (an) opportunity coming up here to play another football game. And every week, whether we win or lose, we want to be better than we were the week before. And obviously, we weren’t able to do that last week.”
With three regular-season games remaining, along with a fifth straight bowl appearance on the horizon, N.C. State has plenty to play for.
The loss to the Demon Deacons means the Wolfpack has been forced to readjust its goals but should it win out, the program would have its second season of double-digit wins in school history.
Although Louisville does not have nearly as much to play for, expect both teams to strip it down to its simplest form — playing for the joy of the game.
“I know they’re going to be very spirited,” Doeren said of the Cardinals. “I know Lorenzo’s going to do everything he can to make football fun for those guys and be honest we’re doing the same thing here. We just want our guys to play the technique and execute the plays and have fun doing it.”
N.C. State’s men’s basketball team has shown depth in its first three games. It is a team that has used its athleticism to get off to a hot start as the Wolfpack thrashed UNC Asheville 100-49 Tuesday evening at PNC Arena to improve to 3-0 on the campaign.
No team in ACC history had ever won its first three games by at least 49 points prior to N.C. State this season. The Wolfpack has scored 90 points or more in all three wins, a first for the program since Les Robinson’s final season as head coach in 1995-96.
What is remarkable is how the team, often limited during previous head coach Mark Gottfried’s tenure in terms of players receiving significant time, is going 10 players deep.
“Every time I looked down at the bench, somebody was sitting at the edge of their chair trying to get in the game,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said. “We’ve got plenty of guys that are eager to play. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a team where everybody is almost equal. I have not had a starting five.
“I know I’m starting five guys, but when I look at it, it’s hard not to get Eric Lockett and DJ Funderburk on the floor. Jericole Hellems is playing great basketball and right now Braxton Beverly is coming off the bench. I like where we are.”
One player to whom Keatts can no longer turn is Ian Steere. The freshman announced he would leave the program after playing five minutes in N.C. State’s opener.
“Ian and I met on Monday and we had a great conversation,” Keatts explained after Tuesday’s win. “For me, it’s about what is best for his future and what he thinks is best. We talked about the pros and cons.
“He didn’t come to a decision at that time. He told me he would call me later and I was at my radio show. He sent me a text to see if we could talk and I said absolutely. I called him in between breaks.
“He said, ‘Coach, I think I’m going to end up looking at another situation,’ and I said, ‘Man, I appreciate you. Thanks for everything and coming here for us.’
“I wished him luck. At the end of the day, I think he was looking for a fresh start.”
On Tuesday afternoon, N.C. State announced that it would honor a legend.
The university will name the arena inside Reynolds Coliseum after the late Jim Valvano in a ceremony scheduled for Dec. 5 prior to the Wolfpack’s annual Heritage Game inside the fabled “Old Barn” versus Western Carolina.
Henceforth, the historic venue will be known as Kay Yow Court at James T. Valvano Arena at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. The name change was made possible by $5 million pledge from donors as a part of N.C. State’s $1.6 billion “Think and Do the Extraordinary” campaign.
Valvano, of course, guided N.C State to the 1983 national championship. He coached the Wolfpack from 1980-1990, also winning two ACC Tournament titles along with two Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet 16. He served as the athletic director at the university from 1986-1989.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 1992, Valvano made his last visit to Reynolds a memorable one. On Feb. 21, 1993, at a halftime celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Wolfpack’s 1983 national title team, he delivered an instantly famous speech urging all to “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” He passed away at Duke Medical Center on April 28 of that same year.
“Coach Valvano captured the hearts of Wolfpack fans with his coaching success and dynamic personality,” N.C. State Director of Athletics Debbie Yow said. “Thanks to a small group of N.C. State alums, we can further memorialize his contributions through this naming opportunity in his beloved Reynolds Coliseum.”
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.